|Platforms||PC (reviewed), PS4|
|Release Date||April 25, 2017|
What Remains of Edith Finch is a first-person narrative driven adventure that casts players as the titiular character exploring her old family home. Edith arrives at the long abandoned Finch estate with a mysterious key left to her by her mother. She slowly begins to unlock rooms in the house that were sealed when she grew up there, learning the new stories of how her relatives and ancestors died.
The story of Edith Finch is that of a haunting. Not in a traditional sense – this is not a typical horror game and you won’t spend your time running and hiding from specters. Instead this is the story of a family and a house that is haunted by the memories of how they died. As you explore the crazy estate the presence of many generations of Finch’s hangs heavy, infecting every corner of every room with long abandoned mementos that were once so important, now forgotten.
The presence of each and every member of the Finch family hangs heavily over both the house itself and the game. While the short story- like segments reveal how each family member died, the rest of the house is packed with clues as to how they lived. As a story-driven experience, this is a game whose narrative is crucially important. Between short bouts of linear exploration you’ll find ways into the various rooms of the Finch estate.
Each one belonged to one of the family. Each is almost frozen in time, a testament to the person who once lived there. Each also contains memorials to those who have died, which are simultaneously beautiful yet almost ghoulish. Interacting with these memorials will trigger the stories and the reason why you’re here. What Remains of Edith Finch resembles a collection of short stories. Each story is short, offering glimpses into the inner workings of an entire family tree.
There’s a fantastic degree of creativity on display in how these stories are presented, with each offering a different set of mechanics and presentation. To spoil any of them with specific examples would be to do you a disservice, as it’s this variety of game styles that makes the best part of the game. The ever changing presentation, gameplay styles and fantastic soundtrack are the high points of the entire game.
The stories themselves are fairly hit and miss. Some are wonderful if grim (they’re all about death after all), giving fairly unique glimpses into the minds of characters far removed from us. Some are dull, lifeless affairs that offer little meaningful other than the ability to check another Finch off the death list. All, however, are populated by completely unmemorable characters.
While some of their eventual fates are memorable in shocking or darkly funny ways, I couldn’t tell you anyone’s name less than 12 hours removed from completing the game (Edith Finch not withstanding because, well, her name’s in the title). I can remember how these characters died for the most part, but no particular detail about them. What Remains of Edith Finch is so consumed by showing us the demise of this collection of characters that if forgets to give us reasons to care.
There’s no investment in any of the Finch clan because we just don’t know any of them. Even Edith, whose body you inhabit for the 90-120 minutes you’ll be exploring the estate, is mostly a mystery by the end. While the house is littered with items and objects belonging to several generations of Finch’s, none of it offers us anything we don’t already get from the short stories, other than the odd extra bit of dialogue from protagonist Edith.
It’s a wasted opportunity to give us any kind of connection with the stories the game wants to tell. And this is an issue that snowballs over time. There’s no real exploration to the game – you simply follow along a linear path, encountering a new story every now and again. In fact, Edith’s section of the game doesn’t seem to exist for any particular reason. It’s a hollow framing device used to move the game along from story to story.
The game needed more exploration, more environmental storytelling or just plain more to connect us to the characters we’re supposed to care about. While these connected stories are interesting enough in their own right, with some fun twists on standard gameplay and a couple of interesting conclusions, there just wasn’t enough here for me to get invested. Instead of being captivating, its story ultimately feels as empty as the house you’re exploring.
There’s an interesting premise at the heart of What Remains of Edith Finch – explore a house and get to know a bunch of characters by invading their personal space and seeing how they died. And the short stories themselves can be interesting, particularly the shifts and changes they bring to the otherwise standard first-person gameplay.
But there’s very little attempt made outside of these short stories to actually connect the player with its many subjects. Too often I felt like I was simply going through the motions, asked to connect more deeply with these characters than I was able to do. There’s no effort to really teach me about any of the Finch family, beyond a morbid series of short stories that show me how they died, which meant that the whole experience, while interesting, rung hollow.
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