A short but magical journey through this cruel beautiful thing we call life.
In the same vein as similar games like Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, What Remains of Edith Finch is a narrative-based game with some light puzzle-solving and exploration. The story begins with the titular Edith Finch returning home to her towering ancestral house on a secluded island, in search of the mysteries surrounding each of her family member’s untimely deaths.
The core of the game has players unlocking more areas of the house to gain access to memories. These memories play out as small gameplay vignettes of each ancestor’s sudden deaths, and it’s these moments where What Remains of Edith Finch shines brightest. What could very easily fall into a typical sob-fest over each of these deaths (which can be at shockingly early ages), each one is presented with memorable and unique stylistic choices.
What Remains of Edith Finch strikes a powerful balance between somber and joyful, alternating with moments that could leave me grinning like an idiot or actually a bit misty-eyed. The individual feelings evoked by these memories are only bolstered by the style emanating from the game and developer Giant Sparrow’s confidence in their striking gameplay and aesthetic shifts.
The music, visuals, even the way the subtitles are presented, are all brought together beautifully to create some truly amazing segments that offer brief glimpses into the different aspects of these ancestor’s lives. The gameplay never becomes too involved, but each of these moments is able to evoke wildly different feelings in remarkably short times.
Thankfully, traversing the house itself between memories is exciting too. Each room is filled to the brim with observable objects and clutter to give it a truly “lived-in” atmosphere. It’s so densely packed with oddities and interesting details that I’m sure I missed at least a dozen cool little nuances in the environment in my play session.
Further helping to keep these moments from ever slowing down too much is the mentioned subtitle effect found throughout the game, with words appearing in real space in the environments to guide the player or call attention to certain things.
This narrative choice truly helps separate the game from its contemporaries in the genre, giving the narration a bit more weight along with being used in some fun and creative ways. It could have been a gimmick, much like many of the memories, but each aspect of the game is used well in its purpose to provide an often powerful cohesive whole.
Aesthetically it can look amazing, especially in certain memories, but the game does sometimes feel a bit held back by its technical power. Performance isn’t perfect, with a couple of hitches and poorly timed loading times, but none of these problems ever get noticeably in the way of the game. The actual graphical fidelity is never astoundingly good, but this is helped immensely by its charming aesthetics (just try not to look too close at some of the NPC models).
I also felt the ending was a little rushed and a bit unsatisfying in comparison to the slow pace employed throughout, but that may have also just been a symptom of the game’s short length. Don’t expect to get too many sittings out of What Remains of Edith Finch, I beat it in a little over a couple hours and outside of some cool memories there isn’t much in the way of replayability.
But this length works in the game’s favour too, never letting its unique aspects to overstay their welcome and instead playing out each of its tricks just long enough to leave you thoroughly entertained and satisfied throughout.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a charming, evocative, beautiful little game. It’s not afraid to get weird or silly, but these moments of levity just serve to make its more dramatic aspects hit even harder. It’s a nice reminder of the fragility of life, and all the terror and joy that comes with it. It’ll only last you an afternoon, but it’ll leave an impression that lasts much longer.