I spend a lot of time referring to my favourite games on this site, LusiPetals. And it makes sense, does it not? I write articles about games, I live and breathe games, and my favourite games are the ones that have made the biggest impact on me and that have strengthened my passion for the medium. I am also the most familiar with them, so it is easy for me to use them for comparisons or examples to make a point. Most of the time I refer to my favourite games with a sense of irony. I understand that Flower is not challenging and that Final Fantasy IX is not a fan favourite and that Majora’s Mask has as many serious detractors as it does die-hard fans.
And while I think it is important to keep my favourites in perspective when ranting about other subjects, I think it is equally important to have a forum to express the reasons why I hold these games in such high regard; either as great works in the medium, or just as something that struck a chord with me. So in yet another mini-series that will likely be long-forgotten, here is “A Fruit Explained”: The series that will detail the games I love and why. Without the context of popular opinion, sales, or the distinct reputation it gives me. First up: Flower.
I wrote a very short reaction piece to the game when I first played it four years ago and it does a decent job noting the things I connect with and respect about the game. But first impressions rarely paint the full picture. I think the best way to sum up why I love Flower is that I think it is one of gaming’s greatest short stories. Like a good short story, it is short – obviously – seemingly simple, but actually rife with thematic depth. It answers questions by asking more of them and also like a good short story, it is able to throw itself into a distinct style that just would not work with a longer game.
The game’s story-telling is silent. There are no humans and as such there is no dialogue. There is no narration and no text save for the simple explanation of controls off the top. The game instead chooses to focus on a number of specific elements to get the intended mood and story across.
The first is graphical power. The reason this game was developed as a PlayStation 3 exclusive is because of the ability it gave thatgamecompany to individually render thousands upon thousands of individual blades of grass with no slowdown. Because the game is from the theoretical point of view of a flower, the world is rendered in ways that a living thing might take in the world were it granted consciousness. Colours are vibrant, everything is given respect and life – whether or not it appears friendly – and things are perceived in a simpler and more magical way.
Flower does not just take graphical prowess to make things look more realistic, it uses it to paint exactly the visuals and to run exactly the engine that this vision needed.
The second element with important focus is controls. Not just the rare use of effective motion controls, but in the way the “protagonist” responds. I am one of those people who has dreamed of flying since I was a child. It is a symbol of freedom, power, and magic. Flower was the first time I was given that feeling outside of a dream. The first level can be “completed” in a matter of minutes, but I spent nearly an hour just interacting with the growing trail of flower petals, noticing my increase in speed and ability to fly higher as I gathered more. I crashed into the grass and swooped in every direction. I gazed off into the distance, wondering what could be there, even if I could only imagine. It is an excellent example of a game capturing its most unique property: interaction.
Finally, the music. Flower uses a soundtrack that, like its controls, is unique to gaming. There is a simple theme that starts each level and suits whichever over-arcing theme dictates the direction of the level. But the music is dynamic. As the player gets deeper into the level, more instruments or counter-melodies are added to reflect the change of scenery or objectives. The music works in perfect conjunction with the mood created by each theme and the arc within that theme.
Of course, good controls and dynamic music are nothing new to gaming, but like with a good short story, the extra focus on particular elements make for strong thematic statements.
Flower wordlessly tackles complex dynamics between things that seem irreconcilable but are more made enemies by perspective than anything else. In a completely unexpected way, it is a coming of age story. It starts with innocence and the beauty and wonder that comes with a world that – realistically – cannot exist. As reality starts to infiltrate the dreams, the sense of change is purely menacing, but it is a matter of perception and perseverance and the game is able to present a rare optimistic solution to conflict. Even if the solution is a little naive, the perspective has shown growth from the first to the final level.
Not everybody experiences what I do with Flower. Others are often objective-oriented and only are looking for the requirements needed to complete a level. The environments are pretty to them and the music might be nice, but getting from Point A to Point B provides little challenge and from that angle, I understand why the game is not much fun or not very interesting to those people. It makes sense too. Not everybody is looking for a moody short story. Not everybody wants thematic weight to their games, especially told symbolically through the perspective of the theoretical dreams of flowers on a city windowsill.
But A Fruit Explained is about why I love the games I do, and Flower is one of the best examples of everything I love most about gaming. I think games are an extremely powerful, interesting, and unique story-telling medium and I feel like Flower understands that better than most other games. It is a game that can only be a game to remain as powerful as it is. And – like all good art – it is divisive and certainly not for everybody.