What Remains of Edith Finch is many things. It is a narrative driven experience, or as some like to call it, a “walking simulator”. It is a collection of short stories, but most importantly, What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the finest contemporary examples of the effectiveness of interactive storytelling. When it hits its peak, Edith Finch utilizes the medium’s interactivity to deliver potent story beats and moments that would be impossible to replicate in any other form of entertainment.
The player takes control of Edith Finch, the sole remaining member of the Finch Family. She returns to her old family home after being away for years in search of the truth behind each family member’s death. This is where Edith Finch‘s narrative structure lies.
Once the player happens upon the Finch family home, they are left to their own devices. Each room contains a letter, note, or memorabilia of some kind which triggers a playable chapter detailing each individual’s final moments. Due to this set-up and the fact that the game contains no puzzles of any sort, it’s entirely possible to make it to the end while missing half of the Finch family secrets.
However, doing so would be a disservice to the team’s hand-crafted elegance. Rushing through the game is exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. You are supposed to take it slow. After all, there is a reason the game’s default walking speed is mind-numbingly slow and why a sprint function is absent. What Remains of Edith Finch is a labor of love from a studio of tightly-knit individuals. They are proud of the experience they have created and entrust the player to appreciate the game’s quiet time, extrapolating extra information through environmental observation.
The house is painstakingly detailed. Each room serves to accentuate the individual stories as well as the story at large surrounding the Finch family’s supposed “curse”. A player could in theory make a mad-dash to each interactive note/object and learn enough just through the playable stories, but Edith Finch deserves more attention than that. Because this is a video game and not a film, the player is given the opportunity to linger and that more than anything is what cements Edith Finch as a strong narrative experience.
What Remains of Edith Finch also utilizes video game conventions to tell certain stories in ways that only a video game could. The story of Molly Finch is just one example of this. As a kid with an active imagination, Molly claims she was hungry one night, then saw a bird. She tried reaching for this bird and in doing so suddenly turns into a cat. Through a series of events and clever transitions, she then becomes an owl, then a shark, then a sea monster. Each shift in perspective provides a shift in playstyle and controls, each of which prove to be disorienting to the player.
Boundless leaps of logic are to be expected in a video game and that sort of logic-leaping nonsense in the typical video game is a perfect catalyst for representing the imagination of a little girl. These radical shifts in perspective leave the player in wonder as he/she comes to grips with the controls and rule set of each new perspective, perfectly echoing the mindset of a child as she’s pretending to be all these things and acclimating. Had this been a film or novel, the effect just wouldn’t have been the same.
Unfortunately, for all its successes, What Remains of Edith Finch also highlights why games like this still have a lot to learn. I mentioned quiet time earlier, but to be honest, there actually is very little of it. Edith herself talks a lot. Any interactive object will trigger dialogue from Edith. Traveling through most of the house will trigger dialogue. Go up these steps. Trigger dialogue. Open this door. Trigger dialogue. It’s as if the writers were afraid their niche game would somehow bore the sort of player that is interested in experiences of this nature. A little more restraint could have gone a long way.
“In Memory of Shirley Davis”
Reads the end credits soon followed by portraits of every member at Giant Sparrow. You’ll immediately notice that each member’s portrait is taken from their infancy and early childhood years. That’s when it hits. As Edith echoes in her final words: “I don’t want you to be sad. I want you to be amazed that we ever had the chance to be here at all“. What Remains of Edith Finch is a narrative experience that explores and celebrates the gift of life and living in the moment. While it may still have room to grow, What Remains of Edith Finch is about as good as it gets within this genre at this point in time. This genre and the video game industry at large still have a lot to learn about writing, pacing, and restraint, but regardless, it’s exciting to be a part of this and play something as special as What Remains of Edith Finch.