What Remains of Edith Finch | Backlog Review

I remember when this game was blowing up, and everyone was going wild over its storytelling.  Unfortunately, it was right at the time when I had to sell a lot of my gaming stuff in order to afford books for school. I restrained myself at the time and kept away from knowing much of anything about this game, and I am incredibly thankful that I did. 

Because I was greeted with a family’s tragic story and their own museum to tell the sad tale. I was shocked when I realized what the family had done and the dedication they kept to their own. I just wish that we could have seen a tiny bit more about this tragic family.

What Remains of Edith Finch

“If We Lived Forever”

Edith Finch is returning to her childhood home after the death of her mother. Her mother had left her a mysterious key to something in the house, and Edith herself admits that she isn’t sure why. It could be because her mother always wanted her to return, and this was her way of giving her child permission to do so, or it could be the mystery of the key that would make Edith curious enough to make the trip. 

Either way, Edith is walking along the path to her family’s home, which had been constructed by her great grandfather, Sven, when they landed on shore many years ago. The house itself is a living testament to the family’s history, and members like Sven and Edith senior helped to make it a monument. 

I was struck immediately by how much I enjoyed listening to Edith. She was a wonderful narrator that seems to genuinely care and have an interest in her family while at the same time admitting the faults that they all have. She is honest but kind, and through her, we learn so much about this strange family. 

Walking into the home for the first time is a bit of a shock. I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not rooms that have turned into museum exhibits. Each room’s door has a peephole to see into the room, which gives the viewer a sense of the person who lived there.

Below the peephole is a name and the birth and death dates of the individual. Through the peephole, you get the sense that the rooms haven’t been touched since their former owner passed away – a morbid time capsule. 

Exploring the first and second floors, it becomes evident that there is only one room that can be explored, but it’s nearly bare. Only a few ocean paintings and an old copy of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. However, it’s here that Edith finds the purpose to that mysterious key that her mother left her. The book has a lock that, when opened, reveals a handle to open a secret crawlspace. 

The crawlspaces connect most of the rooms and were designed as a way for the children of the family to hang out with one another. I loved this little detail, and it gave me a better sense of Sven and his ideas of family.

Now the game’s story really kicks into high gear, and Edith can begin her own tour of her family history. An exhibit that was started years before she was even born.

What Remains of Edith Finch

“Maybe We’d Have Time to Understand Things”

The tour isn’t chronologically following the Finch family as it starts with little Molly, who passed away at only 11 years old. She went to bed hungry and ate a bunch of things that might have made her hallucinate, pass out, and die. Then there’s Barbara, who was a child star and was murdered at home one night. 

Both of these stories are told in pretty absurd ways, with Molly having hers told from the perspective of several animals that eat their prey, while Barbara’s is told through the style of a comic book. Both stories don’t give us straightforward answers as to what exactly happened.

There’s a little more mystery surrounding these deaths compared to the others in the family, which makes it feel extra weird that later stories will be so explicit about character deaths.

Edith will continue to crawl through the spaces discovering keys to other rooms and passageways. One of the biggest surprises turns out to be that her uncle, who she believed to have died when he was a child, actually was living under the house while she was still staying there. He had his own little bomb shelter that he stayed in, and Edith senior would deliver supplies down to him when he needed it.

This story is where the deaths begin to take on a more depressing tone. The first couple, with their skewed telling of the truth were able to hide the sense of tragedy a little bit, but with Walter, things change. He had hid away after witnessing Barbara’s death – trying to hide from death.

His story is more of a viewing than gameplay. We watch him carry out the same mealtime routine every day for 30 years until he finally decides he has had enough and heads out. He is then supposedly hit by a train and killed. 

Edith will continue this way, and each family member will meet their end, usually much younger than you would hope. The elders in the family believed that there was a curse that plagued the Finch’s to have terrible deaths. Dawn, Edith’s mother, tried to buck against this after losing two of her children.

She moves out with Edith, which is why Edith has been gone for so long. Her mother was trying to protect her from something that may or not be real. The game never admits whether this curse really is real, though. 

It leaves it up to you, the person who witnessed the deaths of all the family members, to decide that. Even Edith is wary about how factual it might be, but then again, we are only hearing her words through her journal, which she left to her child if she were to die too soon.

What Remains of Edith Finch

“I Think the Best We Can Do Is Try to Open Our Eyes”

I found all the stories incredibly captivating and almost always heartbreaking. However, the most interesting part about them is the fact that they all include their own little gameplay elements. Molly you play as animals that hunt their prey, Barbara is like an FPS with a melee weapon, Walter is interactive storytelling, and Sam has you taking pictures.

But I think the gameplay for Lucas is the smartest of all of these decisions. Lucas works at a fish cannery and goes about his day chopping the heads off of fish for canning. He hates his job, so he tries to lose himself in his own imagination to bring more meaning to his life.

Over time, the imaginary world begins to make more sense to him than the real one. This can be seen in the gameplay as the imaginary world takes up a small section of the left screen while the real world takes up the rest. 

You use the right stick to chop fish and the left stick to move Lucas’ imaginary self through his imagination. As time goes on, the imaginary world begins to take up more space, and the cannery becomes less and less prominent until it can barely be seen. During this, Lucas is in a trance, and his employer even states that he is a model employee. 

He’s disassociating and on autopilot, and as the player, I could feel this. The chopping became second nature even when the imaginary world began to become larger and more complicated. It was so well done. Everything about this section felt like peak game design, and it made me wish that the rest of the stories could have been just as profound as this one. 

Don’t get me wrong, all of the other stories do their part well, but after seeing how well the game and story were intertwined with Lucas, it felt like more could have been done in some of them. Gus, for instance, is a rebellious kid who refuses to listen to his father and continues to fly his kite in a storm. 

The kite acts as a conduit for the narration and to show the destruction that happens where Gus was last known to be standing. However, I feel like this section relied too heavily on the narration rather than creating a nice balance with gameplay that would give us a better sense as to who Gus was. 

This lack of cohesion between the story elements and the gameplay elements makes What remains of Edith Finch a little less interesting to revisit and the short length made me wish we had learned just a little bit more about the family. 

Overall, I find the story of What Remains of Edith Finch to be incredibly captivating. A heartbreaking tour of a family’s own curated museum that makes you wish you could have known the family yourself. As it is, I wish I had just a little bit more time to spend learning about this tragic group of people. 8.5/10

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