At its most cursory description, What Remains of Edith Finch is kind of like playing through an interactive short story anthology. There are a variety of different motifs, characters, tones, and shades that weave themselves throughout What Remains of Edith Finch's layered story. Each mini-story that is told feels memorable and unique and this variation helps keep the game constantly evolving over the course of its five to six hour run time. The mansion that you find yourself navigating through for ninety percent of What Remains of Edith Finch is lovingly crafted and the attention to detail is immaculate. Merely spending ten or fifteen minutes perusing all the finer details in each room is a treat. Of course, this all hinges on your willingness to envelope yourself in the world that developer Giant Sparrow has created. What Remains of Edith Finch is billed as a walking simulator, and even though I hate to use the term "walking simulator", (as it feels reductive to me) this is one of most varied and creative games in its genre to date.
Giant Sparrows first game, The Unfinished Swan, was a fabulous adventure filled with childlike wonder, a distinctive gameplay mechanic, and one of my personal favorite endings to a game. Even though the palette has changed with What Remains of Edith Finch, the design philosophy and Giant Sparrow's superb ability to convey complex ideas like morality, death, and human nature remain intact. The visual design in What Remains of Edith Finch is what I would describe as stylized realism (ala Firewatch or Datura) but I feel as though the developers were a little too ambitious with the forest setting outside of the Finch abode. I say this because upon starting the game, you will find yourself walking towards the house through a luscious forest and even though the foliage is painstakingly crafted, the game chugs and squirms in order to keep up with everything that's going on. Basically, the framerate dips quite noticeably in the first five or so minutes of the game. I didn't have any issues inside the manor, but starting the game only to be greeted with technical maladies is an unfortunate first impression.
The main draw of What Remains of Edith Finch is its narrative. As the titular character, Edith, you are tasked with returning to the family house that holds a plethora of mysteries and embellished yarns. It's your job to explore the house and relive the untimely demises of all the Finch family members that have lived there. These tragic and fanciful stories are where What Remains of Edith Finch really shines. The structure of the game reminds of the film Big Fish. The stories seem improbable, but there are grains of truth to each one. It's almost like a coping mechanism to make each characters death feel more like a fairy tale instead of a grim reminder of unfortunate circumstances. The length of the separate stories varies; some will only last around 5 minutes, while others stretch on for half an hour. I don't want to spoil anything but I will say that the standout stories (at least for me) were for Molly and Lewis Finch.
Given the variety of and tonal shifts between the different Finch family member stories, the gameplay during these sections alters appropriately. It's usually nothing too grandiose or divergent from the main game, but each story feels more unique and memorable thanks to these shifts in gameplay. Even though you're ultimately revisiting the deaths of each Finch, it never feels overwhelming despondent or gloomy. Some of the stories are almost hopeful and sweet. Granted, there are two or three stories that are exceedingly dark, but their tall tale nature softens the blow. The voice acting is also convincing and professional as are the music selections. Each track felt appropriate for the story it accompanied but none of them necessarily stood out.
As engrossing and immersive as What Remains of Edith Finch is, after you finish your five to six hour playthrough, there's really nothing left to do. Now, replay value is not something that I would really factor into a score, but if you're the type of gamer who wants to ring out as much content as possible from your games, well, What Remains of Edith Finch might not scratch that itch. Much like Gone Home, Firewatch, or Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, the main allure in these games is the world building and an engaging narrative, and What Remains of Edith Finch does these two things exceptionally well.
I would love to just ramble on and on about all the wonderful stories and how they're presented in What Remains of Edith Finch, but doing so would denote spoilers (and no one wants that). But suffice to say, this is a game that needs to be experienced for yourself. As I mentioned in my intro paragraph, the players who take the time to forage through all the post-it notes, diaries, family photos, etc. littered throughout the disheveled Finch house will probably get the most out of this game. What Remains of Edith Finch is a strong contender for my Top 5 Games of 2017, and even if you might not consider yourself a fan of the genre, I would still strongly encourage you to give this game a shot.