Sunday, December 10, 2023

What Remains of Edith Finch

A Gothic novel in an interactive graphic format

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The game starts on a ferry in Oregon. It's in first-person perspective, and we see an arm in a cast and a bouquet of lilies, so we know there's been a tragic death. In the person's lap is a diary with 'Edith Finch' written on the front. We open the diary, and Edith, the narrator, starts talking.

"A lot of this isn't going to make sense to you, and I'm sorry about that." The scene changes, and you're in the forest. Next to you is a pole with a "missing" flyer for Edith's brother Milton, who disappeared when she was 4. Edith continues to narrate as you approach the house. As you look down, you'll notice that Edith is visibly pregnant.

"The house was exactly like I remembered it. The way I'd been dreaming about it. As a child, the house made me uncomfortable in a way I couldn't put into words. Now, as a 17-year-old, I knew exactly what those words were. I was afraid of the house."

Edith's mother leaves her a key in her will, and she explores the house and the surroundings, discovering the Finch family history. You're put into the first-person perspective of the family members, and the stories of their deaths. Every family member in the game dies in weird and horrible ways.

The story is set in a real place — Orcas Island, in Washington state. The settings are stylized but realistic, with a soft focus and muted colors. The interface is minimalist — no jumping, no object collecting. It's an oddly large open world environment, and you can do a lot of exploring. Some of it will advance the story, but most of it is completely unnecessary. To hear all the parts of the story, you'll need to explore the entire environment, including all 13 rooms. Each one is marked with the deceased family member's name, birth year and year of death.

This game is really more of a group of loosely-connected stories in the Gothic horror tradition. The only puzzles you'll solve are how to unlock each door, and there are no alternate endings. It's a preset narrative. There are achievements within the game, based on how you play the individual minigame stories.

 Is there a Finch curse? The family certainly believed it. Is it only effective if you believe it exists? I suppose the game is presenting that as a question to be answered by the player.

I did not like this game. Absolutely no replay for me on this one, I have no interest in 'reading' it again. One of the stories made me cry, and several left me feeling sad. On the other hand, it looks nice. They did a great job replicating the light of the Pacific Northwest and the green forest with dappled light and gray stone. The interiors look great, highly detailed and no gaps.

It won quite a few awards when it came out in 2017, including Winner of Best Game at the 2018 BAFTA Game Awards, Best Narrative awards at the GDC 2018 Choice Awards, 2018 SXSW Gaming Awards, and The Game Awards 2017.

What Remains of Edith Finch (2017) was created by Giant Sparrow. Available on SteamOS for Mac and PC.