Walking Simulators are a divisive genre of games. Some would say that they aren’t games at all given the lack of gameplay mechanics, which primarily comprise of the player opening drawers and reading written notes. I would say that, the aforementioned argument is reductive. It’s like calling Call Of Duty a clicking simulator. Anyways, I digress. I really like narrative driven ‘walking simulators’, specially those that tell a compelling story, which I feel that most action or gameplay heavy video games fail to. Over the last few years, the genre has slowly evolved, from Dear Esther to Gone Home to Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and What Remains Of Edith Finch is easily the best narrative driven game I have played till date.
You play as Edith, who is returning to her family home after 7 years. Everyone who has lived there is now dead, and as you set about exploring the house room by room, you get to know their stories and relationships with each other. And how they died. In the end, the game left me with more questions than answers, however, every person’s story was so well crafted, that I cared enough to want to know more.
Also, the house itself is quite the sight, with each floor stacked on top of another in an ungainly manner. It has a Tim Burton-esque vibe to it, and a sense of mystery. The rooms themselves have all been sealed off, and you access them via secret passages or climbing into them through windows. It all adds to the overall intrigue, and the house in itself becomes a character in the story.
You start off by exploring the opening areas of the house, where Edith will remark about past memories. Slowly as you make your way into the rooms, you get know the person who inhabited that room, their story, and how they died. It is in these stories that the game shines, as it will usually switch perspective in context of the story being told. One of the stories has you playing within a comic book, with fantastic atmospheric music playing along, and you really feel immersed in the story and the character.
Another story tells you about someone who’s losing their grasp on reality. As you play his story, you see him working in a fish factory, while an entirely imagined world unfolds within his mind. You play the part of him cutting the fish using one half of the controller, while the other half controls his imaginings, which switch perspectives from top down to isometric to third person. It does a great job of conveying to you how mechanical his physical routine becomes, and how the imagined world takes over his entire mind.
Other stories are told in their own unique ways, all of which add so much more to the variety. Instead of just reading up the stories, getting to play them from a unique perspective is the best part of Edith Finch’s story. Where other games in the genre have audiotapes, or diary entries, here you get a narrative-context based gameplay mechanism that delivers the story in a much more impactful way.
As you reach the end of the game, which takes about 2-3 hours, you feel emotionally connected to the characters and the Finch family’s story. There are some super-natural elements at play here, and the end does leave some things open to interpretation. In that aspect, I did not get the complete sense of closure I wanted from the game. But, even then, I went back and replayed the stories, simply because of the fascinating way the narrative was delivered.
The game also has a great look to it, with the house and all the rooms being absolutely filled with detail. There are books piled everywhere, and many little personal effects strewn around. As you enter one of the rooms, the painting of an underwater scene on the walls is just breathtaking. There is a strong sense of environmental story telling, and it does a great job of complimenting the main narrative.
What Remains Of Edith Finch easily sets the bar for how well a narrative-driven game can be made. Even with the short duration, lack of any multiple paths, and a singular ending, I was compelled enough to immediately go play and replay bits of the game. It’s that good. Play it.