What Remains of Edith Finch: Exploring the Bittersweet Intersection of Death and Memory
Created by Giant Sparrow, What Remains of Edith Finch is a beautiful illustration of the intersection between the vastness of the world around us, family secrets that lurk in the shadows, and an exploration of the way death can maintain a powerful grip on the future. A curse follows the Finch family--one that kills its members one by one. Accompany Edith, the last surviving member of the Finch family, as she unravels the mysteries of the Finch family tree.
If there's one constant emotion in this game, it's the feeling of being small -- of not knowing everything and trying to understand the true meaning lurking beneath familiar images. This is the task facing Edith as she returns to her family home on the precipice of realizing that what was once familiar as a child is now completely new as an adult. As you approach the Finch estate, the looming, piecemeal house sets the tone for the dark and surreal tales that follow.
Just looking at it makes you a bit uncomfortable.
Gameplay That Adds to the Experience
As a first-person adventure game or walking simulator, What Remains of Edith Finch maintains a perfect balance between interaction and observation. Most of the game's controls involve walking through the maze of the Finch house and interacting with the mementos of members long gone.
The utilization of button and joy thumbstick combos to do things like turn the page of a book or pull open a door are moments that ground the player in the game. It's a lovely touch that manages to break down the "point and click" feeling that sometimes occurs with first-person adventure/walking simulators.
Finding mementos triggers interactive sequences that transfers perspective from Edith to the subject at hand, so you get sequences like the one below where interactivity peaks in beautifully surreal situations.
Another one of my favorite sequences of the game.
Atmospheric Surrealism at Its Best
A theme of childhood nostalgia runs deep within the game -- from monsters under the bed, to flying kites, to seeing how high you can go on a swing set. While some of the Finch family members died in their old age, others were heartbreakingly young. The familiar tropes of childhood are threaded with things dark and unsettling to create an atmosphere that keeps you curious and slightly on edge.
The living rub elbows with the dead in this game, as many rooms in the house serve as mini-shrines to deceased members of the Finch family. Rooms are left exactly as they were when the Finch family members passed away, and candle-lined portraits (painted by Edith Sr., the matriarch of the Finch family) are placed in the rooms in memoriam.
It’s interesting how something so bizarre is normalized, simply because it’s business as usual within a family. It makes you remember that family dynamics are miniature systems all on their own, with variances in behavior and tradition -- and it’s always interesting to learn the inner mechanics of a family unit (real or imagined). Each family member’s story has a unique edge, so there’s never a worry of getting bored with the individual narratives.
As such, Lewis’s story is one of the most impressive portions of the game. With one thumbstick, you control the movements of Lewis in his adventurous imagination. With the other? Your blood-covered, blue glove slices off fish heads. The sequence is genius in its extended metaphor of a wandering mind -- it's a metaphor you’re actually playing. Eventually, the slicing of the fish heads fades to muscle memory (as it does for Lewis) and you, the player, also become lost in the land of your imagination. This sequence is definitely worth playing twice, because it’s loaded with overlapping symbols.
Once you complete the game, there is an option to replay certain areas in an episodic fashion. Though the game is a short three or four hours to complete, I recommend replaying some of those sequences. Even broken apart from the larger narrative, each character’s story is a powerful experience on its own.
Throughout the game, I couldn't help but notice that What Remains of Edith Finch is a wonderful ode to the various forms of telling a story -- be it a journal, news clips, photographs, notes and letters, flip books, or even the game itself. (Or maybe it’s just my insane love of the art of storytelling.)
It goes without saying that the focal point of the game is the bizarre story that unfolds as Edith learns the history of her family members and what caused each of their deaths. The stories are connected in that the life and thoughts of one family member are referenced in sequences outside of their own. The narrative structure is subtly woven together in a way that gives life to the shadowy secrets Edith discovers as she walks through the house.
The Soundtrack Is the Cherry on Top
What Remains of Edith Finch has a gorgeous soundtrack that is worth buying on its own merit. The orchestra-based OST is a beautiful pairing with the visual aesthetic and narrative -- more so because there are key moments when it is activated. Most of the time, you’re treated to the sound effects of an old house full of secrets. During the character sequences, the soundtrack matches the mood to perfection (and sometimes the orchestra is abandoned completely). While playing, I found myself lingering to absorb the music and soak in the feeling it evoked. Milton’s story is one of the most beautiful pairings of sight and sound I’ve seen in a game.
The Skinny on What Remains of Edith Finch
You will love this game if:
- You enjoy surreal, atmospheric settings
- You love a damn good story that lingers after you hear it
- Enjoy episodic adventures where it all ties into a larger story
You may not like this game if:
- You're a button-mashin' action junkie
- Stories that leave lingering questions irritate you
- You can't take the time to play it all the way through in one sitting (3-4 hours)
TL;DR: What Remains of Edith Finch is a story-rich, first-person adventure game that is sure to satisfy any gamer looking for an experience that can be completed in one sitting, but will linger in mind long after the end credits roll.
Editors Note: The developer provided a review copy of this game.