Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!
Another one of my Steam winter sale pickups, What Remains of Edith Finch became a must-buy due to the incessant praise that I kept hearing about it from friends and media. It was also one of those “don’t read anything about it, just buy it and play it” titles, so I tried to stay relatively ignorant of what it contained before diving through it over the course of two short gaming sessions. And while short, Edith Finch is an absolutely spectacular experience and became one of my favorite games in the waning hours of 2017.
No big spoilers here. This really has to be a game that you just go through without any expectations, perhaps other than my personal recommendation. But I will paint some broad strokes here and give my reaction if you want more.
More of a “walking simulator” or interactive novel, What Remains of Edith Finch is out to tell you a story — several stories, actually — by making you an involved participant in it. The premise is that you’re a 17-year-old girl (!) who also happens to be the very last of her family, and she’s coming back to her family’s house. And it’s not a normal house, but is this overgrown mansion on an island filled with secrets and tales, a history of the lives of generations of Finches. All of whom died prematurely and in weird ways.
Edith feels like her mother kept so much of the family’s accounts away from her, so this is her chance to finally explore the backstories of her kin. By accessing each of their rooms (which have been sealed up with little peepholes drilled into them), she’s able to learn more about them, often with unreliable narrator flashbacks to each individual’s final day or moments.
I thought at the start that it was going to be a little more maudlin or disturbing, and while the giant house creaking in the wind was unsettling in parts, after a while I felt a lot more comfortable than while going through the mansion in Gone Home. The Finch abode is like a dream palace for creative people, with colorfully painted rooms, books everywhere (sooo many books), and a warm atmosphere. It’s a place that, if I was a kid, I would find to be the coolest place ever to explore. As an adult, I wasn’t too far off in thinking that, either.
I probably spent most of the time playing just slowly looking around, checking out details, and enjoying the environmental storytelling that’s often going parallel or even contrary to what the narrator (Edith) is saying or the death stories show. You learn so much about each one of these family members, and while there’s quite the diversity here, most all of them are imaginative and unfortunate.
For a game that’s so saturated in the theme of death, very little about Edith Finch is gory or morbid. On the contrary, almost every death is a celebration of sorts, given a silver lining and inspirational music. There are some stories that I think would hit home more with some people than others, but pretty much all of them will stick with me well into the weeks ahead.
I think there’s a lot of very clever storytelling going on here on multiple levels, some of which might not be easily apparent on a casual playthrough. While some of the story is clearly laid out for you, much has to be pieced together from different quotes, what you notice, and a doubt as to the reliability of what’s being portrayed.
I’m going to digest this game for a while and will probably come back to it again sometime in the future. I think it deserves a second playthrough, if just because some details will probably make more sense this time around. It’s not a perfect game and I think that the ending comes a little too rushed, but it really does this genre of interactive storytelling justice and is a great example if you’re looking to win people over to how involving these games can be.