If you’re looking for a just casual game to zone out in front of then What Remains of Edith Finch is not for you. It’s a kick to the gut that will stick with you for days - in the best way possible.
Giant Sparrow, the creators of The Unfinished Swan, developed this first-person, story-driven game that takes place on an island off the coast of Washington State. The protagonist Edith Finch is the last living member of the Finches and sets out to uncover the truth about her cursed family. She returns to her childhood home, a massive house filled with hidden passages, memories, and the secrets to closure. The home itself is a ridiculous building you’d only find in a video game. I can’t imagine it’s up to any sort of building code, with a boat attached to the roof and rooms on stilts. Nevertheless, it offers a unique setting to explore and is an anchor to the narrative. Stacks of books litter the household and sealed off bedrooms with peepholes line the hallways. Each bedroom is a memorial to its past inhabitant, preserved exactly how it was left after they met their tragic fate. Growing up here, Edith was never allowed in the rooms... until now. As a child, her mother shielded her from what really happened to the generations of family members before her. Is her family cursed or are they just that unlucky?
The gameplay is very simple; find a way into the bedrooms to reveal the account of the final days of each fallen Finch. Once Edith learns how they died she marks it off on her family tree written in her journal. Each room contains a special memento left behind; a diary, a letter, a photograph, etc. Once Edith locates the specific keepsake the narrative switches to a first-person perspective of the family member who the item belonged to. From daydreaming in a fish canning factory, to the panels of a comic book coming to life, to capturing the final moments of one’s life on camera, each perspective employs a unique device and art design to tell the individual stories and provides the game with layered dimensions that make each family member's story feel special and specific to the individual.
Throughout the game, Edith narrates the present day while each family member narrates their own tale. As you move around the dialogue floats onto the screen, often blending into the setting. You can walk past and even through the words and they'll disappear and stick with you as you continue your journey...figuratively speaking. There’s really no strategy, obstacles, or even puzzles to solve, but a goal of fulfilling a rich storytelling experience.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a short game but I’d recommend taking breaks after each account to allow yourself a chance to process what you witnessed. To play it straight through would be a disservice to the individual narratives and the impact they have on a player; heck, there are a few that I’m still processing. There were moments I was filled with hope and within seconds it’d be stripped away, sending me on a rollercoaster of emotions. If this game sounds morbid, you’re right. Much like the real world, death is very much final in this game; generations of Finch family members are already dead at the start of the game so there is no going back. It's dark as hell but learning their stories should provide you with a different take on life.
Often, we play games to escape the real world but What Remains of Edith Finch will have you asking yourself questions you probably haven't taken the time to consider. How long do we have to live? How will we deal with loss? How will the decisions we make today impact us tomorrow? Do we accept the mundane or do we take a risk and plunge into unknown territory? If you’re not ready to ponder your own mortality then this isn’t the game for you. And if you haven’t played The Unfinished Swan I’d recommend doing so before playing this. It’s not required but it will provide a deeper meaning to one tale that you would otherwise miss.
What Remains of Edith Finch is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, and GOG.
Check out the trailer below: