Game Review: What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is a first-person narrative adventure game that follows the story of a “cursed” family living in Washington state. Released in 2017, it was developed by Giant Sparrow, the same studio behind The Unfinished Swan (which was entertaining, but not nearly as good as What Remains of Edith Finch). Although the game is framed by its main protagonist, Edith Finch, you experience a series of “short stories” from the point of view of other Finch family members as Edith tries to piece together what really happened to them.
It is a creepy, mysterious, shocking, and wholly immersive experience. Every scene left me on the edge of my seat, trying to figure out how this story was going to end. When it ultimately did — it’s not very long; I finished it in an afternoon — I was disappointed that it hadn’t lasted longer. But it is still a very good game, one of the best I’ve played in a while. While it may be less of a game and more of an interactive story, the world was expertly crafted and the story of the demise of the Finch family was very compelling.
I hadn’t really heard much about the game before I knew I was going to play it, but it didn’t take much. I had seen some screenshots of the opening scene — mainly that big, crazy, rickety house — online, but I wasn’t prepared for a game that would so delicately and profoundly explore themes such as life, death, and destiny. One of my friends had talked a bit about the scene with Molly Finch (the young girl who is sent to bed without dinner) prior to my playing it as well, but that knowledge only further encouraged me to play it.
Playing What Remains of Edith Finch felt like reading a good book. Unlike a film, the story progresses only as fast as you can play it, allowing long moments to admire and investigate your surroundings. I spent far too much time reading the titles of all the books in the den at the beginning of the game (I was a bit disappointed to see that many of the titles repeated themselves), but a large part of what makes the game so interesting is the slow build it creates toward the ending. There are no monsters or murderers out to get you as you explore the house, and it lets you take your time to contemplate everything that it gives you. Despite the fact that you know all the stories you are experiencing are going to end in that character’s death, they never feel boring.
Each story is presented in a unique way, from diary pages, court and medical records, to an over-the-top comic book. There is so much emotion connected to each cut scene. Some of the stories, especially as you progress farther into the game, make you feel guilty as you play them. While some of them, like that of Gus Finch, are obviously the results of accidents, others, especially Gregory and Calvin’s, make you feel guilty for the role you play in them.
Controlling Calvin, as he swings higher and higher above the Puget Sound, felt wrong. Because the way he was going to die was immediately apparent as the scene opened — that he would fly off the swing and fall to his death. Controlling every swing of his legs was strange. I stopped several times, wondering if I could prevent the inevitable from happening, but I knew I couldn’t.
It’s definitely not a game you’re going to be able to walk away from at any point and feel happy, but it will definitely make you think. The story only gives you exactly as much as you need to feel satisfied, but it also keeps a lot of information from you as well.
Toward the end of the game, when you control young Edith during the last night she sees her grandmother, you come across a journal your grandmother has written. Inside the journal is one of the more interesting stories in the game, of the old house that Edith’s ancestors rode across the ocean, that doesn’t seem to have any real-wold explanation. This story is alluded to earlier in the game, but Edie (the grandma) begins to describe a day, shortly after her granddaughter was born, when the tide went out in the Sound and she was able to walk out to that creepy old house.
You are followed by the iconic and immersive narration as you lead Edie through the fog, as well as deer and sounds that you can’t quite place. And just as you approach the old house and notice a light on in the upstairs window (an image that felt oddly reminiscent of the beginning of Resident Evil 7), the journal is ripped away from young Edith and you are torn away from the story. You never find out how it ends.
But that’s where a lot of the strength of the narrative comes in. You are only given the minimum amount information about this family and are forced to fill in the details with your imagination. You learn about the deaths of all of Edith’s family members, but a lot about them as characters remains a mystery. The death of Edith’s brother, Lewis, is explored in almost too much detail, but the specifics of his mental troubles, why he felt unhappy, and any real information coming from his perspective is lost. You only know as much as Edith knows, and that is very powerful. What Remains of Edith Finch often leaves you wondering and trying to understand how all the characters fit in to the narrative that Edith (and by entension Edie) have created for the family.
The stories within stories (within one even larger story) make it hard to keep track of what is going on at times, but everything makes sense in the end, even if the way things turn out are a bit unexpected. Even though I’m writing this some four months removed from the game, I don’t find myself at a lose for what to say. There is something so interesting and niggling about this game that I can’t help but think about it constantly.
I would recommend this game to anyone. It’s not hard to play, and you have the opportunity to go back and replay scenes after you’ve finish the game in case you missed anything on the first time through. The themes of What Remains of Edith Finch are dark, mainly about death, but they are very thought-provoking. It is a slow burn that doesn’t coddle its players. It lets you explore at your own pace, and creates a narrative web that leaves you feeling inspired and clever at the same time. It’s really wonderful.