A few hours in
Alright, no cause for alarm! Turns out it was a weird bug. Restarting Flower Shop took care of it, at the cost of wiping out all my progress so far — but that’s what the handy-dandy rapid-skip button is for! Visual novels, other game genres can learn something from your example.
So. I was Steve for a while. It turns out that right after the introduction of the farming mini-game, you’re driven into the town of Fairbrook, to meet the three eligible single ladies that live there. And, like… two other people? Three if you count Uncle Max. Fairbrook’s not a large town, okay. The three women introduced — Clara, Susana and Marian — form three quarters of Flower Shop’s romantic quarter, with ex-girlfriend Jill rounding out the selection. Yes, they’re all white, conventionally attractive women, I know. Lip service is paid to Marian being ‘older’ than the rest, but…
The core of Flower Shop’s gameplay is made up of something dating sim aficionados will immediately find familiar: the week planner. Every week, Monday to Saturday, you’re allowed to decide what activities Steve is going to pursue. In the afternoons, that is: all mornings are dedicated to honest farm work, all the time, forever. But in the afternoon, you have a veritable overload of choices to ponder:
‘Work’ means ‘work on your small plot of farm’. It’s exactly the same as what you do each morning, but now you get to do it more! ‘Running’, ‘Flower shop’, ‘Library’ and ‘Stay Home’ translate to, respectively, ‘Hang out with Clara’, ‘Hang out with Susana’, ‘Hang out with Marian’ and ‘Hang out with Jill (through the medium of phone calls)’. ‘Relax’, finally, replenishes the health other activities deplete.
Nominally, Flower Shop is a balancing act between conflicting desires. Steve only has eleven weeks to spend on the farm: so much to do, and no time at all. Spending time on your farm plot allows you to raise and sell plants, which increases your cash supply. Spending time with each girl increases one of Steve’s associated stats: running with Clara raises Determination (because you want to keep up with her), calling Jill boosts Coolness (because you keep abreast of what’s happening in Los Angeles, the city Steve’s apparently from), reading with Marian trends Culture upwards (because books, that’s why) and helping Susana out in her titular flower shop positively affects Romance (because… because flowers are romantic, I guess?). Spending time with any girl also has a chance of advancing her personal story.
Undertaking any of these activities also drains Steve’s Health, though, which acts as a limiter: health seems to aggressively cap the other stats, and a low-health Steve will often ditch planned activities for an Emergency Nap. Judicious application of intentional reaction is needed to keep your inner farmer going.
Nominally, these systems provide an interesting balance of conflicting gameplay goals. Nominally. In practice, however…
I played through Flower Shop twice. The first time, I was just messing around, checking out everything and seeing what would happen. I didn’t wise up to Health deleterious effects on everything until pretty late, and as such, was unable to mac on my lady of choice (Clara, obviously) enough to win her over before the story’s sudden and somewhat unexpected twist. As a result, I got the meh ending: ‘you made a bunch of friends, but you didn’t really sort your life out or anything’.
Also: if you play like this, there’s a good chance you never get to meet either of the two male characters that make up the rest of Fairbrook’s inhabitants. Flower Shop isn’t really made to acknowledge this, however, which leads to situations like this:
The second time around, things were different. Using what I learned from my first playthrough, and with a little help from a friendly neighbourhood strategy guide, I managed to boost all relationship meters into the stratosphere before the half-way mark. I mean, it got to a point where characters would be looking at me like this…
…which, unsurprisingly, inevitably led to situations like this.
In fact, with the help of a clever save location, I was able to swing the latter half of the game in every possible way, landing kissy-time with all four women in what I can only describe as some kind of sexiest multiverse. I gained all Steam-chievements for doing this, too. Flower Shop is now one of the only two games I’ve ever ‘perfectly completed’ on Steam.
“But wait”, I hear you say. “You got to all of them in a single repeated second half? That seems odd. How could you possibly have the stats to land each one of them?”
Good question, Strawman reader! You mind if I call you Fiddles? Good question, Fiddles! There are actually two factors to this answer, and both involve seemingly-odd design decisions on Winter Wolves’ part.
First: a thing that many dating sims like this do is to make a girl’s approval of you dependent on mastery of one particular stat. One girl digs strength above all, one girl digs smarts, one girl digs looks… you get the idea. Flower Shop attempts to subvert this idea, however: rather than just one, each girl in Flower Shop likes it if you’re good in two things. So Clara likes a man with high Determination, obviously, because that’s the stat hanging out with her raises. But she also likes it if you’re up-to-date on the Coolness of Los Angeles. See how this works?
Amusingly, in a system like this, you could be forgiven for imagining a circle-structure of sorts. Clara likes Determination, her own stat, and Coolness, Jill’s stat. So obviously Jill likes Coolness, and… either Romance or Culture, right? But in practice: the four girls seem to pair off: both Clara and Jill appreciate Determination and Coolness, and both Marian and Susana enjoy Romance and Culture.
Flower Shop ends after the appropriate macking-on cutscene has been triggered, so there’s no multi-macking for Steve. But as that cutscene is triggered randomly, inside a girl’s associated events, it’s almost trivially easy to romance at least two girls in a single save. Go running with Clara until the fateful kiss, then reload, and swap all instances of running for phone calls to Jill. And presto!
