At this point in time, I feel the need to write a review for the wonderful Giant Sparrow-developed, gold-standard walking sim What Remains of Edith Finch has far passed us by. I’ve spoken so many times of this gem, whether it be via my own personal Twitch or alongside the Boss Rush crew in a must-see / listen (but I’m biased) Talk the Walk episode. Needless to say, as a walking sim enthusiast, this is the best of the genre. I believe at this junction in time, it’s available on just about every platform, so your reasons for not playing are incredibly limited.
As easy as it would be to simply come along and mindlessly heap praise upon this title, I find myself here for a different reason. As a rather significant milestone in my own life has just recently passed me by, quiet reflection on a thing or two has brought this game to light in somewhat of a different way. Not going to beat around the bush here, as I’m told there are word limits; I just recently had a birthday. Not just any birthday, but the big 4-0. Welcome to mid-life, me! While I most certainly look forward to the years ahead and hope for them to be my best yet, there is a small part of me that mourns my vanishing youth and the inevitable conclusion I am (statistically) halfway toward reaching. Note: Please stick around, I’ll make this happy. It’s also worth noting that the rumors are true. You fall apart. I woke up with a back ache for the first time ever yesterday morning.
Thoughts of mortality take me back to a conversation with a dear friend that has stuck with me for far more than a decade now. They were heavily in to several things that most may find to be a bit macabre in nature. Post-mortem photography from olden days, crime-scene photos, lengthy novels on the journey of the newly deceased from the autopsy table to the grave. I had brought up how I felt that taking in content of that nature would only serve to make me feel more anxious about death. The reply I received initially baffled me, but as you’ll read on that may no longer be the case nowadays. My friend explained that such things didn’t bring her anxiety about impending death, but instead a comfort. With a smile, she stated “I have to know that there’s some sort of beauty in death. Or else I don’t think I’d be able to stand the idea of it.”
Yeah, so we’re probably in heavier territory than you signed up for when you jumped on a video-game site, right? Hold on from clicking that “back” button for a moment or two, as I’m fixing to actually make this relevant to game discussion. I hope.
The gist of Edith Finch is that you control the titular character as she explores her adequately creepy childhood home that she was forced to abandon with her family under circumstances that reveal themselves over the course of the game. The real meat of the adventure comes in the form of learning and playing through the circumstances leading to the deaths of a good plenty of the seemingly cursed Finch clan. These scenes range from the tragic (the death of a VERY young family member), to the fantastic, but still tragic (my boy Lewis). The depictions of the deaths and the situations surrounding them are so well done, often accompanied by incredible visuals, a subtle yet affective score, and wonderfully written and frequently touching dialog. I’ve gone back and really appreciated that for a game that deals with the untimely deaths of what seemed to be otherwise decent people, it manages to convey these things without bogging the player down with a sense of sadness. Instead, there is a sense of wonder. Sometimes even a sense of humor or whimsy. Tragedy is presented to you time and time again, yet one may leave some of these encounters with a smile on their face or a sense of warmth. This game is a storm of death and chaos, but instead of throwing you into it to be jolted and ran down, it chooses to let you live in the calm center. It never glorifies, but just is.
It can be debated how tall the tales are of these individuals and their demises, but it can’t be debated that these pseudo-eulogies and the scenes you act out carry a certain something to them. That something is beauty. As I sat there on the night of my 40th birthday, I put that word to this game not for the first time, but in a different way than I ever had. I wasn’t praising the art style or the scenery, but rather its depiction of death. To see that as our lives meant something to others, so does our passing. We leave a story behind, whether it be amazing on its own accord or thanks to a little embellishment from those who feel we deserve something maybe a tad larger than life; that we didn’t fall off that swing-set to our doom, but instead for a moment we defied all logic and flew. We weren’t merely a victim of a mundane 9-5 existence, but we were royalty. Edith Finch as a game shows the need for our life and especially our end of life to not only feel important, but feel beautiful as well. If you think this is a hell of a thing to process, imagine this old man being 4 margaritas in on his Switch in the middle of the night. Niagara Falls, Frankie angel.
I’m left awe-struck by this game over and over, but no time more so than now. Years removed from first playing it and a half-dozen or more play-throughs in, and I feel I’ve just realized the biggest takeaway from this game. While death is powerful in that it brings an end to our physical life, the stories and memories that are shared of us persist and may just sometimes take on an otherworldly life all their own. The simple fact that our existence touched someone, that they entangled their own life with ours in such a manner to be forever changed, and that they cared enough to tell the tales of the person they once and will always love, is beautiful. After all, isn’t the love we gave and the stories we left behind truly What Remains of any of us?