I’m not the biggest fan of games where you walk around and read documents to advance the narrative. When I’m playing a first person adventure game, I like shooting things in the face; give me objectives, guns, ammo, and health any day of the week. However, “walking simulators” can be very moving experiences, if the story is well crafted and expertly told. But even the best walking sims, like Gone Home, have hardly any interaction beyond reading journal entries. In my mind, I always hoped for a game where the narrative was married brilliantly with personal interaction. That’s where What Remains of Edith Finch comes in.
Heading to the house of DESTINY
What Remains of Edith Finch is quite a memorable, unique experience. Developer Giant Sparrow doesn’t pull any punches, knocking you in the gut and giving you all the feels pretty much from the get go. You start the game as a mysterious person reading a diary, when you are sucked into the perspective of the person who wrote it: the titular Edith Finch.
Edith is making her way to her old house after receiving a key from her mother after her passing. The Finch estate is a giant house extending deep into the sky, where generations of Finches lived. It’s up to Edith to find out about her family history by reading journals, letters, etc. from various Finch ancestors, to try and figure out why she is the only Finch left alive.
In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, What Remains of Edith Finch is a deep, heavy game that mostly deals with death. All of Edith’s family and ancestors died at various points in their lives; some old, some young; and Edith gets to relive some of their experiences on the day they died. These memories are What Remains of Edith Finch‘s greatest strength: every death story is unique and contains a different type of interaction, featuring many types of gameplay mechanics, art, and tone.
You might relive an ancestor’s memory of riding on a swing, using the control stick to build momentum back and forth as you soar higher and higher. Or you might play a memory where you are flying a kite in the sky, going through various letters to make the words of a poem appear on screen. There are more incredible examples of experiences like these that I won’t spoil here, but let me just say that each one is engaging, surprising, and gut wrenching (the amount of times I said aloud to myself “There is no way I am reliving what I think I am reliving right now” was quite numerous). You might need to bring a box of tissues if you are going to play through the entirety of Finch.
When I got to this part, it damn near killed me once I figured out what was going on
The presentation of What Remains of Edith Finch is top notch: as Edith walks through her old family home, her thoughts appear as words on screen, which fade away after a few seconds. This method of showing the player the words the unnamed reader of Edith’s diary is seeing is a wonderfully effective method of storytelling (I loved Edith’s drawings of her various family members she sketches in her diary family tree after every flashback).
The way Edith opens doors, looks through peepholes, unfolds letters, moves locks, etc. is also done really well: the player moves the control stick back and forth or up and down to achieve the effect of executing these actions on screen, which is a level of interactivity I have not seen in titles of Finch‘s ilk. The music is also superbly composed by Jeff Russo, able to move the player and stir emotions deep inside of them.
The environments in the house are just as pretty as the ones in the game’s flashbacks
While my time with Finch was mostly positive, I did have a few nitpicks. Edith and the various ancestors you play as only have a walk option; I would have greatly appreciated a run option to explore the house at a more brisk speed. When loading my prior save, a room would load with the most basic geometry; details would pop in after a few seconds, which was a little jarring.
The game is also quite short, with many gamers being able to complete it within a few hours while still being able to experience every available Finch story. Lastly, Finch is exceedingly dark and depressing and doesn’t end with any particular sense of hope. This is obviously a developer decision that I of course respect, but for me it was a little too overbearingly morbid.
This part was so much fun and inventive!
Regardless, What Remains of Edith Finch is the walking simulator that every future title in its vein should follow as a blueprint. The plot, while quite dark, is so well-told with the level of interaction you are given for each Finch. Every story has its own brilliant mechanic that must be experienced to be believed; wordy descriptions do not do them justice. From beginning to end, What Remains of Edith Finch will leave you hungry for the next family memoir, culminating in an ending that is bittersweet. If you enjoy narrative walking simulators like Gone Home and Virginia, you’ll love What Remains of Edith Finch; if you scoff at the idea of such titles, then you might very well make an exception for Finch. Indeed, it is that powerful and moving.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Gameplay - 7/10
Plot - 9.5/10
Sound - 8/10
Visuals - 8/10
Feels - 10/10
A moving experience that will make you cry more than once
What Remains of Edith Finch is the most effective and unique walking simulator to date. Its stories and level of interactivity afforded the player in each experience is the first of its kind within the genre. If you’re looking for a heavy, narrative driven experience unlike any other, the groundbreaking Edith Finch will fulfill your desires in every conceivable way.