There was a time when I played a lot of video games. I even wrote reviews on a regular basis. I stopped for several reasons, but kept on playing, though not as much as before. Some reason being lack of time, but then again, when I do stumble upon a game that I believe compelling and interesting, I am still able to put hundreds of hours in it. It just doesn’t happen so much anymore, because my standards changed and I am not willing to pour my time in anything mindlessly.
That’s why I began to like short, story focused games. The Unfinished Swan was one of my first discoveries on that side, and it was a beautiful experience. So, when I heard that the same company did a new game, I jumped on it. No way I was going to miss that. What Remains of Edith Finch is released on PC and PS4, and it is a compelling interactive story that shows you how powerful video games can be in that regard if done well.
Steam gives following summary: What Remains of Edith Finch is a collection of strange tales about a family in Washington state. As Edith, you’ll explore the colossal Finch house, searching for stories as she explores her family history and tries to figure out why she’s the last one in her family left alive.
Instead of a picture, let’s have a trailer:
I do remember a lot of arguments between gamer friends on what a game should be and what it should not be. Dear Esther was one I enjoyed because I liked the idea of the video game media being twitched to serve as interactive storytelling. It was not perfect and somewhat boring, but the idea that video games could be solid narrative-focused choices was an interesting one. I was pretty much alone with that opinion. I also had a lot of arguments about the Telltale games, and games like Until Dawn or Life is Strange with ‘their fake choices that don’t matter in the end’ with friends. The term ‘walking simulator’ has since been used a lot for those games that focus on telling an interactive story rather than give you a compelling gameplay. I still do believe that’s a nasty name. There is a subtle difference between not liking a genre, and giving it a pejorative name just because you can.
What Remains if Edith Finch is exactly what some would call a ‘walking simulator’. It wants you to live a story, to explore a house and discover who lived in there, and how the family curse affected their lives. And it does so extremely well. You will not get life-changing gameplay. Everything in the game focuses and getting the narrative across in a stunning way I have never seen before. If Dear Esther had potential, Edith Flinch shows how to do it and nails it down.
There is not a lot I can say, because discovering on your own is an important factor. So let’s go for some points that don’t spoil much and still get my thoughts across.
The subtitles are a blast. I mean it. As in a lot of those interactive stories in video game format, there is voice acting, in this case Edith Flinch most of the time, discovering the house. Subtitles are there so you can read what she is saying. And they are integrated into the narrative and the game itself. They are not a wall of text on the button of the screen, but well-integrated words in the narrative itself. You will find a fireplace in the house, the subtitles will be glued to the fireplace itself and vanish by flying out the chimney. At some points the text disappears by flying away in a specific direction, helping you orient yourself. Every family member will tell you their story in their own voice, and the text will adapt, changing colour, font and behaviour. The subtitles are treated as an entire part of the experience, and as such have an important weight in the compelling atmosphere. I actually wondered half of the time what they will do next with the text. In short : I looked forward to read subtitles.
Everything in this game is well thought out. You may like or not the end result, but the detail put into everything is stunning. And the creators believe that you can figure out stuff yourself. There are a lot of details in the house you can discover without needing too, there are subtle hints everywhere since the beginning of the game for things revealed at the end of it, which makes it a satisfying experience if you picked them up. Every room in the house has a lot of personality, and you can easily picture the person who lived in it. If you’re the type to actually look for details put into the setting, you’re going to be rewarded for it, because there are tons of stuff you can discover just by looking around. And the story has a lot of room for personal interpretation. Subtlety is the key word here. I love well done subtlety.
The gameplay itself has something kind of morbid. Every time you stumble upon a story from a family member, you take over as-said family member and basically play through their last moments of life. As the summary says, Edith is the last one alive and tries to figure out why. Some of the stories have a surprisingly powerful narrative which adapts to every person’s personality. And discovering them is a huge part of the overall experience.
They also reference The Unfinished Swan, and I am always happy if creators do that with their work.
What remains of Edith Finch is a powerful and compelling interactive story, and at this point in time, the best one in the genre I played. It is a short game, it will last you two or three hours as did The Unfinished Swan. If we could have more of such polished narrative games, I would be overjoyed.