Developers Giant Sparrow have created a powerhouse of emotional storytelling with What Remains of Edith Finch. The Finger Guns review;
Here’s the thing with What Remains of Edith Finch – I feel it’s best played with as little prior knowledge as possible. This feels at odds with what I’m going to attempt to do next – review the game while talking about aspects in the game that I’m glad I didn’t know before playing. Instead of ruining the experience for you, I want to propose something else instead. I’m going to write a minimal, spoiler free tl;dr version below and if that sounds like your kind of game, close down this review and go and play it. If you need more convincing either way, read on at your own peril – I’ll steer clear of spoilers but trust me when I say, going into What remains of Edith Finch blind is the best way to play it. Deal? Cool. Moving on…
- A haunting celebration of life and death
- Not so much a “walking sim” as it is a “story simulator”
- Visually sublime accompanied by an equally beautiful soundtrack
- An early Game of the Year contender
This is your last chance to turn back. The full review will begin after the following image.
It’s 2AM and I’ve just completed one of the self-contained stories within What Remains of Edith Finch. Half an hour ago I was chuckling to myself but now I feel like I’ve just been kicked in the heart by Jet Li. There’s no mistaking it, my lip’s wobbling and I’m crying. Not just a single tear – they’re escaping my eye in droves despite my best efforts to keep it together. I couldn’t pass this off as a “I’ve got something in my eye” moment unless that ‘thing’ was a Boeing 747. This particular story hit too close to home and came out of nowhere. It was so tonally jarring, so beautifully told and so emotionally charged that I switched the game off and went to bed. I lay awake for an hour, broken. This is the capability of What Remains of Edith Finch, a haunting celebration of life and death.
Edith Finch is the last remaining member of The Finch family. She’s returning to The Finch House (that large unusually shaped building you’ve probably seen in the trailers), which she left years previously and has not been back too since. Here she uncovers the secrets of her eccentric family, diarizing everything she uncovers for prosperity. You see, The Finch Family consider themselves to be somewhat cursed and the contents of the house certainly leads to confirm some of that notion – No member of the Finch Family dies under “normal” circumstances. As Edith explores her childhood home, she opens locked rooms which belonged to her deceased family members and as she finds memorials, is presented with a self-enclosed mini-story/game which depicts their final moments. Each is told in their own unique way with their own tone which mirrors the quirkiness of the family members themselves. Some are told to you via audio logs and static images, others you play through. All 13 of them are, however, filled with equal parts lucid, magical whimsy and the sullen macabre.
There are many story threads running throughout What Remains of Edith Finch that bridge the gaps between the 13 vignettes contained within The Finch House. Edith’s relationship with her mother and grandmother. How deaths affect the living that are left behind. The idea of self-fulfilling prophecies and how to avoid them. To say any more would be to spoil some of the game’s more poignant moments but these story threads lace together into an emotionally fulfilling, hard hitting but enjoyable plot.
Since the game’s release, I’ve seen the term “first-person Walking Simulator” stamped on What Remains of Edith Finch and almost entirely disagree with it. Sure, there’s no traditional win/loss condition, there is walking involved and it is predominantly in first person, but it feels like much more than that. I’m not trying to coin a new phrase here but if I had to put it into a category, i’d be a “Story simulator” rather than anything else. There are a myriad of different inputs and mechanics used to tell the stories in the most effective way, often complementing the plot point the game is attempting to portray. In one story, the screen splits itself with reality portrayed on the right of the screen and a 3rd person, top down day-dream shown on the left. As this story progresses, the day-dream creeps further and further across the screen until very little of what was originally portrayed on the right remains in focus. The game is filled with hundreds of these similar gameplay nuances that add a new level of depth that the narrative can reach.
Visually, What Remains of Edith Finch is beautiful. A combination of impressive technical performance and a realistic but fanciful art direction results in an stirring game world that feels “lived in”. It’s not clean, with clutter and a “real” feel to it but it’s far from gritty and there’s an attention to detail almost everywhere that most 3D games could learn from.
This sits alongside a soundtrack that’s powerful but measured, doing just enough to accompany the game without overwhelming it. It’s memorable – the gentle piano notes and escorting wind and strings have been on repeat on my internal jukebox for a week – and effortlessly bolster the feelings that the visuals and gameplay evoke on screen. In my opinion, this is composer Jeff Russo’s finest work to date.
When exploring The Finch House, Edith’s internal monologue is played through a vocal track as well as floating text which appears in and around the environment. To make sure you don’t miss what the game is point out to you, the players vision is often gently nudged in the right direction. This is my only complaint, and it’s a small complaint, about What Remains of Edith Finch – rarely, this nudge in the right direction felt a little too intrusive. For the majority of the game, the gentle guidance is entirely unnecessary because the game environment is designed in such a way as to draw your attention to where they need to be. The few times the game really fought against me to turn Edith’s head, it felt unwelcome and uncharacteristically forceful, breaking the immersion.
In summary, this is a powerhouse of emotional storytelling. Developers Giant Sparrow have taken their previous work on The Unfinished Swan and have improved upon it in every way, creating something truly soul-stirring and evocative with Edith Finch. It broke me with one story and then put me back together with another, doing so with a confidence in design that’s rarely on show in such abundance. This game is a heartwarming and heart-breaking journey through the culling of a Family tree and the effect that it has on the branches that remain. It’s rare insistence on the player seeing what it wants you to see is its only fault in my eyes and even that feels like pettifoggery. I highly recommend you discover What Remains of Edith Fitch for yourself.
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Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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