Fairy tales hinge on a single crucial detail. There’s one point where it turns from the dark and into something spritely—moral and teachable. What happens, though, if it keeps going. That story just stays at the witch’s house or the huntsman never comes. This is where What Remains of Edith Finch begins.
And it does so with a deft hand. To say it falls under the imprecise genre of forensic narratives would seem generous as mystery-solving is kept to a minimum. You, as Edith Finch, instead read aloud and experience the history of your family in their centuries’ old home. It’s far closer to an interactive storybook than anything else as you pop open and leap into journals and books and letters.
This flavor of vagary seems to be where developers Giant Sparrow thrives. If you recall their debut title The Unfinished Swan, the gameplay was based on the literal idea of hiding information and obfuscating the path before you. More than that, it grabbed and held tightly to the harshly naive yet impressively resolute view of a child coming to terms with his mother’s death.
Now we have Edith returning home after running away many years ago. Her mother left her a nondescript yet somehow monumental key in her passing. And as the last remaining Finch in a long line of Finches, Edith explores the tragedy that seems to stick to her family like a sickness—a curse, really.
It’s hard to describe just how well the story is crafted. The narrative covers a huge breadth of genres from horror to fantasy to suspense to action, and it never seems out of place. If anything, the hard-swinging vacillations between types of storytelling keeps you on your toes. Once the game has your attention, it doesn’t ever let go. Those two to three hours will come and go and they’ll feel like seconds.
It even takes the seemingly impossible task of recounting deaths of several children. They’re occasionally terrifying but always saddening and yet never disturbing. The idea of trying to walk that line from the outset seems overwhelming—nigh daunting—but the game manages it with aplomb. The story of one of a set of twins writing about how he admired his brother’s ambition was particularly affecting, rending your heart in two with equal parts uplifting and emotionally obliterating.
The most effective tact it takes in making that possible isn’t hard to see: there isn’t much of a game to play. To some, it’ll feel disingenuous or even an affront to their explosion-tuned senses. At most, really, there will be moments of lockstep jumping and some high tension key-turning, but that’s it. This story needs to be told in a very particular way, and that way doesn’t allow much for wayward exploration.
For those that don’t mind being moved along a path riddled with the gamut of human emotion, though, there’s something special here. Despite all the moments that fall far beyond the realm of possibility, it’s the mundane that hurts the most. It’s the banal that inspires. It’s remembering that people are more than their deaths and that their lives don’t need you to be meaningful.
That’s all I care to say about What Remains of Edith Finch. The game is built around a central mystery that lands like a Russian gymnast but hits like a Russian boxer, and to break that down much further would be criminal. It has a lot to say—more than any one game could possibly ever cover—and what it says is painful and beautiful and a necessity to see through to the end.
+ Deft precision in the construction of the story
+ Painstaking attention to detail throughout the house is stunning
+ Soundtrack is the perfect complement to the story and the action
+ The final turn is top-notch
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Game Review: What Remains of Edith Finch
Release: April 25, 2017
Genre: Forensic narrative
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC