A series of unfortunate events.
Back in 2012, developer Giant Sparrow made quite the impact when it released its abstract-filled adventure The Unfinished Swan exclusively on the Playstation 3 (and later on the Playstation 4 and Playstation Vita). The mixture of string quartet music and interactive children’s fantasy saw the game stand out as one of the finest adventure games on any platform.
Naturally, Giant Sparrow wouldn’t be done there. Fast forward to now and they’re back once again with yet another first-person, narratively driven adventure. What Remains of Edith Finch sounded epic in scope from the beginning and carried its fair share of horror tones. However, the themes of death are anything but morbid. All-in-all, for the time it took to produce, What Remains of Edith Finch stands distinct from The Unfinished Swan while propelling itself as one of the better interactive stories to come out this year.
"Some of the members and their personalities allow for a wide variety of characterization, mostly due to their occupational history and overall relevance to how the family came to be."
What Remains of Edith Finch is a collection of stories documented by the last surviving member of the cursed Finch family. You play Edith Finch who investigates her family’s estate and is hell-bent on uncovering how certain members passed away by “reliving” their scenarios from. Each story is brief but distinct, engaging and memorable in many ways with the player occupying their perspective. The style of storytelling in each case is fairly different and surprising as Edith undergoes unexpected yet surreal situations. All the stories tie into different members of the family, which is further illustrated by a family tree that Edith herself maintains.
Some of the members and their personalities allow for a wide variety of characterization, mostly due to their occupational history and overall relevance to how the family came to be. Whether it’s Edith’s great grandfather, Odin, and how he constructed the Finch family home or catching the physical memorabilia of once child actress star Barbara, each character provides a piece of history that is displayed and talked about. Fortunately, it’s never shoved down the player’s throat and you can take in all this information at a relatively good pace.
As it stands, the gameplay is fairly straightforward. You’ll find keys, open doorways and pretty much stick to the path provided. The main “goal” of the game is exploration but the mechanics themselves differ based on the family member’s perspective. Despite the inherent simplicity of it all, What Remains of Edith Finch uses these tools to create deep narrative sequences. We won’t spoil anything but suffice to say that things aren’t always what they seem until it’s often too late.
"For the most part, colors will remain moody and familiar, but then sometimes switch to something brighter and more fantastic."
Which brings us to the themes of death and loss. These are constant through nearly every story, but how they’re handled is quite unique. There’s no sense of gore or sadism invoked. Its approach to conveying this can be somewhat magical and imaginative at times, enough to make you even question if the concept of “death” is really as somber and depressing as some of us might think. While some of the Finch family stories certainly do convey those feelings as well, its broad spectrum of different POVs and the emotions associated with them are especially creative. Everything just lends so well to the overall narrative which is presented in a fascinating, whimsical manner. It’s not something you’d associate with such a heavy experience to be honest.
It certainly helps that the visuals and art direction do a great job tying into the game’s narrative. While the Finch residence is your main center point as you traverse through its mystery museum-like structure, your journey through the memories of Edith’s family history can often carry its own distinct style. For the most part, colors will remain moody and familiar, but then sometimes switch to something brighter and more fantastic.
The art goes even further thanks to the great attention to detail in nearly every room you enter or leave. You will find notes and pictures decorated throughout the environment that only further enhance the rich, life-like lore behind the Finch family. It’s just a shame that certain graphical issues like texture pop-in and frame rate drops during certain sequences can dispel the immersion. Thankfully, it’s not enough to take you out of the experience entirely and control-wise, the game feels incredibly comfortable.
"If you enjoyed games like Gone Home or Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch comes highly recommended."
Talking about audio, almost every sequence is fully-narrated and well voiced. It’s hard to pick out any abnormalities in the script delivery with Edith herself (voiced by Valerie Rose Lohman) being mostly consistent and never gets on your nerves. That said, there are times where you could feel some of the weight that goes behind certain family members and their narration. Another nice touch is how the narration and its accompanied text are weaved into the environment itself, acting somewhat like a guide to where the player should look next.
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the price tag. Yes, the game is fairly short. In fact, you can very well complete it in a span of two to three hours, assuming you’re not rushing through. Are there segments that may encourage additional replays? Without going too much into spoilers, certainly. It’s a game that’s short enough to experience again if the occasion ever so rises, and that experience can be shared with anyone who has a fondness for the genre. Not to mention, the kind of discussions it can generate by discovering new or different things from subsequent playthroughs is also noteworthy. Regardless of all that, it’s just so wonderfully paced, that it never feels like you’re dragging your feet for something interesting to happen. It’s short but there’s not much room for filler, and I was absolutely hooked till the very end.
If you enjoyed games like Gone Home or Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch comes highly recommended. There’s nothing quite like it and by the time you reach the end, you will have some lingering feelings towards these fictional yet believable characters. Edith’s journey may come to an end but the feelings associated with her family – and by extension – the player transcend the boundaries of “walking simulator” into something truly special. Death comes for us all but as What Remains of Edith Finch proves, no one is ever truly gone.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Great approach to its storytelling. Cohesive and satisfying till the end. Visual and audio presentation work well in conveying the plot and its various sub-plots. Wonderful pacing and detail, even with the short play-length.
Texture loading and performance issues during certain story segments.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a short but bittersweet adventure of a family struggling to live with its past. It’s not exactly bombastic but it’ll likely tug a heart string here or two.