Gone Home 2: Gone Homer
What Remains of Edith Finch is an interactive narrative adventure game developed by Giant Sparrow and published by Annapurna Interactive. This game is the first from the newly founded publisher, a video game division of Annapurna Pictures. The game sees you as a young woman returning to her childhood home, a bizarre cut & sewn structure that defies explanation. You spend your time in the game finding secret passages and reading books about the members of the family and how they all eventually met their demise. For a game about death, it does manage to be very colorful in story and gameplay elements.
This game hits that sweet spot of style vs realism that doesn’t quite go too far one way or the other to set it off balance. You can tell that special attention was made for each and every room you enter inside the house. Often times the design of the rooms themselves tell you more about the character before you read about them in their diary. But it’s not just striking a good balance, it also has range. Throughout the many stories of the game, some alternative art styles will pop up like cel-shading and other stylized art. And the placement of the subtitles of the game are well-crafted. These subtitles don’t just sit at the bottom of the screen, they occupy the space you’re looking at. There are several moments when you can even interact with text as it appears before you. While projecting subs onto the environment isn’t necessarily a new idea anymore, this game still manages to be considerably inventive with it.
I cried at the end. I mean, that’s not actually all that hard for me to do that. But, it was surprising that such a whimsical story about people dying could emotionally affect me. Especially when I didn’t feel that much of a connection with any of the characters. The game doesn’t expect you to necessarily identify with characters though. Merely, the essence of the story is basically about telling stories in and of itself. It would be a disservice to the game to go into details about the story, as the game is rather short. Sitting anywhere between 2-3hrs max, it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, the timing was actually rather perfect. Your interest in these tall tales can only go on for so long, so after one particularly poignant tale, the game moves on to the finale on cue.
This is one of those games that also expertly implements procedurally implemented music, with music meant to play during certain cues, ever changing as the game takes you through every character’s big adventure. With a lot of variety, the songs featured go through a range of different genres based on the mood and setting of every character’s story. Then there’s the titular Edith Finch, who is going through the house and reading out many of the stories that are presented. Actress Valerie Rose Lohman, whom doesn’t appear to have any other major claims is a great host, delivering a performance without taking things over the top. All the other actors who narrate their stories sound real and believable, again no sign of overacting, even when things do get a bit ridiculous. Not to spoil it, but the “spooky” narrator puts on a great show, especially in his aping of old TV horror specials.
And here’s the rub. It may be unnecessary to call an interactive narrative experience game (or walking simulator as you may casually refer) derivative, as these games were born upon the successes of breakthrough titles like Dear Esther and Gone Home. But that second one in particular is a real sticking point, because Edith Finch and Gone home are heavily focused on exploring a house that tells you a story. But in GH, that story is told to you by figuring it out for yourself, as you move from room to room and pick things up and thumb through old journals, scrapbooks, tapes, and other junk. Here in Edith Finch, you have stories that are directly delivered to you in a largely linear guided tour with very little agency in interacting with anything inside the rooms. You just go from one to the next, following convoluted paths that involve hidden passageways but somehow always lead you to where you need to go. That’s my only real point of contention, a game like this has been done better before, especially in terms of engagement. While some walking sims have a lot of things for you to stop and take a closer look at, this title is far more akin to the of a Disney ride, complete with unsettling implications.
At not one point was I bored while playing. I never felt like anything had to be rushed. I wasn’t annoyed by any of the minigames. The pace was perfect. Loading times were non-existent and transitions were seamless. Most importantly, this game is truly accessible. The controls are simple enough for most people to grasp and non-demanding of the player to be particularly agile or quick. Anyone can play it, and that’s a good thing for games like this. Some games in this genre can be far more challenging, but not this one. There’s only one exception, as one of the penultimate stories has you doing two things at once. Do one activity on your left thumbstick while doing another activity with your right thumbstick. Not necessarily the hardest thing in the world for sure. But in terms of acting like a sort of “final boss” it is the most difficult little game in this anthology. When I think of games I like to show my sister, who used to play games 1v1 with me ages ago, this is the kind of game I like to fire up, give her a controller, and let her enjoy the experience firsthand.
Wonderous and humble, this game about a cursed family with a disturbing propensity for unfortunate deaths is not something you’d expect to be a fun and enjoyable experience. But it is. This game has enough new ideas to feel more engaging than just being force-fed exposition. If you like interactive narrative adventures (walking simulators) and want to see something refreshingly good, this is the one to pick up.