What Remains of Edith Finch Review

A short experience that blurs the line between a movie and a game

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Written by Josh Humphriss

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Posted: 17 Jun, 2023

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Modified: 17 Jun, 2023

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220 views

What Remains of Edith Finch

A short narrative-driven game that blurs the line between a movie and a game

15 Outstanding
Rank: #5
Tech Score: -0

Awards: Best Story

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2 hours

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July 2021

Introduction

What Remains of Edith Finch is a short experience that blurs the line between a game and a movie. Over only a couple of hours, you will experience a brilliant story within a game that presents very little in the way of gameplay challenges.

The premise of the game is that you are going back to an abandoned family home to discover how each of the family members have died. It is suspected the family may have been cursed, although this is left up to interpretation. Each of these are done through interactive narrated experiences which are always well-done. The writing is excellent and all the lines are delivered well. The level design is always very creative making all of them very memorable and enjoyable to experience. It's also possible to go back and re-experience any after they have already been completed, which is a nice touch.

Note that all my reviews are spoiler-free, making it very difficult to say much at all about the game. Given it's also a very short game, this review will be shorter than usual as there just isn't that much to say.

Storytelling

This is fundamentally an experience about telling a story, so this is what the bulk of the review will focus on.

Level Design

Without spoiling anything, all of the 'levels' (short experiences about the death of a given character) were very creatively designed. They tend to lean more towards an abstract interpretation of the events, often leaving much up to interpretation. The death itself is never actually depicted, but instead the whole premise of the level is clearly building up to the moment such that it is not needed. Occasionally, I found the levels to be obtuse and unclear as to what was actually going on in relation to the real world, but this is an intrinsic weakness of very creative and abstract level design that didn't really detract from the experience. The game overall leads a lot up to interpretation, which is primarily coming from this abstract approach to level design, where it's never quite clear what is supposedly historically accurate and what is inserted later for the artistic recreation.

Writing

The writing is superb, and the tone is captured very well through strong voice acting. The pacing of levels always felt good and the writing gave the right amount of detail such that it was clear what was going on, but also didn't remove the need to explore the environment you are present in. Not much more to say here without spoiling anything - the writing is great.

Subtitles

Personally, the single most impressive thing about the game was the approach to subtitles. You may have noticed from some of the screenshots that the subtitles are actually embedded into the levels themselves. This is genius. It sounds very minor, but the subtitles were crafted into the levels themselves, rather than just left as an afterthought. Instead of the game having to tell you where to go, the subtitles are meticulously placed to subtly point your eyes in the correct direction. They are also visually appealing and certainly elevate the experience. Some levels even got very creative with subtitles, actually using the letters themselves as part of the level, although I don't want to spoil anything. While it sounds like the most minor thing so far, I really liked the wya this game handled subtitles and I expect many games in a similar genre to copy this approach.

The Story Itself

While this game focuses far more on storytelling than the story itself, the story itself is sufficiently engaging and there are many more subtle details that are left up to interpretation. Much of the story is nonlinear in nature and was consistently interesting, backed by outstanding storytelling. I missed a lot of details while playing but thoroughly enjoyed watching some videos after playing and would recommend doing the same after you have played the game.

Could it be a movie?

I have already mentioned that the game presents very little with regard to actual gameplay challenges. It's also 2 hours long. This may lead you to suspect that this is more akin to a movie than a game. After all, why would you buy the game when you can watch it on YouTube for free? In some respects, you're right. You can experience this game as a movie. However, you'd miss out on so much. What makes games so special compared to other forms of entertainment? I don't know. But what I do know is that this game would simply not be the same if I wasn't the one controlling the character. Yes, I have no agency over the outcome, but the simple fact that I was controlling the character made me feel so much more immersed in the experience. While being as vague as possible, a perfect example is a level that tells the story of a character who is daydreaming at work. So, the game literally makes you do two things at once. You now immediately understand exactly what it's like to be this character. This is an example of something that simply could not be conveyed via another medium. The blend of video game and movie is executed such that they perfectly complement each other to deliver an experience that would not be possible any other way.

Conclusion

Overall, What Remains of Edith Finch is a superb 2-hour game that blurs the line between what constitutes a movie and a game, using this to deliver an entirely unique experience that would not otherwise be possible. The superb writing, creative level design and innovative use of subtitles allow this game to have some of the best storytelling I have ever experienced.

It's cheap. It's short. Play this game.