What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is full of life, even as it fixates on death. Bending or building on many conventions, developer Giant Sparrow has a story full of hope and sadness to tell, and finds incredibly clever ways to tell it – all wrapped in the framework of a young woman unearthing her family’s secrets. Games like Gone Home and Firewatch have popularized the process of exploring mysterious settings and uncovering clues, and What Remains of Edith Finch is the next major step forward in that tradition.
Edith Finch is the last surviving member in a bloodline full of misfortune, and you explore her family home while learning about the disappearances and deaths of her relatives. You find your way into their long-sealed rooms, which usually contain scenes about their last moments on Earth. This premise alone is fascinating, and the attention to detail in the rooms and their furnishings is remarkable, but what sets this game apart is how it makes each character’s story feel unique. Gamers can only collect so many journals, letters, and audio logs before the narratives in this subgenre start to feel routine; What Remains of Edith Finch has some of those standbys, but folds them in with shifting gameplay and perspectives that are consistently surprising. It makes you feel present, so you’re never left idle by reading or listening to dialogue.
Discovering the framing of these tragic tales is a major force propelling you through the story, so I won’t spoil all of the details, but the variety among the scenarios is especially impressive. In one case, you see a fantasy world gradually grow in complexity as it encroaches on (and takes over) reality. In another, you watch a story occur on comic-book pages, with you occasionally taking control within the panels. In a particularly surreal sequence, you jump between a variety of animal predators and pursue their prey. The gameplay and presentation make each scene distinct, leaving you excited to see the next one – though you already know the grim conclusion.
What Remains of Edith Finch is like an interactive short story anthology, and Edith’s journey through the house is the thread tying everything together. You’ve probably explored spooky mansions in games before, but not quite like this. Even walking through the abandoned halls is interesting, since Edith’s thoughts and memories appear as text on various surfaces, occasionally giving the cool sensation that you are literally moving through the story. Other times, the location of the text also serves to guide your attention, delivering the story at a steady pace and preventing you from wandering aimlessly. In the few hours it took me to finish one playthrough, I never felt stuck or uncertain about my next step.
Most of the Finches’ tales stand alone, giving you a satisfying sense of progress as you finish them. Learning about her relatives is presented as Edith’s main objective, and that goal is accomplished. However, my biggest complaint is that a larger, overarching question remains unanswered: What is the driving force behind all of the tragedy? The game raises this issue several times, and just when you think you are about to put the pieces together, you are denied the opportunity. I don’t mind when stories leave room for interpretation, but in this case, you are teased with information you’ve been waiting for only to have it stolen away. Even if this in an intended parallel between Edith’s search for answers and the player’s, the moment leaves a conspicuous hole in the story and makes an important aspect feel unfinished. But ultimately, that is only one thread that left me disappointed among many that didn’t.
Narrative is an important part of many genres, but for games focused solely on interactive stories, it is the pillar that bears the weight of the entire experience – a burden What Remains of Edith Finch handles deftly. Giant Sparrow devised innovative tricks to pull players in, making them more active participants in the significant events. The Finches’ final moments are diverse and sometimes disconnected, but they have a thematic consistency running through them, so the tale builds on itself and delivers a compact and memorable experience. Juggling multiple perspectives and thoughtful reflections, What Remains of Edith Finch is an excellent example of what makes games unique as a storytelling medium.