Where Sleeping Memories Lay
What Remains of Edith Finch is art. While that kind of claim usually drums up two very different opinions on what a video game can be, experiences like Edith Finch proves to me there is no doubt of the artistic power a studio can achieve with the video game platform. Over its two to three hour journey, Edith Finch takes risks, its a haunting, unique and emotionally resonant experience that deals with something we often find difficult as human beings, the fragility of life. Edith Finch isn’t an epic tale of adventure, nor is it a heartfelt intimate journey, instead Edith Finch is a peep-hole into life’s lived and the room full of memories we leave behind.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a narrative game (you don’t just walk and listen in this one I swear) that follows the titular Edith Finch, a young woman traveling back to the abandoned family home, after her mother gifts her a mysterious key in her will after she passed away, with no instructions on its use. As we travel back to the house we learn more about the Finch’s, a bizarre and eccentric family, who believe they are burdened with a curse that causes the untimely death of its members. Through the couple hour or so adventure we go as far back as 1880 up to present day, as we hop around the Finch family tree, learning about its members and their misfortunes. It’s a somber tale, that analysis the sometimes inconsequential nature of human life and the preservation of memories, it also deals with ideas of paranoia, self fulfilling prophecy and the darker side of influence. Though heavy themes it’s thankfully wrapped up in unique and quirky gameplay sections that keep the atmosphere from getting too oppressive. It shares a lot of characteristics with the studios previous game The Unfinished Swan, despite their vastly different tones both have a level of creativity and excellent use of the video game medium that assures that I will be playing Edith Finch again like a classic book or timeless film.
As we explore the memories of each Finch family member, we are treated to a new gameplay style and this is where Edith Finch’s creativity really shines. I won’t spoil some of the more creative uses but these gameplay sections vary greatly such as one memory where we turn into various animals and each presents new gameplay styles. Others play with the entire perspective and some change and redirect the narrative, each is completely different and wildly creative, fitting the personality of each family member perfectly. It isn’t so much that they are incredibly deep or even challenging but the variety and way in which they compliment the narrative makes Edith Finch such a brilliantly paced adventure, that manages to fix the lack of gameplay urgency a lot of people take issue with when discussing narrative games. Its a great evolution from Giant Sparrows previous work, again using environment and perspective in ways I haven’t seen before. Playing Edith Finch feels akin to reading a pop up book as a child, each environment has something to interact with or move and each section opens up and pops in unexpected ways. (also the game has an actual pop up book in it, so there’s that)
That level of imaginative design caries over to the graphics, the design of the Finch house is truly stunning, at times its oppressive and eerie and others its colourful and bizarre, it straddles this line between realistic and completely ridiculous that just makes Edith Finch such a unique work overall. Each bedroom is littered with photographs, trinkets and items that tells you more about the inhabitant than any character bio or drawn out explanation, its visual story telling at its finest and each room is a place I found hard to leave whenever it was time to move on. The Finch house is the kind of place you imagine when you think of a hill top mansion as a child, filled with impossible architecture and rooms that seem to defy normality, its easily one of the most impressive and memorable game environments I’ve seen this year, coming close to Gone Home’s Greenbriar house in terms of personality and storytelling. Further little details, like how the text of Edith’s commentary draws itself onto the walls as you walk and how the pause menu shows the diary and the family tree of the family members who you have discovered just add to how engrossing Edith Finch becomes. I finished the game in one sitting, unable to take myself away from the screen for the 2 hours it had me. (apart from when I needed to pause a minute because of the impact of a certain story, if you’ve ever been an adolescent struggling to find yourself you’ll know the one)
The games sound design is also stellar with the game having some of the best creaking floor sound effects I’ve ever heard (never thought I’d be complimenting the sound of floorboards in a review but man those are some convincing footfalls) The house groans and wind blows outside with an eerie howl, when you go outside you can hear waves crashing and the rustling of the bushes as you move. The effectiveness of these sound effects makes the otherwise silent house that much more unsettling and the difference when switching to memories and being bombarded with music and the sound of life makes the contrast between them more pronounced.
If you couldn’t tell from my previous gushing, I loved What Remains of Edith Finch. While I don’t believe its perfect, there were some plot points I didn’t feel were fully resolved, its price is also something to consider at £15 for 2 hours, I feel some will find it hard to justify, however if like me you value memorable experience over quantity of content it justifies its higher price point. It doesn’t quite hit the emotional highs of games like Rakuen or the philosophical ones of Nier Automata but it makes up for it ten fold by just being such an inventive experience overall. You likely won’t play anything like What Remains of Edith Finch this year and have played anything like it in the last few years. Like Giant Sparrows previous Bafta winning title The Unfinished Swan, Edit Finch is bursting with creativity and heart from start to finish. It tells a collection of truly life affirming and touching tales and wraps them all in gameplay that feels inventive and whimsical. If you are looking for an experience filled with creativity and artistic merit Edith Finch is easy to recommend to anyone looking for something new.