Florence is one of the most beautiful “interactive storybooks” I have ever seen.
Available on Apple and Android devices, Florence tells the fictional story of a mid-20 something woman named Florence Yeoh who feels stuck in her life. By chance she meets Krish, a cellist, and they date and move in together. After some time, they have a falling out, drifting apart, and he moves out. Only afterward does Florence rediscover her passion for painting, which changes her path and brings Loaf the cat into her life.
The story is divided into 19 brief chapters. Each one includes at least one interactive element for users to “play” before they can proceed to the next one. Many of the interactive pieces are quite simple, such as moving a toothbrush to help brush Florence’s teeth or tracing over a canvas to reveal the sketch underneath.
All of these interactive moments relate to Florence’s story in some way — nothing is busywork, so to speak. When Krish moves in, users decide whose items go on the shelf and whose items go into storage. When he moves out, users reverse the process, helping to pack up his things.
Though almost every chapter offers a new activity, some indication is provided on how to proceed. One sequence shows a marked map of places Florence and Krish explored on dates. An undeveloped Polaroid picture appears, and underneath that a smartphone tilts side to side. To encourage the photo to develop, users are to shake their devices to simulate shaking the Polaroid picture. When they have shaken enough, a snapshot sound occurs and the image develops.
Overall, the story takes about 45 minutes to complete. With the gentle guidance nudging users through, the experience is a calming one. Repeating the app will result in no story changes, however.
Though the website bills Florence as a “game,” I struggle a bit to agree with that assessment. The user has little role or stake in the game or its outcome. The story plays out the same way every time. While each chapter features those interactive elements, and some of those elements involve solving small puzzles, none really present much of a challenge or a risk in completing them or not. The only risk is that the story fails to continue if the puzzle remains unfinished, but most of the puzzles are easy enough.
Just a small warning: There are a few basic math problems.
The app offers some basic options, including multiple languages, music toggle, and sound effects. Only two instances within the story involve language — Florence speaks with her mother on the phone, and users need to choose canned responses to the mother’s chatter. I strongly recommend leaving the music on. Ken Penkin’s score with piano, cello, clarinet, and flute provides a peaceful, nuanced background that unites the images and the interactions into a cohesive whole.
Florence is an amazing piece of interactive storytelling. It relies on image, sound, music, and user engagements to tell the story and move it forward. Everything within this piece works together to keep users immersed. Nothing — not a visual, a score, or a gesture — is wasted.