What Remains of Edith Finch Review

Developer: Giant Sparrow

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive

Release Date: April 25, 2017

Platforms: PS4, PC (reviewed)

From its serene opening moments, What Remains of Edith Finch evokes a beautiful sense of melancholy. It’s solemn in its delivery, and the atmosphere at times feels overbearing. There were moments where I felt like I was drowning in it. For a treatise on grief and solitude, this is all incredibly fitting.

The game follows Edith Finch, the last living member of the Finch family, as she returns to her childhood home following the death of her mother, and now pregnant with her own child. When the house first comes into view, it’s strikingly quirky – something out of a surrealist painting. As you approach, however, the true state of the house becomes evident. It’s decaying, and old. Devoid of any inhabitants, the house itself feels alive. Its various rooms are trapped in time, after a mysteriously hasty departure years before the events of the game.

Dishes are left on the kitchen sink, empty boxes of Chinese food are strewn about the table, the shelves are still full of books, cardboard boxes can be spotted here and there. The house creaks and moans, adding a layer of unease to the game’s melancholic atmosphere. Most the bedroom doors are still locked – but when viewed through the peepholes, they look like museum exhibitions. It may not be a horror game, but it certainly does a good impression of one. I found myself intrigued almost immediately, and wanted to know more.

Exploration forms the core of What Remains of Edith Finch. As you wander about the house, discovering secret passageways and hidden tunnels, the history of the eccentric Finch family – and what became of them – becomes increasingly clear. Edith experiencing the history of her family from the perspectives of those who lived it is an essential component to this. Interacting with the family members’ possessions left sealed in their rooms will trigger a time jump, and change in perspective.

These sequences allow the developers to mess with player agency in fascinating ways. The entire game is linear, yes. But it’s also designed around exploration, which inherently empowers the player to uncover the story for themselves. Ultimately, the player has no control over the events that occur. This is what makes the game all the more tragic – you, as the player, will have to execute on them.

In these moments, I found myself trying to stave off the inevitable. Figuring out how each vignette will end becomes simple enough, and the gameplay is rarely trying. What is difficult – sometimes painfully so – is taking the game actions. I felt like I was liable for everything that had happened, and the resonance of these sequences is underscored by this feeling. I wanted the agency I felt I had while exploring the house back. But this isn’t a flaw – it’s a feature.

There’s a resounding sense of guilt that comes with playing the game, as Edith fills out her journal with each of her deceased or missing family members. As this happens, the house grows emptier and emptier, and that emptiness becomes chilling. You experience these characters for fleeting moments. It’s just long enough to start caring. But then, it’s back to the house, and that character is gone. They may be referenced later, but those references are in the past tense. They serve only as a reminder that Edith is the last of the Finches.

The devices through which these vignettes are told are phenomenal. Each of them is presented in a completely different manner. They create stories within stories, and the framing device for the whole affair leaves it up to the player to parse how much of the history is true. It’s here that the game reveals its nature as a story about stories, and the power imbued within them. I feel uncomfortable spoiling the devices, because they are items that must be found in the world. I imagine knowing exactly what you’re looking for devalues the excitement when discovering something new.

That sense of discovery is truly powerful here. The experience is a guided one, but taking time to truly soak in the environment lends agency to the player. You can experience the story solely through the vignettes and Edith’s monologues, but this would ultimately be doing the game a disservice. The environment is an intriguing one to explore, if only because of how the Finch household is structured. I know it sounds like a meaningless buzzword, but the game beautifully executes on environmental storytelling.

The rest of the storytelling is equally excellent. The writing in What Remains of Edith Finch is incredibly strong. It consists mostly of monologues, but they’re concise. They do just enough to evoke the exact emotional response the game wants. At least, they did for me. In addition to excellent writing, the general narrative is fascinating. The script weaves a gripping tale with plenty of suspense. It was difficult to draw me away from the game.

Unfortunately, I was drawn away from it at one point, due to a bug that prevented the next sequence from triggering. Considering how smooth the game had been running (barring a few minor framerate drops when I triggered a checkpoint), this was shocking. It meant I had to close the game and reopen the game, which was a hassle I would have preferred to avoid. Hopefully this isn’t particularly widespread.

Ultimately, these are small issues that had minimal impact on my experience with What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s a layered experience, grappling with grief, solitude, and reality itself. This makes for a powerful, emotional experience – one that I would strongly advise against skipping.