Reviewed by: Zac Thomas
Giant Sparrow has made something unique. The creators of Unfinished Swan have taken another shot at the ever expanding “walking simulator” genre, and landed a direct hit. What Remains of Edith Finch has shown up at several events throughout the years and has sparked my interest consistently. Giant Sparrow promised an intriguing narrative game, but presented the same demo of a little girl eating everything in sight. I began to wonder if the whole game would be based on that character. I am pleased to say it is not, and the final product is far more interesting.
The story is told through Edith’s writing. Her dialogue is presented throughout the game as floating text, and you interact with it in clever ways. She tells us that she has inherited her family home, and she is going to explore what was once locked behind closed doors. What she finds is pieces of writing or objects that recount the loss of each family member; all of which were placed by Edith’s great grandmother, Edie, in each room. Edith’s goal is to learn the story of her family tree, because her mom feared that telling Edith would lead to her believing in the family curse. Although each story is presented light-heartedly, each member experiences an odd and tragic demise. The game never feels especially dark or ominous but, in retrospect, the tone is rather somber. By the end, you understand Edith’s mother’s intent in covering up her heritage. The conclusion isn’t emotionally satisfying. Coming to the realization that the family is anchored to this house is a little depressing, and the story symbolizes how most people feel about leaving home.
The gameplay is similar to other games in the genre, but includes multiple clever ways of shaking up the formula. As I said before, the game leans heavily on her family’s backstories. Each backstory is presented as a gameplay sequence that twists the mechanics, making each vignette a nice treat between walking sections. Also, I am pleased to say that her internal dialogue is interesting enough that I never felt the backstories were the only thing driving me through the game; I was truly interested in her knowledge of each member. As for how the gameplay feels, it moves fluently. Edith does move slow, but that is so you can soak up each section of the house and see what every room has to offer. The game also has you actively interacting with things in the environment by way of moving the right stick; you are never just pressing a button to do a physical action. The memories of her family also play very smoothly. I never questioned what I was supposed to be doing or if I was doing it right. All this plays into the game’s pacing. Giant Sparrow has done an excellent job at making you consume the story at a manageable rate. The story starts a little slower, and gradually picks up as Edith puts the pieces together; it feels natural.
It would be criminal to go without praising the art and design of Edith Finch. Upon arriving on the doorstep of a monumental storybook house I noticed the haunting scenery. The outdoor sections have interesting ruins that relate to the story, and the muted colors make the house seem eerie. Once inside the house, you really see where this game shines. The warm colors make you feel at home. Edith had just stated the house scared her, but talks about the wonderful memories once inside. This game does environmental story telling unlike any game that comes to mind; each room feels lived in, and shows the personality of the respective family member. It can seem a little over the top at times, but I feel that the extra emphasis on each room’s style helps to convey who stayed there.
With everything said, I really enjoyed What Remains of Edith Finch. It captured my imagination right off the bat and kept my interest throughout. By the end of the story I could nearly recount every family member by name, whereas some games fail to make supporting characters memorable. Edith Finch is a great step in the right direction for this genre. Giant Sparrow has proved they can make an engaging story with simple mechanics again, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.