written by Derrick Smith
As people we seem to always be looking ahead, in search of our purpose and along the way our lives tell fascinating stories. Sometimes our past is a reflection of the challenges we had and or mistakes we have made with loved ones, as we strive to right our path ahead with a promising new narrative.
These impressions of the past is at the heart of The First Tree, and for gamers willing to embrace this brief journey and traverse beneath the surface of the games candid gameplay, may just find themselves becoming a better person for it.
The First Tree is presented as third-person exploration experience centered around two coextending stories. On one plain you have the playable story of the fox who is desperately looking for her lost cubs across a dream-like wilderness, set amidst a beautifully detailed colorful canvas, visually presented like games such as Journey and Firewatch. On the other side of this parallel narrative, players experience an emotionally heart tugging story of a young couple trying to cope with a tragedy.
The coextensive journey of The First Tree becomes more of an interactive exercise in self reflection than it is a video game, however the straightforward approach to the gameplay paired with the compelling story makes it difficult to walk away from and quite fun. In fact, once I began playing, before I knew it I was contemplating my own life’s decisions and how those decisions and or chooses may have affected those in my circle of influence. Ultimately, and after about three hours The First Tree concluded leaving me in state liberation with echoes of sorrow from my own life.
How The First Tree culminates is founded on pleasant gameplay mechanics,which take a backseat to the players encounters of artifacts found throughout the maps, supporting a cohesive tapestry of storytelling. Desperately in search for her cubs the fox searches high and low and occasionally finds dig holes. Upon digging them up you find relics of the past which have a direct relation to the young couples history.
While players are tasked with playing the story of the fox, the tale of the fox is nothing more than a dream being re-told within the dialogue of the loving couple.
As mentioned before, gameplay here is presented in a simple form. The fox can walk, run, double jump and regardless of the height of a fall the fox will never take damage, which was very cool. Like the story, the gameplay enviornments seem to take on new personalities with each new locale. While locations might at times seem bare of organic wildlife, aside from the cute rabbits who love to be chased, the occasion of flying birds overhead and the family of deer who are unafraid of your presence, the games musical score becomes a welcoming character companion, filling your senses with emotional expression.
Breaking up the degree of desperation for the fox, ever so slightly, locations throughout the game maintains attainable stars which can be acquired. While the retrieval of these stars do not necessarily amount to any form of gameplay enhancement, scouring the well designed maps was quite entertaining. There were however areas with groups of butterflies that allowed our fox to make great leaps upon some of those hard to reach areas. The more butterflies you collected the greater the fox could leap. My first playthrough only saw me acquiring 130 stars, yet my second playthrough was 146. (If there are150 stars I really need those four remaining stars.)
Interestingly, throughout each location there are floating markers which once touched would offer a brief developer audio explanations from David Wehle, the games creator, along with his wife. These audio files consisted of insight on gameplay choice, reasoning behind the game and the developers purpose, as well as more game insight from Mrs.Wehle herself. This intuitive human touch of transparency to the experience was a refreshing compliment the games overall tone.
Filled with bold and audacious gameplay design choses, The First Tree tells a wonderful story, that could be a difficult reflection of truth for some, yet a healing and therapeutic interactive journey for others.
The First Tree is a game you will not soon forget!