Following the passing of her mother, the titular Edith Finch inherits her childhood home. Edith – or Edie as she is more frequently called – fled the family home with her mother when she was only eleven years old following the death of Edie’s older brother, Lewis. As players step into Edie’s shoes and explore the home in this first person adventure, they will quickly discover that Lewis’ untimely demise is merely the tip of the iceberg for a family that frequently experienced the heart ache of cruel and unusual deaths. Upon arriving at the home, Edie recalls that during the eleven years that her family inhabited the sprawling home, nearly half of the various rooms were sealed shut and out of reach.
As Edie, and thus the player, finally gains access to the home’s interior, the exquisite attention to detail by Giant Sparrow becomes apparent. Edie’s family home, unlike the settings found in other games, feels legitimately lived in. The assortment of packing boxes haphazardly scattered around each room, with hastily packed and subsequently abandoned belongings perfectly creates a scene that tells just as much of the story as the literal writing on the walls. The interior home is designed to look ‘lived in’ from its discarded dishes in the sink to the family portraits and memorabilia proudly displayed on the walls. Its important to note, however, that despite the cluttered vintage decor of the house, it is decided museum-like in quality. Players can look, but mostly not touch. Only a few items can be interacted with in each room, and the majority of the items you can interact with are related to story progression.
Edie’s mother, Dawn, was haunted by the theory that the Finch family’s countless tragic deaths were the result of a curse. In an effort to control the supposed curse, Dawn sealed the rooms of family members who had been lost, locking away the carefully preserved memorials created by the family matriarch. Grandma Edith, ever determined to see the stories of family members who had been lost be passed on to Edie despite Dawn’s efforts, ultimately decided on drilling peep holes into the doors. For much of her life, the view through the peep hole was the only access Edie had to the rooms and the stories that were locked away inside. But once she finds the proper lock for the key her mother left her, Edie discovers a series of secret passageways that, for the first time in her life, allows Edie to enter the rooms of her forsaken ancestors and learn her family’s secrets.
What Remains of Edith Finch uses an almost anthology-like approach to telling the stories of the Finch family. As the player discovers the individual rooms and interacts with the makeshift memorials contained in each one they are transported to that particular family member’s final day. The first room available belonged to the elder Edith’s daughter, Molly, who passed away in December of 1947 at the age of 10. Molly had been sent to her room without supper as punishment, and awoke in the night with a hunger so strong that she proceeds to consume stale gerbil food, an entire tube of toothpaste, and decorative holly berries. Players are locked into Molly’s perspective and control her through her food binge, unable to stop her or change her fate in any way. She begins to hallucinate after consuming the strange items and players remain in control of her as she morphs into a cat, leaping from tree to tree to catch and eat a Momma bird. Morphing again, Molly becomes an owl who tracks down and consumes two Momma rabbits, and then ultimately she sees herself as a sea creature aboard a ship picking off and devouring the unsuspecting sailors before slithering into her own bedroom. The perspective then returns to Molly in her bed, who realizes that the monster – regardless of whether it was real or imagined – has come for her with the last words in her journal entry being “I.. will be.. delicious.”
The nature of presenting the individual family member’s stories allows What Remains of Edith Finch to deviate from its overall style to take advantage of unique storytelling mechanics for some of its larger personalities. While exploring the room for 16 year old former child star Barbara, Edie picks up a comic book that immortalizes one of the infamous rumors of Barbara’s death. The art style of the comic book takes the reigns here, with certain panels becoming interactive as the story unfolds. Barbara, whose blood curdling scream had rocketed her to stardom as a child, had fallen out of favor of the lime light as she aged. After being forced to miss out on a convention for horror fans that could have revived her acting career in order to babysit her younger brother, Walter, Barbara is stalked from panel to panel of the Tales from the Crypt style comic. The change in style to the comic book art is an interesting mechanic that, unfortunately, outstays its welcome.
Another instance in the change in play style occurs during the story for Edie’s brother, Lewis. Lewis’ death is the catalyst for Dawn and Edie leaving behind the family home, and as such their grandmother did not have the time to set up a proper memorial for him the same way she had the other lost family members. Still, though, Edie comes across a letter from Lewis’ psychiatrist among his belongings. The letter describes Lewis as struggling with substance abuse, but having been a “model employee” at his job at the cannery, even though he found the work to be monotonous. As players take control of Lewis in the cannery, they must use the right analog stick to move fish into a machine that slices off the heads, and then up onto another conveyor belt to send them down the line. Despite doing his job well, Lewis fantasizes about video games while working. The day dreams are simple at first, a minor maze that players must navigate with a knight using the left analog stick while continuing the cannery work simultaneously with the right. As Lewis’ fantasy becomes more elaborate in detail, it expands to consume more of the player’s field of view. This serves to symbolize Lewis losing his ability to differentiate between his fantasy and his reality.
The narrative behind What Remains of Edith Finch does rely on some classic story telling tropes, but the actual delivery of the stories is so well executed that the tropes become forgivable. The game is purposely ambiguous in what the cause of the unusual number of tragedies for the Finch family actually is, leaving it up to the player to decide if the events that transpire are merely coincidence, a curse, or rooted in the supernatural. Following the completion of the game, players can revisit individual stories via selecting the family members from the drawing of the Finch family tree in Edie’s journal, and its definitely recommend that players do so. There are far too many details hidden within each story that are easy to miss in the first play through.
What Remains of Edith Finch, with its stunning visuals and haunting stories, easily cements itself as one of the best narrative experiences to date.