What Remains of Edith Finch injects refreshing amounts of interactivity and imagination into the successful (and polarizing) narrative adventure sub-genre. As the teenage titular character, players embark on a quest to learn about an ancestry defined by a series of unfortunate events. Each of Edith’s relatives have perished under strange, often freak, circumstances. Is the Finch family cursed? Why was Edith shielded from the details of her family history throughout her life? Similar games would have players solve these mysteries by reading notes, listening to a narration, or watching a cinematic. What Remains of Edith Finch differs by dropping players into a collection of creatively designed gameplay sequences that beautifully chronicle the Finch’s accounts and ensure players remain captivated until the credits roll.
From the get go, the game grabs your attention with its distinct narrative presentation. Edith’s thoughts are conveyed in physical words that not only appear in the world, but can be interacted with. Stepping through paragraphs bends sentences until they shatter into ethereal alphabet soup. This may seem like a small, stylistic, touch, but I found that it did a great job in keeping me actively engaged in the story. Instead of passively heeding a narrator, I actively read along with Edith and occasionally needed to look around to see where her text would materialize next.
Similar to games like Gone Home, players search areas for points of interests that propel the narrative forward. The abandoned Finch house and the surrounding property carry several decades’ worth of history from the generations of Finch’s that have resided there. The immaculately detailed home is a delight to wander around in. Giant Sparrow did a great job of making the house feel not only lived-in, but making players feel the presence of its former occupants. Movie posters of a child actress proudly litter one hallway. A bedroom split between military and space aesthetics paint the tales of two disparate twins. Stranger sights such as a dilapidated playground slide fashioned after a dragon further suggests an eclectic household. I got a great sense of the Finch’s individual personalities and was eager to learn about their curious history.
Examining the sealed-off bedrooms of each family member reveals a playable memory sequence providing a glimpse into their lives–including their demise. Gameplay, and even the entire presentation, alters dramatically during these segments. The story of a hungry child transports players into the deadly minds of various carnivores who must hunt down prey. A troubled teenager’s over-the-top power fantasy comes to life as a top-down style adventure game. One of the most vivid and inspired sequences details the attempted comeback of the aforementioned former actress that I won’t spoil.
Although not every activity is necessarily deep, these moments make Edith Finch an unpredictable and exciting journey. I remained consistently eager to discover the next story and see what fresh scenario I’d encounter next. More importantly, they prevented the game from falling into one-note territory. Before the act of strolling around the house lost its luster, a new type of memory sequence emerged to liven things up. Games of this ilk tend to waive substantial interaction in favor of delivering a pure narrative experience, which can turn off players who require more than a good story to stay invested. What Remains of Edith Finch regularly commands attention with frequent surprises and varied mechanics.
Every Finch tale ends in tragedy, and I like how some of the family members’ fates are left up to interpretation. A few deaths are explained relatively plainly (such as a hunting trip gone sadly awry) but others are expressed using clever allegories and context clues. In a way, drawing my own conclusions made the endings sadder because my imagination was allowed to run wild. Despite the often whimsical and light-hearted forms these stories take, reenacting some scenes feels appropriately painful, particularly for the younger Finch relatives.
With a large family tree to get through, the game’s message does begin to feel overly hammered in towards the end: life is fleeting and should be cherished. Thankfully, the touching and bittersweet finale provides an unexpected twist that sends the game off on a high note. Be prepared to gain a greater appreciation for every breath you take after playing.
What Remains of Edith Finch could be the narrative adventure game for genre detractors. Boasting imaginative and varied gameplay, players engage in a lot more than just walking around and observing objects. Gameplay always presents a new twist or angel. At times, even dexterity is challenged, which rarely occurs in this style of game. The wonderfully told Finch stories bolster the intriguing premise and some tales will likely stick with players long after they’ve put the controller down. These merits make What Remains to Edith Finch the easiest “walking simulator” to recommend to newcomers and naysayers. Enthusiasts of the style should absolutely spend a night pondering life and death within the Finch household.
What Remains of Edith Finch was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is available for PC and Mac.
Edited by Marcus Stewart