Truth be told, I had heard about What Remains of Edith Finch ages ago and forgotten all about as the game has been in development for several years. But this week, the game popped back onto my radar when it was finally released for Playstation 4 and Microsoft Windows. I was initially sold on the premise, having loved the exploratory feel and tone of Gone Home. But when I heard Annapurna Pictures were behind What Remains of Edith Finch, publishing the game under their video game development banner Annapurna Interactive, I was really thrilled to check it out.
Annapurna Pictures is headed up by Megan Ellison and have co-produced a slew of incredible and award-winning films including The Master, Her, Zero Dark Thirty and American Hustle, as well as producing The Bad Batch and Everybody Wants Some!! and Kathryn Bigelow’s upcoming film Detroit and Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. Needless to say, Annapurna Pictures knows their way around a great story.
In What Remains of Edith Finch, you play the title character, a seventeen-year-old girl who returns to her family’s ancestral home on an island off the coast of Washington State following the death of her mother. As Edith makes her way into her old home, she narrates the experience aloud, explaining the home and her family as you go along. Inside, the house is a cacophony of half-packed belongings left behind alongside the detritus of everyday life. The home truly feels frozen in time and, as you discover, it is also filled with the secrets once kept by members of Edith’s family. There are secret passage ways that allow you into the bedrooms that have been sealed off by Edith’s mother, Dawn, a woman consumed by her grief.
And there is a lot of grief in the game because spoilers: everyone in Edith’s family is dead. Well, maybe everyone. As you make your way up to the Finch home, the woods are scattered with missing person posters for Edith’s brother, Milton, who was never found. But the deaths aren’t really a spoiler, instead they’re point of What Remains of Edith Finch. As you creep into each bedroom, frozen in time and filled with the memories of a ghost, you also unlock small vignettes that detail the demise of Edith’s family. It’s admittedly a strange thing to play out the death of a character and some of the scenarios land a lot harder than others, although there is one incredibly fun comic book vignette that blends elements of Creepshow and Halloween.
From a gaming standpoint, What Remains of Edith Finch is fairly basic. This isn’t a shooter so aside from controlling Edith’s actions (walking, opening doors and books), you’re left to control the actions of her dead relatives in flashback memories, which sometimes take on a fantastical tone. But the game really isn’t about unlocking doors, it’s about the story being told and on this level, What Remains of Edith Finch is stunning. The Finches are a family filled with tragedy and while the game hints at a supernatural element or monster, it becomes clear that their grief is also heavily entwined with unspoken mental illness. More than one family member is shown to struggle with feelings of inadequacy and fear, an inability to reconcile the past with the present or to accept that sometimes bad things happen for no reason.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a heavy game but it is also incredibly engrossing as you work your way through Edith’s family tree, unlocking each story and discovering new personalities. And it is one that will linger long after it is over (it is hard not to complete it in one sitting), perhaps causing you to reflect on your own family’s secrets, tragedies and triumphs and the loved ones that have been lost over the years.