What Remains of Edith Finch was a genre classic in 2017, but genre classics in one era don’t always hold up to the next. Rereleases can sometimes point this out, as prettier visuals and a better frame rate can’t mask dated gameplay. However, ports can sometimes reassert a game’s dominance, which is exactly the case for the recently announced and released What Remains of Edith Finch PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S upgrade. Even though these versions boast improved technical chops, its interactive story is still second to none.
Giant Sparrow’s game is a walking simulator, but it goes far above that pejorative genre label. Players wander around an architecturally impossible house living through the stories of the protagonist’s unlucky ancestors, all of which take players on a different journey that’s relevant to that character. These mechanics change to fit said character, leading to different gameplay loops for each of them.
Even the stronger entries in the walking simulator genre have struggled with interactivity since they tend to focus on telling a story through exploration and dialogue rather than through the controller. What Remains of Edith Finch differentiated itself then and that difference is just as apparent now. Inhabiting a starving child as she dreams of being multiple animals plays out like a dream sequence where the player hunts for scraps of food. The wildly inventive horror segment that sees players creeping through a house drums up the tension that makes sense for that character and pays homage to penny dreadfuls, Tales from the Crypt, and one specific horror film franchise in a way that needs to be heard to be believed.
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This approach is more physically engaging than slowly walking forward — something that is invaluable in an interactive medium — but also helps bond players to the characters themselves. What Remains of Edith Finch is built on admiring its cast and this direct and more layered interaction creates empathy through its input methods. The immaculately detailed and cluttered house provides the environmental storytelling that further fleshes out the characters in ways that are typical of the genre, but this game goes far past that.
Living through these pivotal scenes through gameplay is well realized through each of these 10-minute vignettes, but there is still one that excels over everything else: the cannery sequence. This beautifully constructed scene sees players take the place of Lewis Finch, the protagonist’s brother, as he gets through his monotonous day job while simultaneously keeping up an elaborate daydream.
By controlling Lewis’ real hand and the tiny character in his video game-like and ever-growing daydream, it convincingly gets players to multitask and uphold both parts at the same time just as Lewis did. It wonderfully gamifies what it’s like to daydream at work all the way until its chilling ending. Tightly tying together its narrative and gameplay makes for a compelling multitasking section that is the most successful and succinct summary of What Remains of Edith Finch‘s brilliance, proving that it is still the best part of the game and a genre standout that extensively uses the medium it is in.
Its interactive portions only augment the strengths of great writing and world design, which also remain two of its greatest accomplishments. The well-crafted poetic prose that tells these stories often takes advantage of magical realism to elevate itself and add a bit of flavor, but that style doesn’t lose sight of the humanity that’s vital to What Remains of Edith Finch’s foundation. The game needs to quickly get players to care about each character in such a short time span and while the aforementioned gameplay sections do a fair bit of heavy lifting, the performances, script, and unique presentation of each still play a huge role in getting players to care for these cursed souls. Their grim and tragic ends aren’t cheap or unearned because the game has already done enough of the work ahead of time; a remarkable accomplishment in brisk but effective storytelling that more games should take note of.
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These smaller stories work in isolation, yet are better when taken as a whole. What Remains of Edith Finch uses these single strokes to paint a broader picture of suffering, storytelling itself, and the optimism necessary when facing fatalism. There are very few happy moments in this death-obsessed game full of gut punches, but it uses that despair so artfully to tell a story that’s ultimately more hopeful than it would seem. All of this culminates in a poignant ending that gracefully sums up the power of a well-paced tale that commits to its themes and nails them at every step along the way.
A more fluid frame rate and higher resolution are undoubtedly better and its scant yet effective uses of the DualSense’s adaptive triggers are welcome touches, but those enhancements are ultimately not why What Remains of Edith Finch holds up as an absolutely mesmerizing masterpiece on more capable hardware. Its clever use of interactive storytelling still bests everything else in the genre five years later and those successes are not tied to technical performance. The Finch family members may have all died prematurely and horrifically, but this game has continued to live on graciously.