what re­mains of edith finch

You can never go home again

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - JOSH WEST

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.

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