What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)
Developer: Giant Sparrow
One of the most well recognized narrative-driven indies of 2017 and top of my backlog for months now, What Remains of Edith Finch was an exciting game for me to get to and I decided to really dive in and take my time with my playthrough. I've heard people list this as their favorite indie game of all time and rave for the time and work that went into it. What Remains of Edith Finch is a first-person walk through a cursed, bizarre house and reliving the stories of each of the Finch family members.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a spiritual successor to Gone Home and the genre of walking sims that came after, but it is able to delve into a much deeper story and more styles of gameplay. This game is less about interacting with every aspect of the house and more about learning about the humans that lived in it. Edith's family, the Finches, lived in this house ever since her great-great-grandfather immigrated there with his family. He did so to escape a "family curse" that took the lives of his family members, and yet, he attempted to pack up his entire house on a boat. Here begins the story of the Finches, and also their obsession with memorializing. As Edith, you return to your childhood home, tucked away between a forest and the ocean, seemingly untouched by humanity since the day you left. You crawl through the secret passages of the house to enter the sealed-off rooms of all of her relatives who have passed on. Once you reach each room, you find their memories and relive them to see what happened to them and why you're the only one left.
Despite the fact that the strongest aspect of this game is the storytelling, What Remains of Edith Finch is to me a perfect example of one narrative which a video game is able to convey so much more than a movie would. There's a plethora of characters, all with very real struggles and personalities, so much so that in the beginning you don't imagine you'll actually learn about every single one of them. However, you are in fact given time to learn about each character, how they were as a real person, and reflect. You're able to literally step into their shoes and live their story and die through their tragic and often dramatize death. As much as What Remains of Edith Finch feels cinematic at times, it actually tells more about the stories and characters through gameplay than through cutscenes.
I went into this game completely blind, not even having looked at screenshots, just because I had heard rave reviews about it. However, anywhere you look up What Remains of Edith Finch you'll quickly find that the art style and gameplay aren't consistent throughout the whole game. Each memory, or different portion of the game, was like its own individual game, and yet it surprised me with how smoothly it was incorporated. Despite the fact that you know they won't have a happy ending, each new story subverts your expectations in a creative way to fit that character. My favorite was Barbara's story, which was told to you through a comic book, and therefore you actually played through a comic book. The pop-style shown in the screenshot below is very different from the art style of the rest of the game, but it's so unique and functions so well to make you imagine the time and place. It's also the only part of the game where you're holding a weapon (a crutch is a weapon in this case) that you can swing around and knock items over. Even as you move, you can still see the still panels on the rest of the page.
As cool as it was exploring this giant, bizarre house, I can’t help but think how unsafe and unfeasible it was as a building to live in (even before it was abandoned). There’s additional rooms built all over the top and the sides, as if it’s just some Minecraft house where you can place blocks basically anywhere. However, we can speculate that some of the ridiculous nature of the story was because we're seeing through the eyes of the narrator and their perception of the environment; not only that, but also perhaps we're even seeing the way the story is interpreted by whoever is reading her journal in the beginning of the game. It's such a realistic game, but perhaps the story was gone through layers of flawed interpretation that may have distorted the world we get to see. Also, I usually don't enjoy the use of real photographs in videogames, but the way it was blended into an also very real and flawed family felt right. You could imagine the characters as everyday people, with their own thoughts and opinions, who you could run into on the street. The level of detail in every environment is also mindblowing for an indie game, even one with a pretty large team.
Strangely enough, the very tragic story of What Remains of Edith Finch didn’t reach me emotionally, in a way that some games have definitely done. The characters absolutely seemed real people, but also like people I couldn't relate to or understand. I've heard plenty of people say this game resonated with them emotionally, and I'm glad that What Remains of Edith Finch was that for them. If death, or the fear of it, was more constant in my life, perhaps it would mean more for me as well, but I'd say I'm lucky that it's not the case. This family, so obsessed with their family history and death, make the choice to live in what is essentially a giant coffin. Their obsession with death and memorializing seems outrageous, but I think as humans we do often have a need to set aside so much physical space for those who are no longer physically present.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a rare type of game and what I would show someone if they asked, “are video games art?” It isn’t the most fun game I’ve ever played, but it felt like an incredibly beautiful and meaningful visual experience. It makes you think about the power of stories, both negative and positive, and how much humans can spend their lives preparing for and leaving room for death. I'd play this again just to look for more clues to explain this family's strange curse, but it definitely helped me to watch this video essay by Joseph Anderson, who explains his theory about the villain behind the tragedy in What Remains of Edith Finch. Whether you enjoy this adherence to a linear but bizarre story, I can say you probably haven't played anything quite like it.
What Remains of Edith Finch is available on PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.
Played on: PC
Last Played: 5/27/19
Playtime: 3 hrs