The waves crash against the boat. Mist and foam sprays all around you. Fog shrouds everything in front of you in a cloud of mystery and fleeting images. Just on the horizon is the house. It’s highest point just peaking through the mist and clouds. You wished you couldn’t see it, that you could be anywhere other then on this boat heading to that place. You can feel the shallow rocking of the boat as you glance down at your lap. Resting there is a journal with the words Edith Finch on it.
With this subdued scene What Remains of Edith Finch opens. It’s tale is one of understated sorrow and loss giving way to crushing despair and the cloud of a family history you wish you could outrun. What Remains of Edith Finch is brilliant for a number of different reasons, but perhaps the most special and the most surprising is the way it dovetails its singular story about Edith Finch into a stunning series of vignettes about the various Finches who have come before her and the stories they had to tell, right at the very end.
As a debate seems to rage inside this industry about the state of storytelling in games, Edith Finch proudly strides across the stage and delivers a tale so wrought with emotion, depth, and a deeply, troubling relatable family that one can’t help but be wowed by the sheer nature with which it plays out it’s story.
Your family is gone. They are all dead. You are the last Finch alive. You had escaped, but of course simply leaving the old home doesn’t really mean you leave anything behind. Family and it’s legacy sticks to you like a weight, keeping you afloat in moments of crisis, or sending you crashing down to the bottom of the sea. What Remains of Edith Finch finds the titular Finch arriving back to the old family house after seven years away. The misshapen, jagged, and Dr. Seuss-esque home that awaits is filled with a near visceral sense of fear. Something isn’t right with the home of the Finches.
That undercurrent of fear, of not really knowing what is going on drives Finch right from the outset of it’s roughly two hour long tale. The game is less a single story in the traditional sense and more a series of short vignettes of the various people who have brought life to the house for the past 80 years. The entire history of the Finch family is brought into frame as Edith traces the route of generations of her family, room by room and secret by secret.
Only, Finch is smarter than that. The game is less a shocking series of plot twists and jump scares and more a quiet, largely meditative look at life, death, and the suddenness of it all, of the tiny, little moments that define it. The vignettes are brilliant precisely because they show those involved at a moment of maximum freedom. At a state of such raw emotion, whether it be hope, fear, joy, or terror. They feel alive and are given a moment, perhaps just a single second even that crystallises and beautifully defines exactly who they are, who they wish to be.
This game is in essence just a series of regular, mundane moments stacked together. No superheroes or gunfights or big fireworks await you here, instead you’ll step into the shoes of a family. A family made up not of gross stereotypes and outrageous over the top antics but instead of real, flawed, and wonderfully human people.
A true star of What Remains is the incredibly diverse gameplay mechanics in each one of the vignettes. In the dozen or so small, intimate vignettes for the various family members no two play anything like the other. From the simple rush and exhilaration of seeing how high you can get on a swingset, to the unbridled joy of a baby playing with rubber ducks, to a brilliant old-school slasher story send-up, What Remains is masterful in how every character’s story plays and feels. Each feels unique to that individual character and to the themes that defined who they are. This is without even mentioning some of the truly brilliant and fantastic gameplay ideas that I wouldn’t dream of ruining for you.
All of the gameplay styles and mechanics are built around a simple and singular idea; the premise that life is just made of random, everyday, and seemingly unimportant events that build us into the people we are. That these are the moments that more often then not, reveal something to us, and show us deep insight into who we’ve become and of who we wish to be. Astounding moments of clarity and succinct examinations into the soul of it’s characters make up all of these vignettes, none of which last longer than ten minutes.
What is perhaps most stunning of all is how What Remains never does fall into overwrought melodrama territory. How the immense suffering, loss, and grief don’t just drown out everything else and make the game insufferable to play. Instead, What Remains is able to find the shards of hope that define humans. That hope and the thin silver lining in the game is paramount, for this game is adamant in its statement that all of the loss and grief and sorrow don’t drown out all the good, hopes, and dreams of the various Finch family members.
The Finch family is complicated, flawed, and all but gone from the world. Yet, What Remains is clear that their story isn’t a tragedy, at least not in the traditional sense. Make no mistake, those hoping for a charming, lighthearted family comedy are in for a rude awakening. Yet, in presenting us with those beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspired vignettes into the lives of the various Finch’s, what the game shows us is that their lives weren’t made up of their failures, mistakes, and fears, but instead of their ambition, their connection to each other, and most importantly their dreams, of what they wished to be, of who they wished to be.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a heartbreaking video game. It is full of death, loss, and the pain and inescapable tidal pull of family. There are moments of such genuine sorrow and melancholy, of such shocking but unavoidable fate, that on numerous cases I found myself speechless. It’s conclusion, a stirring, bittersweet, and powerfully true series of scenes cutting across multiple years and characters is the closest a game has possibly ever come to conveying the true nature and force of family, of the legacy that comes with it, and of the terror and joy of life with them and left me with tears welling in my eyes long after the credits rolled.
This is a stunning and emotionally immersive story, one that can only fully come alive and be experienced via games and the unique and personal nature of them. Being put in the shoes and being given a window into each one of the family members, to be able to experience their fears, hopes, and dreams firsthand at arguably the defining moments of their lives was a breathless and powerful experience that will likely stick with me forever. There is nothing quite like What Remains, nothing feels like this game makes you feel, nothing plays like this game’s quirky, diverse, and brilliant gameplay styles. The way every person plays and feels special and unique. What Remains of Edith Finch is a brilliant, oftentimes masterful tale of loss, grief, family, and the pain of the past, it is also a powerful tale of dreamers and the power of said dreams.
This review is based on a digital version purchased by the reviewer for a Standard PlayStation 4 system.