what remains of edith finch
You can never go home again
Do not read this review of What Remains Of Edith Finch, for that we ask you kindly. Walk to your console, install it, and endure it blind. To read too much into Giant Sparrow’s spellbinding narrative masterpiece would be to do yourself a disservice. For this is an experience that is rooted heavily in mystery. It draws its power from the unknown, its hold over you only growing stronger as it builds towards its inevitable, decisive resolution. You must play What Remains Of Edith Finch, for it is perhaps the finest example of what a videogame can accomplish when it truly embraces narrative as a mechanism for play. The result is incredible, its impact undeniable.
You’re still here? Okay. We will try to keep it light on the details, for your own benefit.
What Remains Of Edith Finch is built around a simple enough premise, one that is easy enough to grasp, but no less affecting in its resolve to leave you speechless by its closing moments. It is, in essence, a series of vignettes. You take on the role of Edith, experiencing pieces of family history slowly and methodically, building a picture of her past as she moves though an old, abandoned family mansion room by room. While that picture may become larger over the course of your time here, it is not necessarily made any clearer by what you uncover. But then that’s all a part of life, isn’t it? Sometimes it is messy and untidy – eventually, inevitably, somebody will have to pick up the pieces.
On this occasion, it is Edith, and you can feel the tension in her voice the second she returns to the estate after seven years away. For the family’s story is one wrought with tragedy and heartache, dressed-up in fairytales and nightmares. The game is heavily rooted in tragedy, so much so that it can at times be difficult to will yourself to proceed deeper into its web – but so commanding is its momentum that you’ll find it impossible to resist its pull.
Love and death
That’s because it understands that to command the resonance and weight of loss through story, first it must convey love. What Remains Of Edith Finch is evocative, not because it makes you confront death, but because it asks you to first embrace life. The game connects you to each one of its characters with a whisper before ripping them away again; in some instances it can be because of fantastical, almost unbelievable, circumstances, yet in others it can be heart-wrenching, close to home and difficult to bear.
“It isn’t often that the end of a videogame will cause genuine pause in a player”
This narrative is told through beautifully delivered narration, through letters that drift on the will of the wind and through turning pages of diaries strewn across the house. Each vignette is essentially a mini-game in itself, each with its own intuitive method of control, style and feel. In fact, some might hesitate when calling What Remains Of Edith Finch a videogame; it is, in essence, an interactive storybook. But it’s one that employs somewhere in the region of 30 different control schemes, and it does so without once causing pause or confusion – it’s frictionless. That isn’t just impressive, it’s downright masterful. Each new mechanic brings yet another way to connect with a past family member, another way to emotionally connect with the spectre of death that has haunted the family for decades.
Giant Sparrow never treats death as a be all, end all here; instead it treats it as an inevitable part of life. Part of the cycle. Edith returning home is just another turn of it. It’s a shame, then, that the cycle is frequently disrupted by frustrating technical issues – clipping and slowdown are the biggest offenders, these brief moments of stalling an infrequent aggressor on the total immersion it almost achieves.
Echoes in the wind
Thomas Wolfe once wrote ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ and perhaps he knew what Edith didn’t – or, at least, was unwilling to admit to herself. That while you can try to, you probably shouldn’t. You might not like what you find when you go digging around in your past; every family has a few skeletons hidden away in the closet, and in the case of the Finchs, perhaps a few more than most.
It isn’t often that the end of a videogame will cause genuine pause in its player. But What Remains Of Edith Finch does well to establish its story, characters and boundaries. It is built in such a way that it will always find a way to connect with the person behind the controller at a very base human level. And while this narrative experience might not be for everybody, those that are willing to cast out their aspersions of what is and isn’t to be considered a videogame will find something truly progressive for the medium.
far left There are some beautiful gameplay moments to be found here; just try and leave as much to the unknown as you possibly can. Left Giant Sparrow has done a fantastic job making the house, in spite of its quirks, feel like a very real place.
Right What Remains Of Edith Finch isn’t a long game, taking about four or five hours to complete, but it achieves a lot in that time.