PSX 2016 – What Remains of Edith Finch Preview – Instinctually Emotional (PS4)
Announced two years ago, What Remains of Edith Finch is the mysterious yet highly anticipated sophomore production from the company behind The Unfinished Swan (which is a decidedly finished game despite its title indicating otherwise). Jokes aside, What Remains of Edith Finch fell from the radar not long after it was announced, only surfacing periodically to say it was still in development, so when Giant Sparrow reached out to me saying it would be at PSX this year, I jumped at the chance to see how far it had come.
It should be noted that What Remains of Edith Finch is now being published by Annapurna Interactive, a new games division of Annapurna Pictures which has produced films like Her, Zero Dark Thirty, and Joy. Looking at Annapurna’s diverse emotional and artistic film lineup, it’s exciting to think about what this portends for Edith Finch and other games under the Annapurna Interactive umbrella.
During my PSX appointment I had the option to choose from two different demos. The first one, about 20 minutes long, started from the beginning of the game and went through a couple of early stories. The second, only about five to ten minutes, was pulled from a little further in. I opted to go with the shorter demo to have more time to talk with the developer (interview coming soon), as well as rationalizing that, in spite of being shorter, something from the middle of the game would be a better representation of the title overall than the opening portion.
It was not a bad choice. Though I can’t speak for the demo I didn’t play, my brief time with Edith Finch spoke volumes about the game. You see, What Remains of Edith Finch is a series of short stories, all told in different art styles and gameplay mechanics as you explore the house and learn more about Edith’s family going back three generations. As each family member died, they would lock up their rooms as a sort of time capsule, so navigating the house isn’t as easy as going door to door and just experiencing one room after the other. At the beginning of the demo I was in a bathroom, and some brief exploration revealed a secret passage that led to a child’s bedroom. Twins, in fact. Everything in the bedroom told a story about the people who had once lived here, two little boys who had lived on to very different points in their lives. One had clearly died very young, and his roped off side of the room was the side that I was set to explore.
Everything on his side of the room was themed around space. He had a really cool bed and stairs that wrapped around it to create a kind of command center fort — they kind of bedroom build that every kid dreams about having. When I pointed this out to the developer walking me through, he laughed and said that they tried to bring childhood fantasies to life, to connect with that part of ourselves that had at one time wanted things like a really cool play space in our bedrooms. I didn’t yet know how true this was.
In the command center area above the bed was a letter that seemed to be from the boy’s brother, a eulogy or note of remembrance, narrating the day that he had died, and suddenly I was transported to his short story. My view changed to a swing tied to a tree branch. I was sitting on it and looking down, I could only see my legs. Wiggling the right stick swung my right leg back and forth. Testing out the left stick confirmed that it controlled the left leg, which was in a cast. Of course, once I’ve got control of two legs on a swing, my natural inclination is to pump them and start to swing. I’ve rarely sat down on a swing since I have been a young child, but playground memories came swirling back to me. The voice of the mother calling for dinner can be heard, but the narration makes it clear that the boy won’t make it home for dinner ever again. Taking on another childhood fantasy, the swing gets high enough that it actually goes all the way around the branch, and at the apex, the boy jumps out of the swing, able to briefly fly as he soars over a precipice nearby.
It’s horrifying. Like Bridge to Terabithia or My Girl horrifying. Forget monsters, and spooks, and things that go bump in the night. What Remains of Edith Finch digs into the deepest parts of ourselves, simultaneously creating feelings of incredible joy and overwhelming loss. And that’s the scariest part. Even my brief demo was able to dig up parts of me that I had locked away in my pursuit of adulthood, and it does so in such a way as to make even pumping your legs and swinging on a swing an incredibly visceral and emotional experience. Knowing the foregone conclusion only intensified the feeling of every motion back and forth. I even stopped swinging at one point. “Just go inside for dinner,” I pleaded with the boy silently. But he wanted to fly, so I emotionally began to pump his legs again, slowly gaining more and more height to send him to his end.
The Finch family has a lot of stories to tell, and What Remains of Edith Finch will weave a narrative spanning three generations of a single massive family in this enormous house. If every story is even half as instinctual and emotionally connected as the experience on the swing, then Giant Sparrow will have created not a game, but a connection to the deepest parts of each of our souls.