Review | What Remains of Edith Finch
Giant Sparrow left a nice impression after we previewed What Remains of Edith Finch a month ago. It combined a sense of imagination with an interesting mix of emotions, and that was only from one short story. Now, having played the final game, it’s clear just what kind of story Giant Sparrow was trying to tell. What Remains of Edith Finch is not a typical game, but it succeeds in making a touching narrative experience for the player.
The story involves Edith Finch, the last surviving member of a family that is supposedly cursed to suffer early deaths. As her mother passes away, she visits her childhood home where her family has lived for roughly three generations. The home is rather large and full of rooms that have been sealed off due to deaths in the family. When Edith’s mother gives her a key from her will, it starts Edith’s quest to discover family secrets. While the tone and themes are pretty grave, there’s a certain light that each story brings as well.
The gameplay when playing as Edith is pretty simple, being able to walk around, interact with objects or certain visuals, and just using observation. It’s when Edith discovers the story of a family member that the gameplay has a chance to change. Granted, while some stories actually involve playing as the family member, there are still stories where Edith simply interacts with an object. For example, her great great grandfather Odin Finch has his story told through an old Viewmaster. Her brother Milton has his story told through a flipbook that he mysteriously illustrated for others to find.
Aside from the odd exceptions, most of the family members have short but sweet experiences. Some of these may be something as simple as flying a kite during a stormy day. Others may be more complex like putting the players in a role of a predator hunting for their prey. While they are mostly lacking in overall challenge, the narrative does well to motivate the player to keep playing to see what happens next. Going on the right path brings narration from several of the characters of the game, and it’s often shown by well done typography. Most of the challenge is really exploring the home and trying to find all the hidden secrets to progress, merely a challenge of observation.
As mentioned before, these stories are typically about the untimely death of the family member, and it can get pretty emotional sometimes. Visiting the room of a dead family member, seeing their personality from that moment in their life immortalized; it can easily bring out feelings of innocence lost. Many of the Finch family members died fairly young, and the circumstances to those deaths are pretty unique. Some of which don’t even get a clear answer to how they died, leaving it up to the player to determine the specifics. Even though they have their own stories, they also link together and have a direct effect on other family members. These deaths set events in motion and directly set up certain behaviors, leading to more interesting stories.
Visually, What Remains of Edith Finch is a bit of a mixed bag. Areas are typically filled with a lot of environmental detail, which usually looks great using Unreal Engine 4. Despite this, the performance seems to suffer, as some textures and models will pop up only after getting close to them. It’s nothing game breaking and it doesn’t exactly hurt the experience too much, but it makes one wonder what was more important for Giant Sparrow, visuals or performance. Some objects even have odd effects, like an arm cast texture that seems visually distracting. It’s scarce but it does have a notable presence.
Character models and animation are also pretty simple, as most characters lack certain details. It’s interesting too because there are tons of detailed and well illustrated images of the family. It makes an interesting contrast when seeing a unique face in a photo but then barely seeing a 3D face. It almost feels like the faces are purposefully avoided for whatever reason, but that’s okay. Luckily the first-person perspective makes it practically irrelevant, making it so there are only a couple of odd instances. Either way, the most you’ll see of a 3D face is a profile view, and that’s if it isn’t the back of a head.
The audio and voice work do a good job of building an atmosphere and story. Most of the voices are pretty normal sounding, making it feel a bit more realistic. Even the creative director, Ian Dallas, lends his vocal talents to the game, a detail I noticed once the credits rolled. It can’t really be considered a bad thing not to use big name actors, especially for a project like this one. Music is mostly pretty low key, but it was a bit surprising when a certain John Carpenter piece showed up. There was also a nice experience with Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” to help make the moment more whimsical. Overall, the sound does well to immerse the player in these short stories.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a fairly somber experience, but it’s also an enjoyable one. While it doesn’t last very long, roughly three hours at best, it does tell an excellent story. The value of such an experience is pretty subjective, especially with little reason to return to it. For those that want to explore every detail, there is a rich history built into this game. For those that want a journey through imagination and emotion, it’s definitely worthwhile. It even makes a good game to stream, as the short length and the gameplay do well for an audience. If you’re looking for more of a challenging experience, this one likely won’t scratch that itch. Either way, that shouldn’t stop one from trying this beautiful story.
Final Score: 8 out of 10