Walking simulator is the common name attributed to games like What Remains of Edith Finch but it’s such a poor way to describe a genre with near limitless potential. Storytelling has always been such a rich part of human history and it’s wild that we’re not only able to experience a story in an interactive environment but also from different perspectives that would otherwise be impossible to truly feel. There are countless wonderful narrative experiences worth exploring but What Remains of Edith Finch is absolutely the one I’d recommend to everyone.
Note: There aren’t really any spoilers in this article. I’m going to attempt to be as general and vague as I can because I’d love for everyone that reads this to play as soon as possible.
What Remains of Edith Finch begins with the titular heroine traveling to her family home, which she hasn’t been to for an extended period of time. Edith is there to explore, remember, and reflect on the family she’s lost. This frame narrative connects several stories and helps give them not only a greater purpose but also a greater context. The game does a really great job of not only humanizing the family members you learn about but also Edith herself, which does so much for both immersion and atmosphere. As you go on this journey with Edith and witness her reactions to the tragedies it can help bring you closer to her; this connection and these characters are part of what makes this experience translate as well as it does.
This frame narrative also does something interesting, in that Edith doesn’t really know most of these people so the game is able to blur the line between what’s important for the player and herself; we’re learning about the Finch family as Edith does.
Developer Giant Sparrow further blurs this line by avoiding menus entirely. The only menu is diegetic, which is just Edith’s journal that she updates with information as she explores. Diegetic elements are always great for immersion because when the player is provided with information in the same way the character is, then data is passed onto the player, creating a more immersive experience.. There’s nothing between you and this game’s story which just made it all the more immersive to me.
As Edith navigates the house and its surroundings, she is able to learn about the family, their history, and the connection between them and the home they shared. There are areas dedicated to each family member where Edith learns who they were and how they succumbed to “the family curse.” I’d rather let you discover the details so I’ll just say that it’s not a grave. That’d lack imagination, which both the game and Finch home have in abundance.
Without going into specifics, the fates of each family member all make sense and are within the realm of possibility. Sure, there are a few places where unreliable narration is at the forefront but there’s always a more reasonable or fantastical conclusion depending on what you’re ready to accept.
This works in the game’s favor because you’re able to spend more time reflecting on the people and the fates they suffered instead of questioning everything around you. The game actually plants this idea in the player’s head early on when Edith recalls how her Grandma Edie described her husband’s death in a way that was peculiar but still true in a sense. Her husband is crushed by a slide he was building that looked like a dragon but Edie told everyone that he was killed by a dragon. This event and Edie’s retelling of it allows the player to remember that even if the death was slightly different from what actually happened, there’s still enough truth to reject disbelief that could otherwise start to crawl toward the player’s mind.
The game is sequenced in a way that supports story and pacing without exploration and player experience being abandoned or disregarded. Even though it’s linear and locked down, it still feels like Edith is traveling along the most interesting paths and looking at things the player would want to look at. Her journey through the home and around the property is surrounded by a plethora of interesting and delightful bits of environmental storytelling to admire for those who wish to take it in. It’s almost entirely visual too so it’s delivered at the pace of the player, which further strengthens immersion; there’s nothing optional keeping you from progressing. Edith will sometimes remark on something in the player’s field of view but it feels natural and happens in the moment. This allows you to understand her more while also helping you feel connected to her on this journey. Even though you’re a passenger, it rarely feels like it.
There’s a specific story in this game that I reflect on several times a month that I wouldn’t dare reveal specifics for so I’ll just say this: The story of Lewis takes full advantage of the depths in which you are submerged within the game and its characters. It’s one of the best examples of what’s possible with well-designed player agency. My hope is that I could convey to you why you should give this title a try, but if you’re determined to skip it for some reason or another, then please consider watching a video of Lewis’s story.
What Remains of Edith Finch is something everyone can relate to because everyone knows what it’s like to love, and has either felt or can certainly imagine the pain from the loss of a loved one. Despite sounding morbid, it’s actually beautiful how the game reminds us how important the little moments are and how no one is truly gone as long as we remember them.
What Remains of Edith Finch is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (also available on Xbox Game Pass at time of writing) for $19.99 US and you should play it as soon as possible.