What Remains of Edith Finch Review

By Mark Delaney, 5 months ago
The term "walking simulator" has been thrown around a lot as a pejorative since Dear Esther popularized and arguably created the genre five years ago. Since then, many more similar games have come around to build on the foundation of the emerging style. Nowadays, "walking sim" isn't typically used to disparage the genre, although it certainly still has its critics — it's used often as a badge of honor. The label denotes a game heavily focused on story that doesn't mind leaving interesting gameplay mechanics behind. At least, that used to be the case in the time before What Remains of Edith Finch.

Published by Annapurna and developed by Giant SparrowPublished by Annapurna and developed by Giant Sparrow

Edith Finch is a whatever-you-want-to-call-it — first-person story, narrative adventure, walking sim — and it's one of the best of its kind. The game is told through the titular character's narration as she returns to her troubled (and structurally impossible) childhood home. Edith is the only surviving member of the Finch family. Long before her great-grandfather immigrated to the United States, the Finches were alleged to have been a cursed clan. Each generation would see the majority of its offspring die in unusual circumstances, leaving only one surviving member to carry on the family's apparently hexed bloodline. Edith's childhood was tumultuous, and she spends much of her time telling you about it as you play through the two hour story. The setup is familiar: Room by room, note by note, the full picture comes into focus, but despite some early indications to the contrary, Edith Finch is anything but conventional.

Her family's estate presents a sort of surrealism in its construction; it's housed many members of the family over the years and each addition to the house seems to have been built upwardly and with little caution. Years of building have left the home balancing like a game of Jenga that's about to come crashing to an end. The stories Edith discovers, each of them depicting the demise of a family member, are always somber and often made more tragic in their delivery. Sometimes you can see where a scene is going, how the demise will be met, but you're forced to bring the fated Finch to that place. One scene in particular is especially hard to swallow but that resonance is one of Edith Finch's greatest accomplishments.

Its story is fantastical, like a tale regaled by the father in Tim Burton's Big Fish. As Edith explores each family member's death, you're maybe able to discern the facts from fiction — or perhaps each member really died the way it's written on the pages with all of its magical realism intact. What's left unsaid in Edith Finch is perhaps where its staying power resides the most. Its tale is dark and sad. Other times it's somewhat humorous or lovably absurd, but beneath it all there exists a question of what truth survives if the elements of fantasy are just that — untrue. When you trim these stories of their magic, what remains is the reality of a family torn apart by unending tragedy, of children missing or forgotten, of others burying their parents. The fantasy element lets Edith and the player consume these stories, but when the dust settles, like Edith we are left to examine the wreckage.

The Finch household, though emptied now, still feels very lived-in.The Finch household, though emptied now, still feels very lived-in.

What Remains of Edith Finch is committed to story first and foremost. It excels in every way in this regard. It begs to be explored in one sitting, it's well acted by the many voiceover artists, and it carries a lovely soundtrack befitting of the game's at once dreary and fantastical tone. However, for it to do all of those things would only make it a conventionally great walking sim. What Edith Finch does differently is surprisingly found in its gameplay. Not only does each scene seem to walk a blurry line of fantasy and reality, each Finch's death is played out by the player and it uses one-off gameplay mechanics that are unique to its respective scene.

Rather than only walk from room to room, collecting note after note, Edith Finch repeatedly pulls you into its proverbial time machine whereby you're asked to learn new controller behaviors to assist each Finch in departing. You may be a daughter who turns into an animal and chases birds up trees, or you may be a son with dreams of being an astronaut and one day takes flight via swing set. It's rare for any game to do this, as it's antithetical to game design. It's expensive to design those mechanics and you don't often see games discarding them so liberally. Even if each vignette's controls aren't so intensive and the game is brief enough to survive this daunting task, Giant Sparrow deserves credit for taking the genre's formula and subverting expectations. The walking sim has been challenged by Edith Finch.

The sole blemish on the game is its occasional technical flaws. Some texture pop-in is seen from the moment you begin and throughout the game. Other times the game, which is meant to be without visible loading screens, takes an abrupt pause to allow the game to catch up to the player. These issues weren't too distracting but the pauses especially have a way of freezing the immersion just as they do the game. Some will surely bemoan the game's brevity at just two hours per playthrough, but those who enjoy story-first games may agree that less can often be more. Edith Finch tells the story it wants to tell and does so very well with no filler.

Each story depicts fantasy and tragedy, but only the latter can really be verified.Each story depicts fantasy and tragedy, but only the latter can really be verified.

The achievement list is nearly identical to that on other platforms. If you're familiar with it, you know that means it's a quick completion. The Xbox version adds one new unlockable but even that one is simple. Most of the achievements revolve around performing missable actions in various death scenes but with the guides already seen on TrueTrophies and the inevitable similarly reliable guides that will hit TA over the coming days, Edith Finch is the latest indie game to offer a quick 1000 gamerscore. All but one can be done in one playthrough if you're following along, although most deliver some small spoilers. If you care about the story it's suggested you play it without peeking at the list; then you can use the game's Replay a Story feature to jump to specific scenes as needed.

Summary

The exceptional story and inventive gameplay design makes Giant Sparrow's title a memorable trailblazer for walking sims. It sets a new bar for what the genre is capable of in its interactivity, and all narrative adventure games that arrive after Edith Finch may now have to consider challenging players with more than diary reading and tape playing. It's said that, in their infancy, each new medium copies the one it's following. In some ways, games are the successor to movies and we've seen plenty of cinematic games that crib the format of feature films. To take nothing away from such games, What Remains of Edith Finch is a shining example of what video games do uniquely well.
4.5 / 5
Positives
  • Contemplative and well acted story
  • Beautiful soundtrack
  • Challenges its genre
Negatives
  • Some technical hiccups
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent two hours roaming the magically real Finch estate for a complete playthrough before returning for the rest of the achievements once the list became visible. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.