【What Remains of Edith Finch】 review 2017-08-13 03:38:20
expected What Remains of Edith Finch to be weird and vaguely menacing, but instead found it to be heartbreakingly sweet.
Developer Giant Sparrow is no stranger to sadness. Its previous game, The Unfinished Swan, is about a young boy coming to terms with the death of his mother. Sadness is a difficult thing to convey convincingly in a game. Grief is more easily evoked — kill off a favorite character and boom, your player is sad and angry and hurt and all the things that come with a loss.
But true sadness, inextricably interwoven with love, is not such an easy lever to pull. What Remains of Edith Finch is a very sad game, because it does the hard work of letting you get to know each member of the Finch family before taking them away. Those lives, experienced through brief flashbacks, make you love those people just enough to genuinely miss them when you remember they’re gone.
You play as the titular Finch, returning home for the first time in seven years. Her entire family is gone, though that’s no spoiler. In fact, it’s the Finch family’s shtick. The Finches have always believed themselves to be under a curse, and they all died long before their time — sometimes mysteriously, sometimes tragically.
The truth about those deaths was always a murky area for Edith; her mom didn’t like talking about the past, and the stories told by her grandma Edie were difficult to believe. In What Remains of Edith Finch, Edith moves from room to room, reading the stories of each demise and piecing together her family history, hoping the house will give up its secrets.
To call What Remains of Edith Finch a game may be slightly disingenuous; it’s more of a storybook. You’ll open some journals, flip some switches and turn a key or two, but by and large you’re roaming the empty halls of the sprawling Finch house as the story is read to you. Edith learns about each character’s death by examining a note or diary left behind in their bedroom, the words spilling out on the screen as you take on the role of the doomed branch of her family tree.
The creativity and care given to make sure each story feels uniquely tuned to the person it’s describing kept What Remains of Edith Finch from growing boring. It takes some monumentally deft storytelling to make the death of children — including a baby — anything other than horrifying. Instead, each tale is beautiful in its own sad way. Sam, Lewis and Barbara’s stories are particularly well-crafted, and Milton’s will be a joy for fans of The Unfinished Swan. But Gregory’s passing is the one that will stay with me for a long, long time. It’s a crushingly ordinary moment, painful because unlike some other Finch tales, it’s all too plausible.
What Remains of Edith Finch is focused almost entirely on several people dying in sometimes terrible ways, but it isn’t gruesome or creepy. Deaths aren’t played for effect, or self-indulgently drawn out to manipulate. They’re not unfair tragedies that a forgiving universe would never allow. Death is a thing that happens, and that’s how What Remains of Edith Finch treats it. It’s not about ends. It’s about Barbara, the child actress, and Lewis, who worked at the cannery. It’s about Sven, who enjoyed woodcarving, and Calvin, who liked rocket ships. It’s about remembering that people are more than just how they ended.
The central mystery of What Remains of Edith Finch unspooled at exactly the right speed, effortlessly sucking me in. It dropped just enough hints to be enigmatic and not annoyingly vague. The writing is stuffed with evocative lines that convey mood without ever trying too hard.
Then there’s the house itself. Every corner of the Finch residence is meaningful in some way, with the bedrooms telling you as much about the family as the descriptions Edith discovers. Despite being full of secret passages and barred bedroom doors, it feels like a home where people actually lived, slept, put away groceries, watched TV, did taxes, played Monopoly. It is, without question, a very strange place. But it feels utterly normal. It’s both strange and familiar, which is exactly what it feels like when you return to your childhood home after a long absence.