We all have family stories and hidden secrets. Fables about heroic or bad relatives passed down from mother and father to daughter and son. We’ve all had that uncle who became the black sheep of the family due to dodgy dealings in back alleys, that great aunt who did something mysterious and secret in the war, or that son who would always be broke and never amount to anything (that’s me by the way). What Remains of Edith Finch is a game about stories, families, secrets and death.
It’s a short game, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
The story involves you playing as Edith Finch, aged 17, with a life-changing event arriving as you come back to the family home. You arrive at the house and find it in the same condition as when you and your mum left it years ago, after a family tragedy. Your mother has locked up all the rooms and it’s your task to reveal the truth behind all of your family members and the curse that seems to behold each one. You do this by gaining access to each room – to books, diaries, letters, or photographs – all which allows you to play out that family member’s story from a certain period in time.
When you first start playing Edith Finch, you think you have an idea of what the game is all about. It plays as a walking sim exploration game like Dear Esther or Gone Home, where you’re slowly walking around an island, with one button controlling your actions. A voice-over of Edith fills the world and some very clever subtitles appear in different locations on the screen, before morphing and shaping across the landscape. When you enter the house you start exploring this magical wonder, and it all feels very familiar and a bit spooky. I was more then happy to have that experience, just wandering around the house and seeing what I could discover, but the developers Giant Sparrow want to show you so much more.
As you enter the first secret bedroom you discover the story of Molly. She is a little girl who died in the ’40s and has the power to change into a cat… then an owl… then an… I won’t spoil the rest, but it’s amazing. So from being just a lovely walking sim, you’re suddenly thrust into a platformer, and then an air sim and then something all together creepier. This innovation is just the start of what happens with the rest of the stories as you discover them. There’s a comic book scene that comes to life, a bath time musical wonderland, a photographic odyssey, and my favourite… a journey of the mundane and the fantastical with the story of Lionel. This chapter is a work of genius and in the context of the whole game it just blew my mind.
If you look at the gameplay on its own there is some truly imaginative and inventive stuff on show here, where the developers blend the world of story, character, design and fun together perfectly. I won’t say anymore about these secrets, because I really can’t bring myself to ruin the surprise of what happens, and the amazing experience you will discover.
Narrative is key in What Remains of Edith Finch and the whole game is, in essence, about how stories are told and shared with each other. It’s like reading a book of short stories, with characters coming in and out of the different chapters. But the link is within the family saga. What I love is how well they tell this tale. The writing is a mixture of humour, life affirming drama and, of course, deep tragedy. If I had them in my hand, I would give awards out here and now to all associated with its writing; the way it weaves with the gameplay and tone of the game so seamlessly is simply genius. There are stories that are complete and then are others which end halfway through, leaving you wanting more and asking questions. But in a good way. Not in a LOST the TV series way.
In the looks department a very simple thing first hit me. If you take any adventure game you’ve played and remember back to when you first enter a room in that game, it always looks so neat and ordered, because the game designer needs you to effortlessly be able to move around this space. In Edith Finch, the house is filled with a hodge podge of items, with household detritus flung about everywhere. The individual spaces have so much detail in them, I could spend days just wandering around this home. Beautiful colours and fantastic lighting work well on both the interiors and the stunning exteriors, giving the game such depth. This is no more true than with the comic book setting found for one of the stories – it is simply sublime.
The sound meanwhile is a mixture of fantastic effects and a beautiful moving heartbreaking score that helps the emotional journey that is being told. The voice-over work is of an extremely high standard with hats coming off to the creative team for their direction and work with the actors.
Overall, as you can guess from this review, I’ve loved my time with What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s taken me two to three hours to complete – all of which was initially done in one sitting – but already I’ve gone back and replayed multiple chapters, just because they are so good. Some people might be critical of the length of the game, but for me it’s like watching a brilliant movie, with outstanding writing, great acting and a superbly inventive design.
My time with What Remains of Edith Finch was perfect and I want to run through it all over again tomorrow. Why don’t you join me?