“If we lived forever, maybe we’d have time to understand things. But as it is, I think the best we can do is try to open our eyes and appreciate how strange and brief all of this is.” —Edith Finch.
Curses. Not everyone lives and dies by them, but at some point in life, we have all heard stories about curses from storybooks, folklores or someone’s personal experience. Just like that, I was drawn into the world of the Finches. A world made of seemingly unfortunate souls and twisted fates, yet, who is the mastermind in making up that kind of world?
Video games in recent years have seen a trend toward greater depth in story development. This holds true for What Remains Of Edith Finch. Centering on you, a member of the Finch Family, you are Edith Finch, and you hold a desire to know the truth behind the Finch’s deaths afflicted by a perceived curse. The story slowly unfolds as you walk into an eerily familiar territory; your house, where it is known that every (or most) of the Finches there, died. An ordeal like that doesn’t change the fact that you are determined to uncover the secrets of the house to know what caused each family member’s untimely death.
Walking to the house with dreary, sullen footsteps, the game combines walking and first-person exploration to reveal the story of what happened to the Finches. Unlike point-and-click games, the game guides you in piecing the story bits in one area before it proceeds to the next. In no part of the game was I ever lost, I had narrated words that guided me essentially. While the whole story may not be structurally sophisticated at first glance, it managed to put the bits of everything to form a coherent picture.
As I learned about the individual Finches who have lived in the house in the past, I start to inhabit their experiences. I took control of their body, in flashbacks, and experienced what they went through. In many cases, the rendering changes radically and with it the style of gameplay. I must commend that the transition from one frame to the other was flawless. Mechanically, it was an environmental storytelling mechanic as you step into the shoes of each deceased Finch member. Some keys were obvious to figure out, but some took me a bit longer than I may have liked. This however, isn’t negative, as it is justified in its storytelling. I only wished the mechanics were explained better in Walter’s case where I had to spend 5 minutes to open a peach can. Or maybe, I am just slow.
More on mechanics, I would like to stress that overall, the mechanics built around the story contributed in making the experience more intimate. Every single one of them made me look at it from a much deeper emotional perspective than I had imagined. In What Remains Of Edith Finch, I had experienced the emotions of everyone. Possibly, the most cruel form of mechanics where I was complicit in all the Finch’s death, but the mechanics pushed me to do it (and even celebrated me doing it). Ultimately, the story of Lewis Finch alone makes the entire game worth the money but that’s another story.
The presentation as a whole felt natural like it was meant to be. I found the game visuals to be inspiring and nostalgic, one where I would find myself to be enchanted at every corner of a room even when fear and uncertainty loomed around it. One room after the other, each held its own personality and disturbing past. The truth too, seemed more grim than it appeared to be as each Finch’s room looked like they came out of a fairy-tale. What’s more impressive is how the interior of the house at the very beginning of the game and the house at the very end of the game were very much on the edge of photorealistic. Every room in the Finch house is meticulously detailed and warranted a pause for me to take it all in.
To add on, Jeff Russo’s soundtrack for What Remains Of Edith Finch caught my attention instantly. Throughout the game, hearing my own footsteps and the music, I realized just how incredibly lonely it was to be Edith. It wasn’t long before I was feeling a sense of emptiness when I was introduced into the Finch’s lives. It also gave an eerie vibe to the game because it all feels relatively grounded and real so when you hear it, you just feel vulnerable. The entire soundtrack was an emotional journey of contained memories. From the eerie hushed piano to delicate woodwind, much of it expressed the deaths of an entire family across multiple generations. On observing their memorials and reading into their stories, my soul was crushed and the death concept reflected in the music. Thus began a series of heartache from which I tried to move on from. The introduction of a new character, who I know has died, only served to intensify the pain directed towards me.
The ending of the game may have left me with a lot more questions than answers, but that may well be in the game’s nebulous nature. Without stepping into spoiler territory, I think the question of whether the Finch family was actually cursed or not is left open for your own interpretation. Whatever happens to us – whatever loss and hardships we encounter – we’re all responsible for our own actions and for how we live our lives. Perhaps in the case of What Remains Of Edith Finch, it was easy to blame on a curse, but everyone had a choice about what they did, just as I had a choice to play this game.
I have gone through the game four times now and I can assuredly state that What Remains Of Edith Finch isn’t something you would play, complete in one go, and then delete. It is a disservice to do so, not just to the game, but to one’s self. The game covers a plethora of themes, hidden meanings, and more sinister skeletons in the closet, and to how those things can be associated with your own experience or families. It truly delivers in connecting with any person behind a device at a very basic human level.
Though I am satisfied, and in my humblest opinion, found the game to be comprehensive, there will be doubts among people who are not fond or unfamiliar of walking simulators. The same can be said for those who strive for a longer game runtime or more public achievements. I can understand one for being hesitant to get Edith Finch due to its short runtime, and it’s only much worse for people used to speed in games. The mechanics of Edith Finch doesn’t give you the liberty to run (which is completely understandable when you get the whole picture) but that’s really it. If anyone is expecting some big plot twist or bombastic to happen, I don’t think they are necessarily going to find that in What Remains Of Edith Finch, but what you do get is a depth of poignancy. With that respect, it is more suitable for someone who seeks for something deeper than the superficial levels of a typical first-person game.
My final thoughts for What Remains Of Edith Finch is undisputedly nothing but awe towards Giant Sparrow. If anyone needed proof of video games having the same stature as movies, What Remains Of Edith Finch provided it. A family that summons misfortune after misfortune, after experiencing something like that, it’s impossible not to feel any ounce of sadness. As in life, the past can often reveal the future. Sometimes more about that future than we may be comfortable with. In this, Edith’s heartbreaking yet profoundly moving journal, it has undeniably proven that our damaging self-fulfilling prophecies are our own enemies and makes us revisit death. More than that, it also taught me to cherish living. It is truly a story best experienced on your own.