There are a whole bunch of award-winning games out there that I tend to avoid because they seem more like interactive experiences than actual games. Video games are an amazing medium for storytelling, and while I love a good story, I still don’t want that game aspect to be forgotten, either. (Otherwise, I’d just read a book, y’know.) Nevertheless, sometimes it pays to take chances with games one might not normally want to play, and What Remains of Edith Finch is a prime example of that. (This post is not appearing on Virtual Bastion because Cary already covered this game in an excellent review of her own.)
I’ll try to remain fairly vague about this game because it really needs to be experienced spoiler-free for the most impact. But the premise is as follows: Edith Finch is the last surviving member of the Finch family. Though she inherited the Finch house after the death of her mother, she has no intention of making the place her home because, as she states early on, the house scares her. Instead, her plan is to uncover whatever family history she can before leaving the place behind for good. You see, for whatever reason, only one Finch per generation manages to survive long enough to have children of their own, only to succumb to the same inevitable fate, a sometimes strange, but always untimely, death.
It should be no surprise, then, that the Finch family, believing themselves to be under some sort of curse, seems to be a tad obsessed with death, particularly Edith’s great grandmother, Edie, the only one able to survive to old age. Edith herself admits that the Finch family began work on the family cemetery before the actual house. Whenever a family member dies, their room is left untouched, which is not exactly unheard of. What is strange is the feeling that the deceased are almost pushing the living family members out of the house, in a sense, each new bedroom being built atop the house in an increasingly ramshackle fashion. It makes me feel as if the Finch family is so concerned with remembering those who had passed on that they can’t fully appreciate those who are still alive.
As we begin our bizarre, little adventure, all we know is that Edith’s mother, Dawn, fled the house with Edith years prior after the loss of her other two children, but not before sealing all the rooms shut, the only way to view them (initially) being through peepholes Edie had drilled into the doors, these eerie memorials preserved and still visible, if only from afar.
At first, I felt like a detective, observing details and studying the family tree as I started to piece things together. It’s not long before we start to get more detailed stories from the viewpoints of the former Finch family members, allowing us to better learn more about who they were…and how they died. As I progressed further into the game, I started to feel like I really knew these people, like they were my own family, making the whole experience that much more heartbreaking. (My only complaint would be a few upsetting instances where animals were involved. It’s nothing too graphic or anything, but I still thought a warning was needed for fellow animal lovers out there. This is why Molly’s story was the most uncomfortable for me.)
This is one of those “artsy” gaming experiences that I would definitely recommend. This game was beautifully made, from the way the narration was incorporated into the scenery to the varied forms of gameplay used to tell each Finch’s story. (Lewis’ was my absolute favorite.) While not all the game’s mysteries were resolved (especially since I would take certain tales covering the various deaths with a grain of salt), we were given enough information to speculate, which can often be better than having questions outright answered.
In fact, this is a game that will no doubt make you think, not just about the many unanswered mysteries, but about the greater message. The lesson I took from this game is as follows: don’t be so afraid of death that you forget to live. Remembering the past, and those we have lost, is all well and good, but we mustn’t allow these memories to detract from those we have in our lives now.
Image from official Nintendo eShop