Tuesday, April 23, 2024

What Remains of Edith Finch is a Storytelling Masterstroke

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This review is spoiler-free. You, who wish to play the game without knowing about it, enter this article without fear.

What Remains of Edith Finch is a critically acclaimed 2017 video game. It was produced by Giant Sparrow and follows 16 years old Edith Finch coming back to her family home after her mother’s death. What sounds like a perfect set up for a horror game ends up being a bitter-sweet collection of tales about life and death, family, and loss. What Remains of Edith Finch is surprising and well thought. It tells the kind of story that I wish I cross path with more often.

To each door its story 

What Remains of Edith Finch deals with closed doors and how to get behind them in order to understand what happen in the locked room. You see, Edith’s mother left her a key (that doesn’t open the house) and now Edith is set on her way to discover what happened to her family. Indeed the Finch family seems to be the victim of a curse that started when Edith’s great-great-grandfather came to the United-States on a boat, with his house, that sinked. His daughter, son-in-law, and first grand-daughter survived the wreck but he died and the house ended up at the bottom of the sea, close to the shore. 

The next generation built what would keep on growing and became the place you visit during the game. It is on the the sea-shore, close enough from the catastrophe’s location to be able to see the roof of the hold house at low tide. Since the sinking, the members of the Finch family have a tendency to die young (or in a tragic accident). Of Odin’s 5 grandchildren, only 2 reached adulthood. Of his 3 great-grandchildren, only one died as an adult. And only one of his 3 great-great-grandchildren (namely Edith) is still alive at the beginning of the game. 

You will slowly complete Edith’s family tree.

Behind each locked door is a peculiar universe belonging to one of the family members. The story of how they died awaits you there too. It might appear gruesome, to be facing what is always a tragic death 12 times. But each of the deaths is told in different ways, with different mediums, and by a different narrator. In the end, it tells you a lot about the person each Finch was.

It is sad, touching, and beautiful. I keep thinking that it is dreamlike in a sort of fairy tale kind of way (and fairy tales are always cruel and melancholic). The game has the good taste to leave some things ambiguous about how some characters met their ends. Oh, you know without a shadow of a doubt, but you aren’t shown it in all its gruesome banality.

There will be at least one story that will touch you emotionally. The one that moved me the most was Lewis’. I guess it hit close to home in a way. All the stories are clever and served by a powerful narration done by talented voice actors. Gregory’s story comes to mind in this regard.

While being incredibly sad, What Remains of Edith Finch isn’t pessimistic. It deals with tragedy and doesn’t ignore its nature. But it doesn’t ignore the potential of life leading there either. Running away from tragedy won’t make you more happy, but accepting that tragedy is a part of life won’t make it any less sad. At the end, the journey you have undertaken in What Remains of Edith Finch is both a fantastical one and an incredible balanced one. 

A multitude of coherent personal universes 

What Remains of Edith Finch is telling a story. You will advance in the game without meeting real obstacles to your progression. In a way, What Remains of Edith Finch is closer to an interactive movie than a traditional game. Yes, it is even more removed from the traditional video game experience than a Telltale game is.   

And in a way I wish at was a bit less so. I wish there was some choice. Some bonus content you can access by taking a different road or by succeeding or failing at things. Because it would make What Remains of Edith Finch more re-playable. But also because it would give Edith’s actions more impact and therefore the gaming experience will be more immersive for the person holding the controller.

Still, credit should be given where credit is due. What Remains of Edith Finch would not have worked without the video game media. First, the first person point of view works wonderfully well for the insertion. But that’s not all.

The video game medium allows the narration to develop and present the diversity of the character’s psyche and of their story wonderfully. There is Barabara’s story inspired by survival horror games and comic books. There is Lewis’s fantasy story. There is Sam’s story being told through pictures you are taking… 

I might be repeating myself, but Lewis’ story is incredible. Both for what it is telling and for how it is telling it.

Not only are the different mediums incredibly compelling but the environments you visit are enchanting. There are a lot of details in there. Some of them helping you by shedding light on some of mysteries of the house. It helps with understanding what is true and not true in the stories told by the most unreliable narrators. But the environment will also tells you who the Finches were. How close they were to each other. 

It is beautiful to use the environment as a tool of storytelling. It is even more so if we consider that only the video game media actually allows you to enjoy this at its fullest. Indeed, it is the only one allowing you to explore the Finches’ house at your leisure.

In addition, the fact that you control the hands and vision of Edith really creates the illusion that you are living the meaningful moments. Mind you I played the game on a shitty TV that couldn’t be placed worse in the room in term of luminosity, and yet at the end of the game my eyes stung a little (and not from the shitty light).        

Who gave you the permission to break my heart minimalist gameplay?


If you are not hoping for a video game experience with a challenging or interesting gameplay, I highly recommend you What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s an emotional experience that will stay with you once you have finish it. I would say that the game, even if you are playing it very slowly, shouldn’t take you more than 5 hours to complete. So if you have a free afternoon and want a ride into the meaning of death, family ties, and ultimately the beauty of life, give What Remains of Edith Finch a try. I really think it won’t disappoint.  

Images Courtesy of Giant Sparrow

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