What Remains of Edith Finch is an experience I will not soon forget. Despite its scant running time – which sits just north of two hours – it is far more affecting than almost any narrative focused title I have played in recent memory. What it lacks in difficulty, it more than makes up for in emotional resonance – something too seldom experienced in modern gaming. I truly relished it.
In this, the second game from The Unfinished Swan studio Giant Sparrow, protagonist Edith Finch has returned to her family home to rediscover her roots and unearth some long-buried family secrets. Her journey through the labyrinthine and often extended family manse begins with her reminiscing on a childhood filled with restrictions and secrets untold. Throughout, it feels like the house itself had in some way weighed down the Finch clan, and that its locked doors and hidden passages reflected the familial ties and interactions of a family who were, in many ways, strangers.
Loosely, What Remains is a "walking simulator", and while I dislike that label, I understand why people use it. Edith’s journey through her abandoned childhood home is not rife with puzzles, or even many of the conventions many list as a requirement for something to be called a game. Rather, this is a journey of discovery – albeit one where the path is relatively clear, if strewn with generations of accumulated household clutter.
The Finch house is a giant wooden construction with many additions, extensions, and modifications made to accommodate multiple generations of the family. It is a beautiful building that looks almost fantastical from the outside, and is filled with all the detail you would expect from a home that has endured through the years. Most of its rooms are locked or barred in some way, but each does have an entrance that Edith can discover with relative ease.
Entering each room begins the tale of its former occupant, and it’s how each of these unique tales is told that elevates Edith’s journey to something magical. Each feels like a memory and is completely unique, shaped by the personality, experiences, and perspective of one of Edith's relatives. We soon discover that the history of the Finches is filled with tragedy, and that each family member met their end in an untimely or mysterious fashion. It is these lives and deaths that we bear witness to.
I would love to share each of these stories with you, but so much of this game’s enjoyment is in experiencing these often tragic tales first hand. Know though that these are not simple recollections or straight retellings of past events. Instead, each experience provides a new world, perspective, or abstract approach in imparting its history to Edith. Here, fantasy, delusion, and hope all intermingle to impart a sense of pathos and wonder that I did not think I could experience as a gamer.
As you and Edith explore the beautiful ramshackle home you begin to see the bigger picture of the Finch family, and each tale told feeds into a larger narrative, mirroring the home itself. Each alteration or new addition changed not only its outward appearance, but how each part of the interior interacted, supported, or intruded on another.
Edith Finch focuses on death – multiple deaths, in fact – but ultimately, it is the lives lived that remained with me when my journey with it had concluded, and I know I will be returning to the Finch house to relive them.