Though we’re almost a year on, it’s easy to forget that 2017 was one of the best years for video games in recent memory. There I said it. But while some games like Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn sought to astonish and amaze with the sheer scope they use to draw you in, my thoughts always circle back to one of that year’s smallest and most personal games: What Remains of Edith Finch.
Developed very much in the same vein as Giant Sparrow’s previous exploratory adventure The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch once again keeps the stakes relatively stripped-back and discreet, surprisingly managing to find beauty in even the darkest of life’s inevitabilities – death. The game has recently been given the luxury of undergoing a second wind of sorts thanks to a recent Xbox One release, giving me the perfect excuse to explore how the game does this further.
Placing you in the role of the titular Edith Finch, you find yourself given the task of uncovering a series of short stories relating to the unconventional circumstances in which a member of your family has died. Typically, this would be a subject area that most video games would understandably shy away from, or worse, attempt to tackle and criminally mishandle, but here What Remains of Edith Finch treats it with all the seriousness you’d expect, albeit with a few quirky idiosyncrasies.
The Finch house is a character all in itself, boasting a drooping aesthetic that acts as a somewhat analogy for how each family member’s fate seems intent on filling a downwards trajectory. There’s an inherent sadness that comes with knowing that at some point in every story you’re experiencing in What Remains of Edith Finch will end in tragedy, but Ian Dallas’ game script does a phenomenal job at relaying how this should be a cause in which to celebrate their life, rather than dwindle on the fact that they’ve passed away.
In one of the game’s most memorable standout moments for example, you learn of Barbara Finch’s anxiety about finding her place in the world following a brief stint as a child star. I won’t spoil how this section plays out, is presented, or concludes for fear of spoilers, but needless to say that as well as being an engaging gameplay experience that lets you re-live the strange moments surrounding her death, Edith’s earnest inner monologue helps to fill you with empathy and see Barbara’s situation through the eyes of another.
What Remains of Edith Finch subject matter on paper could seem somewhat troubling, but it’s handled by developers Giant Sparrow with an acute sense of melancholic beauty that lets players see the light in even the darkest of situations. This is all rounded off in the game’s final scene, which ultimately ends up being a message of hope that no matter what life throws at you, it’s always worth living. And legacy lives on. What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that all fans of story-telling should experience, even those who typically approach “walking simulators” with a degree of animosity.