Secret Diaries: Florence Ashford makes things a little too easy.
While the hidden object genre has never been known to contain games with substantial length, Secret Diaries: Florence Ashford can be finished in a little more than the “free trial” download time of 60 minutes. Is the game bad? Not necessarily, but in a sea of similar hidden object games it does little to stand out.
The game’s story is incredibly light and sees you taking on the role of Florence Ashford, a beautiful young woman from a family that has lost their savings and now sits on the brink of financial destruction. You begin the game traveling to Bucklebury Manor, where the rich Marquis Henry awaits Florence’s hand in marriage. It is believed that the Marquis will pay off the family debt, thus restoring their good name.
One major plot twist exists here, however, as Florence quickly learns that she has been deceived, the Marquis isn’t really who he appears to be, and that a handsome stranger may actually be the only one that can save both Florence’s family, and even Florence herself from a torturous future with the Marquis.
Secret Diaries: Florence Ashford is split into nine chapters, each of which contains a few light puzzles (memory games, “Simon Says” games, tile-sliding games, and so on), and perhaps one generic hidden object experience, that being the kind of level that sees you searching for all of the items on a list from a stationary backdrop.
The game is set in the 1800’s, so the graphics do a nice job of presenting the world as it might have been had you traveled back in time. There’s a lovely rose garden, a beautiful lace gown sprawled upon your bed, a library with dark woods and candelabras – the stage set in the game is quite lovely, it’s just lacking almost entirely in animation, other than the brightly flashing arrows and other hints that scream “Click me!”
That being said, you can lessen these hints by taking advantage of the choice between Normal and Expert modes when you first begin gameplay. In Normal mode, these hints abound, and the game is turned into little more than a hand-held experience, lacking almost entirely in challenge. In addition, the hint recharge time takes less time to recharge in Normal mode, so you can use hints more frequently (however, you won’t ever need to, as the glaring orbs of bright light that immediately call your attention when you enter a new space negate the need). In Expert mode, then, the recharge time for hints is longer, and the visual clues are less overwhelming.
The gameplay is easy in either mode, due mostly to the limited gameplay area (you travel between a handful of rooms for the entire game), and the sheer brevity of the story. It can be finished in just over an hour, but if you decide to use hints through the entire process, you can probably finish the game well within your 60 minute trial time, which is, needless to say, a bit disappointing.
There is a “bonus mode” after you finish the main story, but this consists of little more than a single hidden object list, that can be finished in under a minute.
All told, Secret Diaries: Florence Ashford caters mostly to those who are just beginning in the genre, but will feel condescending and even stale to everyone else. If the developers had simply added more content or length to the game, it would have been much easier to recommend.