The haphazardly-built house of the Finch family is far from just a location in What Remains of Edith Finch. With the entirety of developer Giant Sparrow’s game taking place in and around this singular family residence, it’s obvious that a lot of work has gone into making the house its own standalone character. Much like the horror classic The Evil Dead, where the now-clichéd cabin in the woods has a life all of its own, the Finch family house oozes personality, easily becoming a stronger protagonist than most of gaming’s generic heroes, let alone its locales.
While our time wandering through the house lasted around two hours or so, not a second is wasted. Just like an expertly crafted film, this feature-length adventure crafts every moment into an integral part of its overall narrative – every second is memorable.
Planted in the role of the titular Edith Finch, the journey begins in a thick, overgrown forest path leading up to the house, a towering landmark that rises above the murky greenery. Whilst it still manages to be visually appealing – especially when the direction allows for some purposefully placed set pieces – these more open sections don’t look or run as well as they do on the Switch’s console contemporaries. It looks fine on the smaller portable screen, but larger panels make every appear rather soft; huge framerate lunges as the game loads in new environments don’t help.
Thankfully, new environments aren’t introduced unless they’re integral to the overall narrative. Each locale has its own purpose, its own personality, its own story to tell. No room is unimportant and not all of the stories are for the faint of heart – exploring the story of the Finch family is bound to bring tears and discomfort. They’re “The Most Unfortunate Family In America”, cursed with a series of tragic and untimely deaths.
Upon entering the house, everything looks as it did seven years ago, when the family left after the death of yet another family member. Not everything could be taken back then; cans of canned fish are strewn around the table – a remnant from Edith's brother Lewis’ job at the cannery – and abandoned boxes line the hallways. It feels like stepping into a painting; everything has its place in an interactive canvas of picturesque messiness. Exploring more, we discover that almost every room is locked, but we’ll find a way in.
The first room we explore is Molly’s, entered through a secret entrance in one of the few unlocked rooms. Just like the rooms downstairs, everything remains untarnished. It’s an entire person’s life poured into one isolated environment. In this moment, What Remains of Edith Finch looks close to its best: light spills in through the window, enhancing the Disney princess aesthetic of Molly’s room. It’s a bright display of colour, highlighting the childlike imagination that would have gone on here when the house was still filled with life.
Moving to the desk, a diary is left out begging for us to peer inside of. Edith was never told what happened to Molly. In fact, Edith was never told about most of her family’s deaths – but that’s why we’re here. Opening the diary to Molly’s last entry, we’re transported to her final moments: as a ten-year-old girl sent to bed without dinner, her hunger is ravenous. Getting up from her bed, she moves to eat anything she can: red berries, gerbil food, toothpaste. Upon ingesting the final item, a bird appears at our her windowsill. She climbs out to follow it. At this point, we’re no longer a little girl, we’re a cat jumping through the trees, chasing the bird... our prey.
It’s clear that these moments aren’t just the imagination of a child – they’re hallucinations. The dream sequence becomes more visceral, more grotesque, and while there is fun to be had in the sequence’s gameplay as you take on the role of different animals, the unsettling nature of what you know is happening never fades away. It's truly jarring stuff.
What Remains Of Edith Finch doesn’t shy away from putting the player through uncomfortable situations. Because of this, it’s hard to call any moment our favourite; most of the events you’re subjected to in Edith Finch are horrendously vile, sometimes even vicious, but the narrative backing of each scene means that you’ll always remember them. It feels wrong to say that these moments were enjoyable, but then it also feels wrong to say that they weren’t. They’re expertly crafted and they’re supposed to make us uncomfortable.
One of the game’s strongest moments is also one of its most tragic. Three-quarters of the way through your journey, after experiencing unique segments designed around horror tropes, photography sections and even a time-skip bunker sequence, you’re placed in a bathtub – it’s huge! Rubber ducks and a plastic whale begin to swim around the water – you control a toy frog. Everything seems happy; you jump around knocking a bottle of bubble solution into the tub, you make more plastic animals join the party. Then you knock the tap, allowing the bathtub to fill up to the brim. We won't spoil what happens next, but it's a real punch in the gut.
There are a lot of things you do in this game that unintentionally have tragic ramifications; as soon as you know what you have to do in order to progress, you’ll probably choke up just as we did, fighting back the tears as you realise the gravity of your actions. It’s powerful, unforgettable stuff, but Edith Finch isn’t all despair. With every set piece for the members of the Finch family being its own unique slice of gameplay with its own unique mechanics, there are some sections that allow unadulterated fun to exist within an otherwise dark storyline. We won’t spoil it for you here, but the aforementioned horror section was a fantastically fun moment to intersperse the tragic tales – it also utilizes some iconic horror music that will make many fans crack a smile.
There are few games as memorable as What Remains of Edith Finch, even in a library as varied as the Switch’s. Performance issues are niggling annoyances, but the slow-paced gameplay means you rarely need it to perform as well as, say, a first-person shooter. We haven’t experienced anything like this story in a video game before. It’s special. While it’s already been celebrated, we feel it should be celebrated again.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a 'Walking Simulator' that doesn’t just tell an unforgettable story – it's genuinely unforgettable. As tragic as its tale is, it always manages to entertain. As one section ends and as you fight back tears, you’ll always carry on, because the next story is as engrossing as the last. If you want a strong feature-length story that doesn’t waste a minute, Edith Finch is the one you need.