What Remains of Edith Finch, the follow up to the critically acclaimed The Unfinished Swan, has been in development for roughly four and a half years from developer Giant Sparrow. Even though the two games are unrelated, one can easily see how the team has evolved from one game to the other. What Remains of Edith Finch is an excellent display of narrative presentation, stepping outside the box and offering a unique experience that other games rarely explore. Ian Dallas, the creative director from Giant Sparrow, was kind enough to show off a new story segment later in the game, going in with only a bit of context.
For those interested in the premise, the story focuses on Edith Finch, returning to her childhood home where her extensive family had lived. As each family member passes away, their room in the home is sealed shut, and as more additions to the family arrive, the home is expanded upon with new rooms, creating a sort of amalgam of rooms and homes. As the last surviving member of the family, Edith is given a key to open one of the rooms, and as the story progresses, she gains access to more of the sealed rooms. Entering a family member’s room will allow Edith to explore the various circumstances to their death, each one having a unique presentation and gameplay style. Each room works as sort of a short story, so as a whole, What Remains of Edith Finch is a collection of short stories that the player explores and progresses through.
This particular demo focused on Edith’s older brother, Lewis Finch, who had a bit of an imagination. Starting out in his room, it was clear to see that Lewis was using various drugs, as a hookah was prominently on display in the middle of his room, a poster saying “legalize marijuana” on his wall, and the clear signs of a substance abuser. A letter from his psychiatrist in the room suggested it was a problem that was being worked on, Edith reading on as it began to tell the story of Lewis just before his death. Narrated by the psychiatrist, the story starts out in a fish cannery, where Lewis worked during his sober stages. It’s at this point that players take control of Lewis and the player gets to see the story the psychiatrist tells through the gameplay.
Using a first-person perspective, players will see fish drop into a tray, being able to use the right joystick to control a hand and grab the fish, moving it to a small slicing blade to remove its head, allowing it to be thrown onto a conveyor belt. As the psychiatrist continues to narrate, suddenly, she elaborates on Lewis’ robust imagination, opening up a small bubble where players can control a small imaginary version of Lewis through a maze. Using the left joystick to control the smaller version of Lewis, the player must continue to cut fish as well, showing a parallel between Lewis’ decreasing sanity and his increasing imagination. The psychiatrist will continue to narrate as the player navigates through the maze, uncovering more words from the letter as they explore.
The presentation has a great use of typography, having words appear in various places of the game, whether it be as part of the environment or just as materializing words before the players eyes. The words are all fully voiced by the narrative as well, usually Edith speaking, or other characters depending on the point in the story. Visually, the game has distinct styles that differ depending on the story experience. While the main game overall has a detailed look with the Unreal engine, other parts may have a completely different look. Lewis’ imagination for example has a simplified look, as characters don’t have faces and details are vague due to the fact they’re in his head. Certain elements from his real life would be sprinkled throughout the imaginary life, mainly the fish that he works with in his daily life.
Continuing on with the story, Lewis imagines himself in a fantasy world where he becomes a capable ruler. The gameplay does allow players to slightly alter the story based on their decisions, as there are moments where players will choose a direction for the smaller version of Lewis to take. Even though this may only affect Lewis’ story, it was great to give a sense of freedom and depth based on player choices, even if it was minor. As the story continues, it tends to escalate further and the presentation starts to clash, as imagination starts to expand into the reality, eventually covering up the majority of it. Players will suddenly just see fish and a single hand from the reality, encouraged to continue the day job as the imaginative story continues. At certain points, there were gates that needed to be opened by cutting fish, so players can’t just focus on one aspect of the gameplay, as they would need to maintain both to progress. It was a really cool way to explore the mind of this character all while getting a sense of how mundane his work was.
Without spoiling too much, it’s already known that this story leads to the death of Lewis, though even that is left up to interpretation. This tends to be a theme throughout the game, as there are moments where it is unclear if something happened the way it really did, or if it was just described through a metaphorical story. The short story approach works really well for this sort of game, and though it likely won’t be a long game, it would still be a quality experience that players can enjoy in short bursts. Lewis’ story itself took roughly 20 minutes to complete, and it was said to be one of the longer stories out of what looks like a little more than a dozen. While death seems to be a central theme, Ian confirmed that there is no way to accidentally die in the game, so all the deaths are either through the narrative, or something that just happens inevitably.
What Remains of Edith Finch seems like a fun little experience that one can easily spend a few hours moving through. Much like reading a collection of short stories, the game works very similarly, providing short and interactive narratives to play through. The approach to this presentation works well and it will likely lead to a successful overall story, so long as the gameplay for each shorter story works. What Remains of Edith Finch will release April 25th for both PlayStation 4 and PC, and it will also be the final game in Sony’s recently launched Play Collective, putting a spotlight on special download only titles. PlayStation Plus members will be able to get a 20% discount on the title if they preorder it on the PlayStation store, making it just $15.99, which already seems like a great deal.