What Remains of Edith Finch is the latest entry in a burgeoning genre I like to call the Walkie: interactive storytelling experiences which primarily consist of walking around, exploring an environment and the story to be found within it.
It’s a style of game that has been around for several years now, first introduced with the likes of Dear Esther in 2012, but which has been taken in directions as divergent as Proteus and The Stanley Parable. What Remains of Edith Finch, however, marks the moment of the genre’s sentience: the point at which it has become aware of, and is actively taking inspiration from, its predecessors.
One in particular springs to mind: The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home, which also features a slowly unravelling family story told by a twenty-something female narrator as she returns to a house she used to live in. Edith Finch certainly has ideas of its own, but I have to say I found it hard to shake an eerie feeling of familiarity as I played through it.
The game’s appealingly tidy structure, which finds you gradually ascending the house as you work your way forwards through several generations of family stories, is not unlike that of Gone Home. And the environmental storytelling, tightly packed into bedrooms and crowded kitchens, is effective if not altogether new.
Edith Finch’s biggest new ideas are the sequences which tell the story of how each family member met their unfortunate demise, using interactive vignettes of fantasy, memory and imagination. Many of these sequences contain inspired ideas, but just as many are ruined by clunky animations or unclear controls which pulled me straight out of immersion.
Others go off without a hitch, however. One in particular, which tells the story of 11-year old artist Milton’s disappearance through a wordless hand-drawn flipbook, was brilliant. And the lavish, bleak, and occasionally hilarious story of Edith’s brother Lewis was another highlight.
For as effective as some of these vignettes are, however, their collective effect is of spreading the story a bit thin. There are thirteen Finches whose tales are all told throughout the game, and by spending such a short time with each one, none feel truly developed. Edith Finch misses what made Gone Home so special: the way it let the player develop a personal bond with its narrator, Sam, over a number of hours, despite never actually seeing her.
What Edith Finch sometimes lacks in narrative depth, however, it makes up in atmosphere. The house and its surrounding woodland are full of foggy moonlight and the sound of waves, while its minimal soundtrack, though it can feel a bit emotionally manipulative at times, is certainly very affecting during climactic moments of the story.
That story wraps up in a very satisfying way during the game’s final moments, coming full circle and tying all of its loose threads together. And it should be noted, too, that Edith Finch features one of my favourite ever credit sequences in a game. Without giving it away, I’ll just say that it’s goofy, very sweet, and the perfect end to such a personal tale.
My final impression walking away from What Remains of Edith Finch, then, was largely a positive one. This is an imaginative and affecting game which, while a bit derivative in places, is nevertheless worth seeing through to its conclusion. I’m sure developer Giant Sparrow has more great things to come.