Once in a while, a game comes along and something about it just resonates with you.
What Remains of Edith Finch was one of those games for me. After first seeing a teaser trailer for it a few years ago, it’s stayed on my radar, even though much of the game remained a mystery. I’ve kept it that way, purposefully not searching for news and developer updates; sometimes it’s better to go into something as blind as possible. I didn’t know what Edith Finch would have in store for me as I loaded up the game, but now I’ve completed it, it’s something that’s going to stick with me a long time.
I always find that the stronger a narrative is, the more I want of it. What Remains of Edith Finch is a pretty short experience – it took me around three hours to get to the end, after meticulously searching every nook and cranny as thoroughly as the game would allow – and as the credits rolled, I ached for more. Giant Sparrow has succeeded in creating such a small yet incredible world that I’m desperate to delve deeper in.
Edith Finch is the narrator and protagonist of the story, and we follow her as she returns to her childhood home in search of uncovering the mysteries of her family. At just 17 years old, Edith is the last person in her family alive. One brother vanished when she was four years old; another died tragically some years later. Her parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins; generation after generation, members of the Finch family have died young and often shrouded in mystery. Edith’s mother, the most recent to pass away, had kept many secrets about the family house and its past inhabitants in a bid to protect Edith, but now, with nobody to turn to, she’s left with an endless list of questions. Questions that I too, as a player, urgently wanted answers for, and with Edith as my guide, we together went searching.
You’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s fiction when playing What Remains of Edith Finch – but then, neither is Edith herself. As soon as you catch a glimpse of her family home – a brilliantly bizarre monument that looks like it belongs to a mad professor in a Disney film; towers and rooms built on top of each other, leaning precariously into the sky – you know that this isn’t going to be the tale of any regular family. Entering the house is innocuous enough to begin with; the kitchen looks like a kitchen, and the living room looks like a living room. Yet as you begin to explore further, the secrets of the house begin to reveal themselves. Bedrooms, each labelled with the name of their now-deceased resident, are sealed shut, unexplored for several years; decades, in some cases. Rooms that Edith, despite living there for most of her childhood, has never stepped foot in. “Growing up, I thought it was normal to have rooms in your house that you weren’t allowed to go in,” Edith tells us. The house, and her history, it seems, is just as bizarre to her as it is to us.
It’s here that the mysteries of What Remains of Edith Finch begin to unravel. With one single key left to her by her mother, Edith finds a hidden passageway within the house and, stepping foot into areas of her home she’s never before been, she slowly begins to discover her family history.
How much of what she discovers is true, however, is open to interpretation. Edith herself doesn’t believe everything. Despite the bizarre and often fantastical situations she uncovers as she delves deeper into her old home, she herself is very grounded in reality – even if the house she’s exploring doesn’t quite seem to be. As she finally finds answers to questions she’s been asking for years, more and more questions arise along the way. While some games purposefully feel open-ended as a narrative device, What Remains of Edith Finch feels somewhat different. Sure, there are questions I desperately wanted answers to – but so does Edith. For once, we know exactly as much as our protagonist, and our frustration for answers is her frustration, too. She’ll never know the entire truth of her family legacy, and as much as I want to spend more time exploring the Finch household, digging out as much information as I can, I never will either.
At times, What Remains of Edith Finch has enchanted me like nothing else. The storytelling – Edith’s narration, and the way the on-screen text pops out of the environment to guide you on your journey – is captivating in a way that few games ever manage to be. The words Edith speaks are often sparse, but every single utterance is loaded with emotion and meaning. Everything feels important, and it made me want to stop and absorb as much of the whole experience as possible. This isn’t a game to rush to the finish line with; it’s one to meander slowly through, taking in as much of the journey as you possibly can.
It’s an emotionally-charged journey too; the weight of the narrative is one you feel immediately: here we have a young girl, who, at just seventeen is already the last person in her family alive. She’s lost her parents, she’s lost her older brother, and she’s grown up in the shadow of another brother who went missing. She’s been surrounded by death her entire life, and perhaps this is the reason why Edith forever seems so steady, so able to face the demons of her past as she re-enters her childhood home. It’s hard to shake that oppression; to try and fully comprehend how a young woman of seventeen could possibly feel about having lost every blood relative she’s ever had. It’s heartbreaking to try and fathom, but there’s also a glimmer of hope in there too; that despite such dark circumstances, a person can still be okay, and despite such overwhelming loss, life does go on.
At times, it can be easy to forget that What Remains of Edith Finch is a video game, but occasionally, it throws in a random mechanic to harshly remind you of that fact. Much of the gameplay simply involves guiding Edith around her house and its grounds, but as she uncovers some detail about a family member, the game will cut to a flashback scene, putting us in control of that character. Each flashback is completely different from the last; some are downright bizarre (controlling a shark as it rolls down a hill, for example), while others feel more like out-of-place minigames – bouncing a toy frog around a bathtub, or focusing a camera to take some photographs. Their randomness is certainly not a detriment to the game, though – quite the opposite. While some of the flashback sequences are weaker than others, as a whole their importance to the story wins out. The individuality of each set piece is representative of each different member of the family, and having no idea where each new flashback was going to take me was exhilarating.
What Remains of Edith Finch is, quite simply, a stunning experience. It takes Gone Home and turns it up to eleven. While it’ll undoubtedly end up being labelled as a ‘walking simulator’, it takes that genre and throws it on its head, giving us an experience so rich, so deep with emotion and meaning, that you’ll probably not quite know what to do with yourself when the credits roll. It’s a story like no other; both very grounded in reality, yet at times other-worldly beyond imagination. It’s touching and thought-provoking; daring to explore dark subject matters rarely delved into by video games. It may only take a few short hours to complete, but every moment is so packed with significance that it hardly matters. It’s rare such a game makes me want to play again, but the moment I put down What Remains of Edith Finch, I wanted to start it back up again, just in case there was any part of the narrative I’d overlooked; any remaining mystery I’d somehow missed along the way. Do yourself a favour and add it to your collection. You won’t regret it.