Have you ever finished a game, movie, or book, and felt unhappy that you could never again experience it for the first time? What Remains of Edith Finch is just such an experience. I am not quite sure I would call it horror, per se, but I also do not know where else to place it. Like Honor Code’s recently released Narcosis, Edith’s story belongs beside those told in Life is Strange and Lifeless Planet. This is a slice of life, many times over, where pieces of a puzzle come together in the end to form a beautiful picture.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a collection of stories about the Finch family. Each story ends with death. Death is not the focus point of the game, though, instead playing a supporting role in a game about relationships and how they permeate through generations. Player take the role of Edith Finch, returning to the family home to discover the history of the family for herself. She must find secret passageways to move from room to room, since they have all been sealed up, but in each room she finds stories of the last moments each Finch experienced. Each story is connected via the thread of shared experiences passed from one family member to the next, shaping the way each surviving Finch chooses to live and, ultimately, how they die.
Players will enjoy working their way through the stories of each Finch death. Every story is a unique experience, with completely new mechanics and controls. Where one story has you piloting an owl through the snowy Washington fields on a rabbit hunt, another only asks that you flip through an old-school ViewFinder. In another, you play through a comic book fantasy. Each story is its own tiny game, tailored to express the feelings and personality of the particular character it represents. The execution is accomplished exceptionally well.
The parts that make up What Remains of Edith Finch are told in journals and notes found in each room in the abandoned Finch estate. When a member of the Finch family dies, their room is kept exactly as they left it – as a monument to their life. Rooms appear for each new family member, decorated to fit their own style. When wandering through the rooms and rifling through each Finch’s private belongings, you get the sense that you know them. Children who have gone far too soon leave behind innocence and unmet potential. A lifetime of mementos and gaping holes in the hearts of parents whose children they lean on to mend.
It is in the spaces left behind that you begin to see the horror of What Remains of Edith Finch. It is quiet and calculated, but profoundly present. With each new Finch story, sadness creeps under your skin. Even people who have not experienced a deep personal loss can feel empathy for those who have, and this game is one painful loss after another. There is a nagging feeling of unresolved grief in the family that’s materialized by the multiple floors of rooms memorializing the dead. Something about this creates an uneasiness that amplifies with every new room and story.
Because every room in the Finch house was left in memoriam of its owner from the time the house was built, each story you encounter brings you closer to Edith’s immediate family. Once you reach the upper levels where Edith lived with her brothers and mom, the stories begin to weigh on Edith. With each death, Edith becomes more alone, until she is the last Finch in the world. It is hard to fathom that feeling of being entirely alone when your family was so large. Where the family tree should branch, it instead drops leaves as though winter came. More than once, I found myself crying as stories ended and Edith commented on how each person affected her life, even if they had never met.
It is easy to fall into the emotional story at the heart of What Remains of Edith Finch because none of its controls get in the way. Despite being a bundle of many smaller games wrapped into a larger story, each is rather intuitive. Without explanation, it’s easy to find your way through each scenario. Because of this, players are free to spend that mental bandwidth processing the characters and situations they’re playing through instead of the controls. It’s been a while since a game has been this easy to play, and it is a welcome relief. Instead of trying to remember eighty different button combinations, you figure it out on the fly and see what happens. Five minutes later, the controls change, and your muscle memory doesn’t matter, working in the game’s favor.
Also working in the game’s favor are beautiful graphics and excellent but understated music. I had to return to the game to see if there was music at all because I did not remember any offhand. There is, and it is so well paired with the game that it simply fades into the overall atmosphere. Where most games try to put many different pieces together to build atmosphere, What Remains of Edith Finch seems not to have different pieces at all. The atmosphere is seamless, so much so that each separate piece goes almost unnoticed. The years spent refining the game from its original version show, as everything has been polished down to fit together perfectly.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a seamless, emotional experience. It is painted with sadness from the first word to the last – a three-hour jaunt through the roughage of human experience that we prefer to turn away from. The game is absolutely worthwhile, though, and manages to be touching, thoughtful, and fun all at once. There is no happy ending to soften the blow, no gentle release from the uneasiness that builds as you crawl through the hidden paths in the house. There is only the knowledge that while some are less fortunate than others, death comes for us all in the end, and our endings will leave marks on everyone and everything around us.
This game deals with death, suicide, loss, and other deep emotional issues. I urge caution for players who may be experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts. If you are concerned about your reaction to the content of this game, please reach out for help or find immediate support here.
(10 / 10)
The Holy Grail
PlayStation 4 download code provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.