Florence tells the story of two people falling in love through a series of beautifully hand-drawn scenes and interactive moments. Australian studio Mountains breaks from typical game mechanics and expectations in order to amplify the powerful emotions of its narrative.
Twenty-five-year-old Florence Yeoh is living an average life, working a nine-to-five job. Her phone dies while she’s taking a walk, silencing the music she’s listening to. She hears a cello in the distance and, on a whim, decides to follow the music. As I tap every note that appears on screen, she moves closer to the source of the sound. This is when Florence first sees Krish playing on the street, and she develops a crush on him on the spot.
There are no words or dialogue in Florence; it presents me with jigsaw pieces I need to fit together to “communicate,” while using other touch-screen movements to progress through the story.
These small puzzles repeat throughout the game; I’m often matching pieces or moving items to fit in the right spaces. But the game reveals its most powerful messages when these expectations are broken. The mechanics break down alongside the relationship at the heart of the game. While Florence is filled with tender moments like first dates and dinners, navigating the inevitable, widening gap between Florence and Krish made the experience feel mirror-like, reflecting how I look at and deal with my own relationships.
The game asks me to fill in speech bubbles by matching up puzzle pieces when Florence and Krish first speak to each other, creating an exchange that doesn’t require words. My heart was pounding as I balanced the cadence of replies, making sure it wasn’t too slow or too fast, while also figuring out what I needed “to say” next, even if I never knew the exact words being used. I was careful to slide each piece where it belonged, eager to keep the conversation flowing. The first response I gave consisted of eight pieces and, as the two of them became more comfortable with each other, the number of pieces shrank. The conversations became faster, and easier to respond to. Soon there were four pieces, then three and, finally, right before they share their first kiss: one.
A whirlwind of outings, restaurant dates and other memories follow. I swipe in zigzag motions, shaking out polaroids of Krish’s first sushi dinner or Florence’s first skateboard lesson as they share their lives with each other. I use my finger to erase white space to reveal the scene pictured in Krish’s mind when he talks about his dreams of becoming a concert cellist. Soon I wasn’t thinking too much about what might happen after their first few dates or even how I was “playing” the game. If there was food on the screen, I tapped it to make it disappear. If there was a speech bubble, I put together the pieces. I fell into a comfortable rhythm, much like their relationship.
The bubble mechanic pops up again, this time much faster, during their first fight. Krish’s responses are all in red, popping in one after another. I panicked, trying to send my replies as quickly as he was. Matching the puzzle pieces was no longer about keeping the conversation flowing, it was about trying to keep my head above the water as responses and emotions heightened.
I only had the option to send a single red bubble after some more back-and-forth. This went on for a bit longer until both characters were both spamming each other with one thing, over and over. Neither was listening; they were both shouting to be heard. I felt like my opinion was going to be drowned out or invalidated if I didn’t match Krish’s cadence.
I wondered what they were fighting about — was it about what to eat? The proper way to cook something? But it hardly matters what they were fighting about. I realize it’s never really about the tomato sauce or the party they didn’t want to go to, it’s about learning and adapting to who this person is and how they fit in my life. It’s about communicating in a way that lets you be heard while also paying attention to what the other person is feeling. The game held a mirror up to my own feelings and experiences in romantic relationships; these are things so many of us struggle to master, even into adulthood.
Mountains turns the communication-via-puzzle mechanic on its head as the rift grows between Florence and Krish. An image of the two of them laying in bed, facing away from each other is broken up into several jigsaw pieces. I put together Florence’s side, then Krish’s, waiting for the small vibration that signaled a fit. It never came.
This was the point all along — the two sides no longer fit together as they once did, even if they look like it. I was so focused on fixing this relationship that I failed to see the situation for what it was: unsolvable.
Florence plays on my own expectations of their relationship while reversing a mechanic introduced early in the game. The breakdown of your ability to solve these puzzles, even if it looks like everything has been placed where it needs to, provides the game’s strongest statement about how people break apart.
A picture of the two characters hugging is torn into several pieces near the end of the game, and the pieces keep floating apart no matter how much I struggle to put them together. I swipe furiously on the screen, desperate to corral these tiny bits of paper into something whole again. I wait, pulling Krish to the center not long after Florence starts drifting to the bottom right. The pieces continue to move apart when the prompt appears to move onto the next chapter. It’s clear that nothing can bring them together again.
In so many ways, Florence uses the tiniest gestures and mechanics to cement or recall feelings of my own experiences with relationships. Every choice and movement loops perfectly back to what the game is saying about love, even if it’s heartbreak.