A Morbid Family Tree: What Remains of Edith Finch Review

I’m actually rather fond of walking simulator games. It scratches an itch I got while playing BioShock. Exploring Rapture was more than half the fun of that game. There were actually portions of the game where I wanted to stop shooting splicers just so I could look at the environs. Walking simulators, at their best, give you the experience of discovering a story just by looking around and interacting with your surroundings. You glean the story at your leisure by seeing environmental details.

What Remains of Edith Finch stands out from the modest crowd of walking simulator games thanks to its unique gameplay elements and odd storytelling. However, unless you’re already fond of the calm of a walking simulator, I would not necessarily recommend this game to you.

I first heard of it through the power of online reviews. While researching games like Firewatch and Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch would get mentioned a lot. Its premise intrigued me so much, I avoided reading any more about it after that. And I finally got a chance to play through it this week.

This is going to be a spoiler-heavy review. Just warning you. It’s been out for about three years, so I’m not too worried about ruining it for anyone, but if you have any interest in playing this game whatsoever, I highly recommend you stop reading now.

Side note: Huh. Feels odd to recommend people stop reading my writing.

The game starts out with narration from protagonist Edith Finch. She is who we play as for the most part, and the story is about how she is finally returning to her old family home after years away. She wants to learn more about a curse that has plagued her family tree for generations, and the only way to do this is by exploring every room of the odd-looking house.

Whenever Edith narrates something, her words physically appear in the game. I’m incredibly fond of captions, so this was a delight for me. They’re imaginatively used too. When Edith is about to open a gate, softly speaking about her trepidation returning home, her words appear above the gate. As she pushes it open, her words are shaken away by her motions.

This quirky attribute continues as Edith explores the rest of the house. The house itself is a ginormous testament to weirdness. Piles of books are everywhere, pictures completely cover nearly every wall, cans of fish are stacked on more than one kitchen counter, and odd knick-knacks litter the shelves. Many lives have passed through this house, and it clearly shows.

When you stumble into a family member’s room for the first time, you learn that this game will take on an anthology type structure. As Edith discovers important items from each family member, their stories are told and Edith learns the true extent of the “curse.”

You might be wondering at this point about what exactly this curse is. It’s never made entirely clear, but you figure out quickly enough that it has to do with every family member reaching an unfortunate and odd end.

That said, even though the different family members tell different stories through narrative and gameplay, they all end rather tragically. However, they do take on a fantastical aspect at times, making the game experience more palatable than just a march of death.

Again, I’d like to reiterate that if you haven’t played the game, you should really stop reading at this point.

Each family member has their own story that is played a different way. My favorites are as follows:

  • A young girl has a dream that she gains an insatiable appetite. She imagines herself to be a cat, an owl, a shark, and a monster in quick succession, constantly finding herself hungrier and hungrier. The outlandishness of this notion, mixed with humor and horror, makes it one of the more memorable stories.
  • A teenage girl spends a pulpy night of horror at home alone when a masked villain shows up on her doorstep. Told in the same manner as Tales from the Crypt, you guide her through this stereotypical fright night with only a crutch to defend herself.
  • A baby’s imagination runs wild during bathtime as he leads his bath toys through orchestrated acrobatics while his parents argue in the other room. This is perhaps the saddest tale, and I did not want to see it through to completion.
  • A dejected worker at a fish factory pictures himself as the hero in an isometric adventure. The images in his head soon take over his work life to an exaggerated extent. You find yourself becoming just as distracted as he is by his grand quests.

The ending feels like it comes all too soon, and to be honest, I wasn’t happy with it.

Edith’s last night at the house is explained, and yet not explained, the ambiguity of the curse being left to the player’s imagination. In addition to that, it is revealed that the words of Edith’s narration were written for her unborn son. She apparently died during childbirth, and the game ends with her son visiting her grave.

That said, the individual stories of her family members are incredibly moving and engrossing without overstaying their welcome. I’d play the game for those moments alone.

I rate What Remains of Edith Finch an interesting-walk-with-engrossing-gameplay-and-story-elements-that-made-my-jaw-drop-so-often-I-got-a-bruise-on-my-chin.

5 thoughts on “A Morbid Family Tree: What Remains of Edith Finch Review”

  1. Excellent review! You’re really good at articulating what games are about and how you feel about them. Your reviews are informative, but also entertaining and accessible (whereas when I play reviewer dress-up I typically get hung up on a bugbear or three and just purge my feelings without any consideration of the reader).

    Anyway! Your opening paragraph makes me reassess my feelings about walking simulators. I’m often disparaging about them because I sometimes feel developers use storytelling and presentation as a crutch to mask how otherwise shallow the gameplay is. But maybe that’s not fair. As you said, immersing yourself in an engaging and fully realised world can be its own reward. I do genuinely appreciate great atmosphere and art direction (currently playing through Destiny 2 – the environments are mesmerising!). And I particularly love environmental storytelling (Gone Home really excelled at this)!

    Not much to add in regards to Edith Finch, as you really nailed the strengths and quirks of this game. The Factory Worker part REALLY stuck with me. I thought the gameplay in that section perfectly encapsulated what that character was going through. It was just such a novel experience.

    I also thought the baby chapter was cool (maybe not the right word, given what happens, haha). That’s a point of view you don’t generally get to inhabit in games, and, as you said, I think the light surreal/fantastical elements made the devastating subject matter more palatable.

    Re: the ending, it’s been a little while since I’ve played it now so my memory isn’t super fresh, but I thought the reveal towards the end insinuated that the character you were playing as while exploring the house was actually the son, grown up and in the present, and not Edith. I figured he had received his mother’s letter and had come to explore/investigate the old family home. But I could be totally wrong about that and the story is intriguingly ambiguous!

    I personally think there was no curse. I think the family just experienced some unfortunate tragedies (often self-inflicted, as the adults often neglected their own children’s safety!) and their way of processing or accepting what had happened was to attribute their misfortune to a curse. Their self-invented curse then began to consume them and they became withdrawn and paranoid, which, in some instances, made the family members miserable and led to more death. So the ‘curse’ (or the fear of it) became a self-perpetuating prophecy. Or, to put it another way, they entered a cycle of trauma and kept passing their hang-ups on to the next generation.

    But that’s just an interpretation. I like the ambiguity as you can really ascribe your own meaning to the events. Sorry for writing another novel!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Once again, you don’t have to apologize for the novel! I love reading comments that are this large!

      I totally agree with you about Gone Home’s environmental storytelling. Of all the walking simulators I’ve played (a decent handful), that’s the game that stuck with me the most when it came to my experiences simply exploring. Games like Firewatch can get wrapped up quite quickly in the narrative it is telling, but I liked the feeling of how Gone Home was content to let you explore at your leisure.

      And you’re not the only one who had that factory worker section hit home! I think anyone who has used games (video or tabletop) as a form of escapism could relate to that part. And it truly did excel with having the gameplay combine with the narrative to let players know what was happening. That’s something that only video games can do, and I really enjoy it when I see a game do it well.

      From what I can see, you explore the house as Edith because when you look down you can see the baby bump. However, given how you play briefly as the son at the very beginning of the game and at the end, I think we’re supposed to treat the entirety of the game as the “Edith section” in the family tree.

      Out of curiosity, do you have any theories for what happened to Edith’s brother?! Not the factory worker, but the artist who just up and disappeared one day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah! You’re right about the baby bump! I forgot about that.

    Re: the brother, I seem to remember the developer working in a connection/Easter Egg to their previous game. I think the brother ends up in the world of the other game or something. Maybe sucked into his own painting? I would have to look it up.

    Liked by 1 person

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