The first thing I did when I started What Remains of Edith Finch was pause the game. Little did I know that this seemingly meaningless action would be what sunk the game’s hooks in me. Upon pausing the game, Edith Finch opens a book featuring her family tree. Alongside the branches were names of family members I hadn’t met yet, but under each of them were the years they lived and died, and the number of years between those dates were almost all tragically small.
The prospect of uncovering the causes of these short lifespans was a mystery I was immediately driven to solve. The home the Finch family once resided in held the secrets of their demises, and the way they’re told kept me enthralled in What Remains of Edith Finch through its short but concise runtime.
Wandering through the Finch’s home is a straightforward affair, so I have a hard time calling What Remains of Edith Finch an exploration-based game. As I walked through the cramped halls I was guided by Edith’s narration, which appeared in her handwriting across the walls and next to items of importance. It made getting where I needed to be easy, and helped alleviate occasional frustration I felt toward similar games like Gone Home, but those looking for a more involved experience won’t find it here. The game will take you where you need to go, and it won’t require you to navigate through puzzles or intentionally convoluted environmental design to get there. As a result What Remains of Edith Finch is more akin to a visual novel with bits of gameplay in between long stretches of story.
That’s not to say that your guided tour of the Finch house isn’t interesting. Even though its tenants are long gone, every room of the house paints a picture of those who lived there. One room stood out to me in particular – one shared by twins Sam and Calvin, divided in half. One side is covered in posters urging people to join the army, a high school diploma, and an ashtray full of used cigarettes. The other is roped off and covered in toys and painted to look like a spaceship flying among the stars. Before I even had a chance to find out what happened to Calvin Finch, I already got a snapshot of who he was at the time of his death, and knowing that in turn helped me understand Sam, who had to grow up without his twin brother.
The story of the Finches is told in a series of vignettes prompted by items around the house. These vary from a diary where 10-year-old Molly Finch wrote about her final night, a comic documenting the death of child star Barbara Finch, or a series of photos that captured Sam Finch’s final moments. Interacting with these items often shifted my control from Edith exploring the house to the subject in question in their final moments. The spectrum of tragedies this family has been a victim to meant that uncovering every story was both exciting and frightening.
A personal standout for me was Edith’s brother Lewis, who is originally introduced as a worker at the local cannery early on, but I got an actual taste of his daily life when I found his bedroom near the top of the house. At first I played as him decapitating fish to ultimately be packaged and sent off, but as the scene went on, Lewis began to imagine a life in a fantasy world where he was viewed as a king, which meant I was multitasking between cutting fish and navigating through the world in Lewis’ head, and then eventually seeing how he reached his end at only 22-years-old.
Watching each of the Finches meet their end became harrowing and in the case of characters like Edith’s uncle Gregory and great uncle Calvin, almost too tragic and involved to bear. What Remains of Edith Finch required me to carry out acts knowing full well how they’d play out. The game isn’t gruesome by any stretch, but it’s not a story of happy endings. It’s a story of sad retellings and painful memories, but ones that a family is desperate to preserve. And despite the painful things I saw unfold in the Finches’ home, I’m glad they preserved those memories for me to find.