“Okay, but that’s still only two, right?” Right again, Fiddles! But that brings me to the second odd decision:
There is an optimal way to play Flower Shop, and it involves recognizing that farming doesn’t matter.
I’m serious. Remember this?
It doesn’t matter. Absolutely nothing about it. It’s the narrative crutch that props up Steve’s entire character-growth arc, and it has about as much influence on the gameplay and romance outcomes as the volume sliders.
Here’s how the farming works. Every time slot you devote to farming — every morning, and every afternoon you choose to Work — you get six actions. First, you clear weeds from the farm. Then, you plant seeds in the open fields. Every day, plants accumulate parasites and drain water, which you can respectively clear off and replenish. After a certain number of days, plant-dependent, the plant matures, and you can sell it for money. You can also uproot plants earlier, for reduced payout, or buy fertilizer to increase growth speed.
Plants are sold automatically. You can visit Susana’s shop to purchase new seeds — yes, this coincides with you hanging out with her — according to some arcane system of pricing and availability. Sometimes, certain seeds can be bought. Other times, they can’t! Who determines this? I’ll tell you who doesn’t know, readers: it’s me.
You buy seeds, plant them, water them, clean them, harvest them for money. And then you use the money… to buy more seeds.
This is the only thing money can be used for in this game.
I’m serious! many dating sims have a money mechanic, usually used for either personal upgrades or BioWare-style ‘now you like me’ affection gifts. Flower Shop has neither of these. Like in the first three (five) Assassin’s Creed games, the money-making minigame in Flower Shop is solely a self-perpetuating cycle: you make more money to make more money, in order to make more money. So you can make more money.
I’ve been told that Flower Shop has nine possible endings. It’s possible, from reading the text, that the amount of money you make and the work you put into your farm influence parts of this: all my romance endings had me ‘stay on the farm’ because I ‘loved it so much’. Maybe things play out differently if you (intentionally) mess up?
I couldn’t tell you. I can only tell you what I know: I didn’t play the farming minigame with any kind of vigor, during my second run: I bought and sold plants during the morning runs, but I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to it. And I still got enough money to trigger the mega endings.
The upshot of this story is that farming doesn’t matter. Particularly, even if you care for the ‘good’ endings, the ‘work’ action doesn’t matter. It’s entirely unnecessary, a waste of time and precious health both.
So you stop doing it.
There is an ‘optimal’ way to play Flower Shop. It goes a little like this: you have six days, and five actions worth doing. If you Relax at least once per week, and you don’t do any Work, your health will remain at a comfortable 100 throughout. So Relax once, hang out with each girl once, and spend the last day with the girl you like best and/or her counterpart. Rotate out as needed. You’ll get at high stats throughout at around week seven, eight. And from there on out… it’s just a matter of focus.
As for the story itself… it’s eh. Not bad, by any stretch, but it’s no award-winning material by any stretch. Each character is fleshed out just enough to avoid feeling one-note, while simultaneously feeling less developed than I feel they could be. Clara is a girl who likes sports and cool things, and who’s in some undetermined conflict with her father about going to university. We never see her father: the conflict plays out entirely on the background, relayed to us via proxy. Marian writes poetry and blames her parents for her shitty upbringing. Jill is driven and ambitious, and needs someone around her who’s not a self-centered jerk. Uncle Max is a farmer past his prime with a shocking secret. Jacob is timid and has a crush on Clara. And so on, and so on, und so weiter.
Flower Shop’s story plays out along predictable beats, depending on your choices. It’s interesting enough to read while playing, but…
…well, once you macked on everyone once, what reason do you have to go back?
Flower Shop: Summer in Fairbrook is a visual novel. It seems my last line of the previous section forgot that: saying ‘once you’ve done everything of value, you won’t be coming back’ doesn’t sound nearly as indicting when you remember the game in question is basically a digital book with a minigame attached. Of course you’re not going to go back after you finished reading it. You finished reading it.
And from the perspective of a digital book, Flower Shop is… alright, I guess. It’s diverting, let’s put it like that. The characters are somewhat interesting, the art is funny if nothing else, and the farming minigame does add an element of engagement to the proceedings the first time around. Before you figure out it’s entirely useless, I mean. Which… I may have ruined for you? Whoops. Sorry.
Would I recommend buying Flower Shop: Summer in Fairbrook? At 15-odd bucks on Steam, I don’t know. If you want to read about the riveting lives of virtual one-point-five-note women in a small farming village, or if you want to play something that’s like Farmville except much less time-and-life-consuming, I guess you can have decent fun with it. At the very least, you can try the demo; maybe Steve’s antics will endear you to him more than to me. Or maybe you’re just really, really hot for women with creepy black-point retina eyes.
If you don’t care about any of that… better maybe to leave this virtual book out of your library.
Jarenth is wondering why the title flower arrangements don’t match the actual in-game flowers you hand out, and also, why he recognizes this off-hand. Test his flower knowledge on Twitter or on Steam.