Family stories have a habit of being warped. Be it by time, sentimentality, the avoidance of grief or embarrassment, or simply to make them a little funnier; over the generations, every family builds its own absurd lexicon of changing stories. What Remains of Edith Finch is a tale of those winding and manipulated stories. Coming from Giant Sparrow, the creators of the acclaimed title, The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch places you in the role of its eponymous character as she returns to her abandoned family home. She has come back to discover more about her family’s past; to confront the untimely demises of the Finches, and the supposed curse that has caused them.
If wandering through an abandoned kitchen, piecing a person’s life together by examining the titles of their cookery books doesn’t sound appealing to you, then maybe give this one a miss.
‘Story’ is not only the thematic focus of the narrative, but also stands as the game’s primary conceit, which means there isn’t a great deal of gameplay to be had. That’s why I feel that, despite being a truly wonderful game, What Remains of Edith Finch will not be for everyone. You spend most of its roughly three hour run-time walking around and occasionally interacting with objects. From a gameplay perspective, that’s really all there is to it. The focus here is on creating an interactive story about the tragedy of the Finch family, and whilst there are one or two moments at which the gameplay changes tact or perspective, this is a narrative game through and through. If wandering through an abandoned kitchen, piecing a person’s life together by examining the titles of their cookery books doesn’t sound appealing to you, then maybe give this one a miss.
If however, you are looking for an engaging story told from a unique and whimsical perspective, then I don’t think I can recommend Edith Finch enough. From its presentation, to its voice work, to the unique way in which it portrays the minutiae of what makes a family, this game is a masterpiece. The game begins on your approach to the Finch household, a ramshackle mansion in which every Finch from the beginning of the 20th century has resided. You can see that extra rooms and structures have been built into the sides and top of the house over time, a perplexing feature which becomes clear as you unearth more about the family. You discover that the Finches supposedly suffer from a curse which has caused the death of every single member of the family, and that Edith is the only Finch that remains alive. Over the years, the family’s elderly matriarch, Edie, had preserved the rooms of every deceased family member exactly as they were when they died. To this day, the rooms of every grandparent, every uncle, every brother and sister that Edith ever had are sealed off like miniature mausoleums to their inhabitants.
Travelling through the house, Edith visits each of these rooms and tries to piece together her family history, having never heard it in full before. Her mother, terrified of the curse, forbade Edith from learning anything of their past. Visiting each of their rooms, your perspective shifts as you play out an interactive version of how each family member died. Every one of these segments is unique in tone, style and design. In one story you control an octopus as it devours the crew of a ship and in another you inhabit the mind of a child as its bathroom toys come to life.
I cannot see myself forgetting the breath-taking stories locked inside the Finch household for many years to come.
Despite of the varied stories, the different tonal shifts and the changing perspectives, there remains one common thread: each one ends with a death. These stories share all the traits of family legends that you might expect, with vastly exaggerated details and bizarre scenarios; and yet in each one, the truth is always close enough that you can piece together the real tragedy behind the lies and the confusions. Playing this game feels like trespassing on the Finches, or as Edith herself puts it, ‘like stepping into a painting’. Upon completing this admittedly short experience, I felt as if I knew the Finch family intimately, and could share in Edith’s sorrow as she explored her family’s past and tried to find a way to look beyond it. What Remains of Edith Finch will not satisfy everyone, but it certainly satisfied me, and I cannot see myself forgetting the breath-taking stories locked inside the Finch household for many years to come.