In an era of gaming that’s dominated by expansive open worlds and vast environments to explore, the chance to tell smaller, more intimate stories in video games has seemed to grow (slightly) less and less. Coming off the heels of the massive worlds we’ve seen in recent titles such as Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the mysterious What Remains of Edith Finch instead aims for a story that’s smaller in its delivery, but massive in its execution and imagination.
Just in the span of a 15-20 minutes segment of the game, my playthrough of the title whipped around wildly not just between settings and environments, but even in gameplay and mechanics. While initially I was led through deserted hallways and old rooms gaining insight into the lives of those who lived there before, that soon gave way to elaborate dream sequences where I became a hawk hunting rabbits in the night; after that, I became a shark stranded from the ocean, tumbling down a wintery forest with no idea what was happening. But, that just drew my curiosity even more towards unraveling Edith Finch‘s many mysteries.
That’s just a brief look at what to expect from What Remains of Edith Finch, the upcoming PS4 and PC title from Giant Sparrow, previously of the whimsical and fairytale-like The Unfinished Swan, which we had the opportunity to try out during this month’s PAX East 2017. Even during our brief time with the game, it’s clear that a lot of the whimsy and sense of wonder that Giant Sparrow introduced with The Unfinished Swan carries over to Edith Finch through its abstract form of storytelling, though with a noticeably darker, more mature tone.
Much like the first-person narrative experiences of recent years (or known more derogatorily as “walking simulators”), What Remains of Edith Finch is a carefully-guided and unique storytelling experience, but one that seems intent on taking players through a journey that bends the rules when it comes to fantasy and reality. Playing as the titular Edith Finch, the story draws Edith back after recent, tragic events to her family’s home in Washington. From there, the structure of the game takes on more of a “short story”-like approach, where Edith uncovers new memories and flashbacks that give her (and the player) a deeper look into their history, their turmoils, and their last moments before death.
Compared to the childlike fantasies that drove Giant Sparrow’s first project with The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch is instead a melancholy examination of life and death. Despite the much darker subject matter, that doesn’t mean Edith Finch is a title that (so far) seems necessarily too serious or downtrodden. Underneath the tales of each family members’ final moments of life also resonates moments of humor and life, whether they are absurd or fantastical, from cutting the heads off of salmon to morphing into a cat to catch birds in the night.
Those moments of fantasy and surrealism so far work largely in favor of What Remains of Edith Finch, with each new memory or flashback that I uncovered successfully drawing me in to learn more about the family and not only how their stories deepened their own individual lives, but also how their stories tied into the deeper context of the Finch family. As a fan of similar narrative experiences such as Gone Home, Firewatch, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Edith Finch very much excels as an experience devoted to telling a story, but doing so in a way that evokes imagination, wonder, and the way that fantasy is very much a part of our reality.
Where games like Horizon and Breath of the Wild serve as reminders of the scope that games have progressed to in recent years in developing huge, expansive worlds, What Remains of Edith Finch and the segments that we played instead show a different side of the capabilities of games in terms of storytelling and weaving a narrative in ways that can’t be done (or at least as effortlessly) in other art forms. If those games are the deep, dense works of science-fiction and fantasy that draw players into huge, endless worlds, What Remains of Edith Finch is the short story collection that draws players into more intimate expressions of memory, loss, death, and wonder – with each new chapter surely to be different than the last.
What Remains of Edith Finch will release for PS4 and PC on April 25th, 2017 – stay tuned for our upcoming interview with Giant Sparrow co-founder Ian Dallas for a deeper look into the game.