'What Remains Of Edith Finch' Review: I Have So Many Questions About Sanjay

what remains of edith finch
What Remains of Edith Finch. (c) Giant Sparrow, Annapurna Interactive

How many times will you die in this big-ass house?

That’s not the central question of What Remains of Edith Finch, a short, contemplative narrative-based game out of Giant Sparrow and Annapurna Interactive, but that’s kind of how it feels when you’re playing it. Each bedroom in the massive Finch compound is sealed off after the untimely death of its occupant, laid low by an ostensible curse the Finch family carried with them after five hundred years of suffering in the old country.

You play as Edith Finch, a young woman driven to learn the stories of her family through the little altars and memento mori placed in their rooms. Kept ignorant of generations of her history by her mother, Edith is now urgently motivated to collect the tales her mother kept from her of the rich, tragic Finch lives, so many of which were lost so young.

Edith’s audio narration is also embedded as text upon the screen, both a helpful pointer of the direction you should be headed and a reminder that this game lives and dies on its storytelling. Luckily, the vignettes of the dead Finches are compelling enough that, like Edith, you want to drive forward and find out as much as you can. But the vignettes are emotionally exhausting; after one or two, you may find you’re just as motivated to take a breather as to continue.

Each Finch family vignette has a different mechanic that is integral to its tale. In one, you kick your feet on a swing using both control sticks as your twin brother reads a letter memorializing your stubbornness and drive. In another you’re a laughing infant, making a frog bounce up and down on a toy whale, activating different items in the bathtub you’ve been left in alone. In my favorite, you maneuver your home through the lens of a retro horror comic narrated by a spooky pumpkin ghoul. In one of the most painful and relatable, you control one person’s grandiose imagination and mundane cannery job at the same time.

Gameplay is integrated soundly and simply in each vignette. In some indie “walking sim” games, you wind up wondering whether what you’re playing can really be called a game when the “gameplay” is so limited. Is it a game? A visual novel? A short film animated in Unity? Each vignette in What Remains of Edith Finch requires your active involvement to drive it forward to its conclusion, so it does still feel like a game rather than a collection of short films or a haphazard, scattered novella. That also means that What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the few games where your goal is how to die.

As Edith proceeds through the narrow passageways and crammed rooms, each tomblike in atmosphere and littered with the detritus of time, you get closer and closer to her generation. But what struck me the most, aside from her ruminations about the nature of stories and curses and family, was the revelation that her father, Sanjay, was a fellow her mother met while teaching English abroad in India.

Sanjay! Are there a people on Earth more equipped to rid a family of curses than the people of India, aside from maybe the Chinese? When you meet a man from an ancient culture and marry him into your family and therefore your curse, you need to lean on the rest of his family to find a way to rid you of this affliction, because the solution clearly isn’t coming from inside the house. I wanted to shake Edith’s mom. Of course Edith isn’t the last Finch; I guarantee you Sanjay has a big ol’ family in India. Yet nobody reaches out? Sanjay just dies with the Finches? Forget Great-Grandma Edie, the Finches needed to talk to Great-Grandma Parvati.

The ending of the game left me with a lot more questions than answers, but that may well be in the game’s nebulous nature, as misty as the Pacific Northwest. The credits are also the best credits I think I’ve ever seen in a game; seeing the team’s kids photos tied in so well with the feel of What Remains of Edith Finch and may have gotten me a little teary-eyed.

Overall, What Remains of Edith Finch is a short and atmospheric rumination on loss, grief, stories, heritage and despair that is so solidly built and lovingly crafted it feels worth even its $20 asking price. That’s only one movie ticket in New York City, and I got a lot more out of What Remains of Edith Finch than I usually get out of the latest popcorn flick. 

What Remains of Edith Finch is available April 25 on PS4 and PC for $19.99.

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