What Remains of Edith Finch is a video game. That much I am sure of. I am also sure that What Remains of Edith Finch is a very good, maybe even great video game.
The story follows Edith Finch as she explores her ancestor’s house, and figures out what happened to each of the Finch’s through the stories they have left behind (walking simulator style). The hook here is all the stories are playable levels, and there really is incredible variety in both the stories told, and the game play featured within them. What I’m going to do here is go through three of my favourite stories, and talk about what I like so much about them and explore them both in terms of the mechanics used and the feeling they evoke. I do recommend playing through all the stories though, there’s something unique and brilliant in all of them. Obviously there will the spoilers in this piece. What I will not be doing however is talking about my favourite level. Mainly because Super Bunnyhop did a better job than I ever could.
I’ve noticed something said a few times about What Remains of Edith Finch. There seems to be a split in regards to the quality of the writing and whether it qualifies as great literature. Rather than frame the debate like that, given that qualifying anything great is subjective anyway I’ll try to focus on what I feel What Remains of Edith Finch does really well. Whilst I do think What Remains of Edith Finch has great writing, what I would argue is that the many stories that make up Edith Finch all have within them themes and ideas that are very relatable. It further builds on this by exploring those themes with what I feel are really cool game mechanics and controller gimmicks.
The Cannery level that Super Bunnyhop describes is a perfect example. Everyone has had a dull job at some point in their life, and the Cannery perfectly captures that feeling of dreaming of a more fun time. Combine that with the player controlling both the guillotine and Lewis day-dream and it all comes together to create a wonderful level. With that said, let’s get to some of the other stories.
Molly’s story begins with the simple premise of a child being sent to bed without dinner. From there, the feeling of hunger takes us on a fantastical journey. What I like about this is how the story is told. If you’ve ever heard a child tell a story, they generally jump from point to point without much in the way of transitions. There’s no real logical progression from being an owl to a shark, and we as adults can see that. But with a child’s whimsy, that’s the sort of thing that happens, and explanations be damned. I feel Molly’s tale captures this sense very well. Also, there are not many games where you control a cat, an owl, a shark and a kraken. In sequence even. And to have them all control well is also an achievement that needs to be noted.
Everyone has been in a situation or place where they’d rather not be. Along with the slice of impotent rage that goes with it. And I’m guessing that the majority of us, for the sake of others just took the hit, and got through the event. But there’s the little part of us that would like to create a ruckus, just for the catharsis. And we have Gus’s story. Here we do get to create the ruckus. The sight of the kite dragging words and furniture across the sky is both fantastical and a release. Thanks to video games and their capacity for fantasy, we get to indulge that selfish urge of destruction. Which is nice, because doing it in real like does make you feel like a dick.
At the beginning of this story, Calvin is informed by his brother Sam that doing the loop is impossible. There is something about being told something is impossible. The sudden urge to say that no, it is possible and then the follow through, proving that it can be done. Seeing how far one can push oneself, to see the boundaries collapse and fall. Often there’s falls along the way, false dawns and near misses. I feel the way What Remains of Edith Finch tells this story with the swing is very well done. The build up of each arc, the build up of speed that convinces you this is the one before Calvin loses momentum and has to regain it. The sound of each arc and the rope swing creaking under each revolution just adds to the build up. And then finally after all the build up comes the release, that flying into the firmament.
And that release in and of itself is something worth talking about. It’s an incredible sense of freedom, and presumably something that everyone has dreamed of at some point in their lives. It would be nice to take off, and just for some time, leave this world behind, to feel the wind on one’s face high above clouds. Whether that is an uncomfortable social situation, or an unhappy time that feeling of just flying away seems so nice. Just hopefully not into an ocean though. Poor Calvin.
For those keeping score here so far we have controlled a cat, an owl, a shark, a kraken, a kite and a swing. That is not counting the rest of the game. I feel necessary in saying this just to illustrate the depth and breadth of imagination in this game. Like I said before, all the stories have something to them, and are worth experiencing. And if you want to wait for a sale before you try it, that’s cool but I would at least recommend a play through at some point. I’m sure you will find that you enjoy, and something that you can relate to.