Platforms: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4
*What Remains of Edith Finch was reviewed using a PC Steam code provided by Giant Sparrow
Narrative elements like family, loss, death, and love exist at least on a surface level in plenty of games, but few games actually take the time to explore such elements with any degree of meaning or depth. What Remains of Edith Finch, the newest title from developer Giant Sparrow (the same folks behind The Unfinished Swan), manages to move beyond the superficial approach other games take and presents players with an interactive journey that is both heartwarming and tragic, one which proves once again just how well video games can convey meaningful stories while also challenging the player to more closely ponder their own conceptions of death and loss.
The tragic Finch family
In What Remains of Edith Finch, the player steps into the role of the titular Edith, a teenager who has returned to her family home after having left several years ago. Edith’s mother recently died, making her the last living member of the Finch family, and all that she left to Edith is a mysterious key with no further clarification on what exactly the key opens. The Finch house is filled with the belongings and memories of Edith’s various family members, and over the course of the game players get to experience these memories through a series of short playable vignettes that show how each of Edith’s relatives met their untimely end.
In my recent preview for the What Remains of Edith Finch, I noted how bizarre and whimsical the playable Finch family stories can be, and having now gotten to play the full game, I can say with upmost certainty that the rest of the stories are all just as fantastical and immersive, even if it’s sometimes a little hard to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to do in order to move the narrative along. The stories vary widely in terms of length and intractability, some might last 10+ minutes while others barely last a full 60 seconds, but they all accomplish their goal of allowing a brief glimpse into each family member’s life while also reminding the player that what they’re experiencing is how that family member died.
It’s a strange and, at times, difficult to process emotional arc, especially since the player will likely often figure out how exactly the family member died before the story actually ends, and because there are quite a few stories to experience in total. Stories associated with family members like Barbara Finch (a former child actor) or Sam Finch (Edith’s grandfather) actually manage to inject a little humor into their tales, while the stories attached to family members like Gregory Finch (one of Edith’s uncles) and Lewis Finch (Edith’s brother) mix imagination and tragedy into playable sequences that will truly tug at your heartstrings. Not all of the stories are meant to evoke sadness, but they all certainly do manage to elicit some sort of emotional response.
Home is where the heart is
For the above preview piece, I spoke a bit with Giant Sparrow’s creative director Ian Dallas, who told me that one of the goals behind the development of What Remains of Edith Finch was to give players a sort of safe space in which they could explore the concept of death and how it can affect different families (and different family members) in different ways. The Finch household serves as an excellent visual metaphor for this concept, guiding the player through a mostly linear journey that shows the Finch family was an optimistic and imaginative bunch who remained devoted to each other despite the overwhelming sense of tragedy that played such a big part in their lives.
What Remains of Edith Finch doesn’t answer all of the questions it posits to the player, and in some regard that can feel a little anti-climactic, but I also think it was kind of the point that Giant Sparrow as going for. Death is often accompanied by a sense of incompleteness, often robbing those it takes from finishing something they started. It’s up to those who are still living to make sense of and eventually come to terms with that incompleteness, hopefully becoming stronger for it in the process. Even after finishing What Remains of Edith Finch, players probably won’t have a clearer understanding of what death is, but hopefully they will have a new appreciation for both death as a concept and the power it can have over those who must still go on.