Edie once told me that every Finch who ever lived was buried somewhere in the library.
The room is separated down the middle by a rope, at first glance a simple “your side my side” twins’ room. The far side, Calvin’s, looks probably about the same as it did when he was 10—when he died—littered with colorful blocks and model space helmets. Inside one of the helmets, player character Edith, Calvin’s great niece, finds a poem written by her grandfather in memory of his brother and the view dissolves to Calvin’s perspective of his final moments.
Even though we know how it ends, it’s still exhilarating. Pumping Calvin’s legs, we go higher and higher on the swing until it finally breaks free and flies over the cliff. Throughout the vignette we hear Sam’s voice in the background reciting his poem, a poem about how Calvin always did what he wanted, even when it meant trying to make the swing go all the way around instead of coming to dinner. While the room tells the story of Calvin’s death, it does so as a memorial to his life and to who he was. For Edie Finch, who built this memorial, Calvin’s death is just another example of what made his life so special.
What Remains of Edith Finch, a phenomenal narrative game from Unfinished Swan developers Songbird is both a collection of creepy short stories and a wistful, Going Home esque journey of self-discovery. It follow the Edith of the title, 17 years old and 22 weeks pregnant, as she returns to her childhood home after inheriting a mysterious key. The house itself is an otherwise respectable looking mansion with extensions and annexes piled improbably on top of one another. Inside, the rooms are all barred shut, but outfitted with peepholes. We quickly learn that the family matriarch, Edie, has converted all of these rooms into memorials for every person who’s lived in the house. These rooms are all largely untouched but have some document that Edie has chosen to tell the story of their death. We also learn that Edith’s mother has barred all of the rooms shut in a desperate attempt to ward off some real or imagined family curse.
Most of the running time involves playing through the stories of each family member’s death, and these stories are all whimsical and impossible despite, or perhaps because of their preoccupation with death. I won’t spoil any of these stories, but will say that they are all confidently told pieces of magical realism and that they are all interactive in ways that surprised and enthralled me to the very end. Ends.
Even more compelling than these stories, though, is Edith’s own story of the house’s abandonment, and of four generations of the family’s attempts to lead a normal life. This larger story of the remains of a family trying to make sense of a century of tragedy is what makes Edith Finch such a moving story. There’s little else I can write without spoiling any specifics, but it all has the totality and careful pacing of a perfectly told short story, ending with a series of literary magic tricks just as clever as the deadly twists at the end of each Finch’s story but twice as meaningful. This is a very short game (I finished it in about 2 hours), but every minute is used to its fullest and those two hours will stay with me for years, if not generations.