What Remains of Edith Finch is a beautiful and emotional journey about the experience of the death of loved ones, and perhaps more generally, about the meaning of life and death itself.
To keep it brief, the game is more or less a walking simulator which puts you in the shoes of Edith Finch, the last family member of the Finches who is still alive. She comes back to the Finch house to discover the story of her family, and she’ll soon learn that her family was special in more ways than one.
First, I loved the way the game delivered its narrative. You control Edith as she explores the mansion, but at the same time, she tells you—or at least someone to whom she directly speaks—about her memories of her family. Whenever she talks, her words literally appear on-screen, either integrated with the environment or plainly hovering in your vision depending on the situation. I can’t explain exactly why, but, from the start, it made me feel as if it were a dream. As if all of this was a sort of remembrance: it gave a very oniric vibe to it, and I loved it. The voice acting was on point too: I greatly enjoyed Edith’s voice, which was soft and comforting.
As Edith delves deeper into the house, she learns about the tragic deaths of her family members. Each story is told in a different style befitting the corresponding character. Molly’s story has to do with animals, Barbara’s is a comic, Sam’s is a photo album… Every time you penetrate the room of another character, you can’t help but wonder how the game will surprise you yet again. And each time, it delivers. The gameplay, though simple, proves to be more creative than expected, which is a pleasant surprise. What’s more, the music is quite discrete but does its job flawlessly. It supports the game’s narrative and sets the tone as required, whether it be nostalgic, anxiogenic, or grandiose.
What I most appreciated, though, was the comforting feeling the game conveyed to me during my playthrough. I played it in just one sitting, in the late evening. However, although I was alone, it felt as if those characters were with me, telling me their stories personally. I felt their warmth making its way to me: when I finally got to the end, it was as if I had to finally part with the memories of old friends I had known a long time ago.
My favorite story has to be Lewis', both for its setting and its creativity. Lewis was Edith’s caring brother and worked in a salmon cannery. Because of the dullness of his job, consisting solely in beheading salmons all day long, he found his imagination to be a way out of his boredom. He began imagining a second version of himself in his mind, wandering in labyrinths first. Until then, what you did as a player was to listen to the psychiatrist’s description of Lewis' condition while beheading salmons. But from that moment, you start controlling the fictional Lewis while still doing his job at the cannery: in other words, exactly like Lewis did, you live a fictional adventure while unconsciously keeping pressing salmons against the deheader. I found that absolutely genius: the longer the tale goes on, the bigger area the fictional story takes on-screen and the more unconsious the beheading job becomes. Eventually, the cannery disappears from view, replaced by a grandiose universe in which Lewis' alter ego lives as a hero, and only the salmons and Lewis' arm remain on-screen. The music and the psychiatrist’s voice also played a significative role: the music keeps building up until the very end, symbolizing how Lewis keeps drifting further apart from the real world, and the voice told the story as if it were a tale of heroes, contributing to the narrative. At the end, as you might guess, Lewis chooses to live in his mind’s world rather than in the real one. A short and tragic interlude show how he bids farewell to the real him and hops onto the conveyor belt, which soon transforms into the stairs of his future palace. He climbs to the top, welcomed by the cheers of his people, and bends his head to receive the crown from the queen. At the same time, the real him bends his head in the deheader.
What I found remarkable in Lewis' story is how relatable it is to anyone who’s ever daydreamt to escape from real life. Even though I have never experienced Lewis' despair, I certainly have found myself wanting to escape to a fantasy world when I was bored, down here, on Earth. I also liked how the game did not try to impose any ideology on the player: rather, it provided philosophical material for them to think and find their own answers. Edith’s words can sometimes be seen as somewhat forced, like when she says:
I think the best we can do is try to open your eyes.
Nevertheless, they fit in the game’s poetic atmosphere so well that this is easily overlooked. I was personally left speechless as the credits scrolled in front of me: there were so many things I wanted to know, so much more I wanted to see, and yet… I felt satisfied. As if, in the end, what really mattered was simply that I had lived that unfathomable experience, which made me feel so much with so little. If we think about it, isn’t it the point of life itself? Life is all about experiences. Since nothing of us will be left in the end, the most we can do is to always seek to find joy, even in the saddest moments.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a gentle, soothing reminder that life never turns out the way you wish it would, and, above all, that it is fine to accept it all the same, for that is what makes it so beautiful.