Before moving onto bigger, more extensive games, I recently decided to tackle a couple games from my backlog, one of which was What Remains of Edith Finch, which I picked up via PS Plus sometime ago. I had largely avoided it for no good reason. I knew it more an interactive experience and less of a “game,” so I might have been harboring a few old pangs of disappointment from Gone Home and The Stanley Parable, two games that, while fine and in some ways, groundbreaking for their times, both left behind a few mild needles of disappointment. In short, I thought I knew what to expect from What Remains of Edith Finch. Good thing I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Without entering spoiler territory, What Remains of Edith Finch is an interactive story that features the title’s namesake, Edith Finch. Upon starting the game, the player sits with Edith Finch’s journal in hand. It’s through this journal that the player experiences Edith’s last trip to her family’s home, which is located on a remote island off the coast of Washington state. The journal reveals that it’s a place Edith knows well (since she grew up in it) and doesn’t know at all. Edith narrates her experiences and her family’s stories, and that narration is cleverly intertwined within the fabric of the game itself. It’s the player’s job to guide Edith through her home in order to uncover the past and learn what the future holds. Who are the Finches? What are the family’s secrets? And what will become of Edith herself?
When she arrives at the house, Edith makes clear that her family – specifically herself and her mother – had to leave the place abruptly years ago. Now abandoned, the house remains in much the same state as when Edith left; the house looks lived-in, but there are no signs of people. There’s nothing particularly scary to be found, but it’s all very eerie. The strange atmosphere of the house is its own character in Edith’s story. Directions are given to the player through silent, visual queues (to do things like open doors or turn keys), which further lends to the game’s moody ambiance.
Exploring a recently-abandoned home may not sound all that intriguing, however, intrigue fills every corner of the Finch estate. Without giving too much away, Edith explains the family’s big secret…it’s cursed. It’s a curse involving death and familial generations, and one that the family had been trying to escape for decades. Edith’s Norwegian great-great-great grandfather tried to put an end to it by moving to the United States in the 1930s, but even he succumbed. In essence, the Finch family home is its own mausoleum, filled with locked shrines to deceased family members, and lots of hidden passageways that allow Edith to visit each shrouded space and recount a particular family member’s life, and death. Edith’s stories of the Finch family members range from fantastical to accidental, and they are all perfectly heart-breaking. In the end, Edith’s mother thought that she, too, could escape the curse. But…well…
The ending of What Remains of Edith Finch still puts a lump in my throat (as do a couple of the family member’s individual stories). I’ve experienced plenty of tear-jerking moments in games, plenty that I still remember as if they happened yesterday. But the feelings that I hold from What Remains of Edith Finch are more raw and visceral. It may just be the current times affecting my view, but there is something to be said about attempting to escape the inevitable. The Finch’s house is a standing metaphor for this, and a monument to it. As parts of the main house were closed off after some deaths, the remaining family members escaped, sometimes below, but mostly above to seemingly ramshackle but lovingly-built additional rooms. In the highest and most precarious spot on top of addition after addition was Edith’s own room. After that, there was literally no place else to go…no escape, despite her mother’s best efforts. Being a Finch was no easy burden.
I’ve not played many interactive stories in my time, but of the few I know, What Remains of Edith Finch takes to cake (which, I’m not sure I want to eat, too…but maybe that’s inevitable). I can see now why it received so much acclaim when it was released. The award-givers were right – it’s a brilliant game with a unique look and feel and masterfully simple design. Its storytelling is evocative, transformational, and hits all the right beats. There’s nothing quite like it, and frankly, it’s a story that I wouldn’t mind reliving again, tears and all. I should play it again. You should play it. We should all play this game, it is just that good.
All images, including lede (© Giant Sparrow, Annapurna Interactive) were taken by author during PS4 gameplay.