TL; DR(eview) - What Remains of Edith Finch is a beautifully-told haunting tale about loss and coming to terms with our own mortality. It serves as a high watermark for a piece of art in the medium. It perhaps could have existed as a film, but it is much more impactful as a game with the player setting the pace and driving the action of the story.
In the early morning hours of July 4th, I sat down with What Remains of Edith Finch. I still remember the game getting announced back at the first PlayStation Experience in 2014 and two and a half years later, here it was.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a first-person narrative experience (occasionally tagged with the “walking simulator” label) and tells the story of its titular character as she returns to her eclectic childhood home searching for the stories of her family history.
Before going into potential story spoilers, I will say that I enjoyed the stories touched on here. There is a macabre sense of tragedy surrounding the Finch family as everyone seems to fall victim to a curse leading to strange deaths. And Giant Sparrow tackles those stories with a strikingly whimsical fantasy at times that serve as a great contrast to the sadness therein. I would say it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in these types of games and have a couple hours to spare.
Spoilers ahead. Seriously. Turn back now if you plan on playing through this experience and want to be surprised.
As mentioned above, this is a game filled with death. Edith returns to her childhood home which was abandoned years before and has remained largely untouched in the years since. There is a mystical design to the house as generations of the Finch family added to it over time, piling on annex after annex. But as tragedy struck each assorted member of the family, their rooms started getting sealed off, leaving them effectively as museum exhibits (with Edith’s namesake and grandmother Edie mischievously drilling peepholes into the sealed-off doors).
And that’s how we first experience this house: wandering around clutter and only able to see static, distorted images through the peephole. But then as Edith starts exploring the homes various secret passages, we start entering the long-closed rooms and discovering the little shrines that have been set up in each. Written stories exist at each little shrine which allow Edith - and through her, us - the chance to experience the final moments of these Finch family members.
Each story exists from the perspective of the deceased at the time of their death. One story exists as a fantastical tale where a young girl became so very hungry that she began eating everything in sight. Then she described turning into a cat and chasing down a bird in the trees outside the house, before turning into an owl soaring and hunting rabbits from above. Then she turned into a shark who had to flop around on land until making their way to the water and devouring a seal. And finally she turned into a tentacle monster, devouring a few sailors on a ship before slithering through sup pipes up into her own bathroom and underneath her bed. What fate actually befell young Molly here is left up to interpretation (I’m of the believe that the berries poisoned her and led to hallucinations (that she then recorded) before ultimately killing her.
Other stories might be more straightforward though. Calvin, for example, mirrors the astronaut theme of his half of his bedroom (shared with his twin brother Sam) and tried to do a flip on the swing outside the house, succeeding, but also flying off the cliff to the rocks and water below.
As we uncovered the various tragedies that have befallen this family, it eventually becomes clear that Edith and her mother fled those years ago to try and spare themselves of the apparent curse that follows the family. And Edith has returned to the house following her mother’s sickness and death to learn of her history. As we discover, she has returned while pregnant with her own child and is documenting everything she finds for them.
There is something incredibly haunting about the final reveal that we’ve actually be essentially playing through the game as Edith’s child (“what remains of Edith Finch”) through the journal and stories she left behind of her final return to the Finch home.