Developer: Giant Sparrow
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One
What Remains of Edith Finch is the most interesting game I played in 2017. Not the most beautiful, or breath-taking, or mechanically sound–which is not to say it has any glaring flaws on any of these fronts–but it was certainly the most thought-provoking. Overall, I found it to be one of the most profound accomplishments achieved by a game studio in 2017, and that is certainly no small feat.
Part of my strong attraction to the game was due to me relating to it on a rather personal level. A few years ago my father passed away, my mother moved in with my sister, taking our pets, and I moved into an apartment with my boyfriend. When I come back to my childhood home, no one is there, just the objects that used to be part of my family’s daily lives. Walking around an uninhabited but fully furnished house has the eery effect of making you feel like you’re the ghost. This general aura was so deeply echoed in What Remains of Edith Finch, that it was like a punch in the stomach. In fact, one of the first, and very poignant lines of dialogue uttered by Edith upon entering the house is, “Instead of a family, there were just memories of one.”
This ends up setting the tone for the uncanny and generally quite tragic gameplay experience that follows. The game operates as a first-person, narrative experience à la Gone Home. For me, it was much more effective than Gone Home emotionally, for a variety of reasons. It was much less predictable due to its more surrealist nature, and the variety of ways the player experiences the memories of the deaths of Edith’s family members (whether by dream, comic, or through a camera lens) was highly original. Each flashback experience was captivating enough to make you forget that a death is the inevitable termination of each memory.
If there was a specific message you were supposed to take away at the end, I’m not sure I picked up on it. Or if I did pick up on it, I rapidly discarded it. Unfortunately, the game seemed to have an overarching theme of how you cannot escape your family history. I don’t find this mindset particularly useful, especially if your family history is “cursed” like the Finches. This might not be intentional on the part of the writers, however, that doesn’t make it any less difficult to ignore.
A much more uplifting take away for me, was the idea that each of these family members was so much more than their untimely deaths. They should be remembered for the person they were, rather than the tragedy of their demise. Even if the best part of them lay within their imagination (such was the case with Edith’s brother, Lewis), they were all important. They had ambitions and dreams, passions and hobbies, and beautiful imaginations.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a treasure of a game that has defined new boundaries for narrative gameplay experiences.