The First Tree effortlessly intertwines fluid gameplay, silky visuals, and two heart-breaking stories. The game opens on a snowy mountain peak where a fox awakens to find her cubs that have vanished. At the same time, a troubled man awakens and begins to tell his partner a story about his youth, rebellion, and coping with grief following a tragic loss.
In the middle of an expansive mountainous range you control the mother fox tracking her cubs. Her journey takes you across snowy vistas, open grasslands, and through dense forests. All of these areas are littered with lost stars, important items that glow from afar and can be collected. These glowing fragments often lead to other discoveries, namely lost objects of narrative significance. With each discarded toy train set or pile of letters, more of the plot unravels and the sadness seen in both the fox’s and the old man’s stories begins to grow. It’s these lost objects that combine the two stories so effectively; as a player you get a sense of two worlds influencing each other in almost mystical ways.
Controls are limited to walk, run, and double jump, and the environments are built with these limitations in mind. Obstacles are restricted to rocky outcrops to scale and not much else. However, with a soft, smooth pallet, the beautiful graphics have a calming, profound style and this is the game’s focus rather than action-packed gameplay.
Particularly impressive are the pale pastels that dominate the forests and the hues of deep blue that stain the night sky. The colours play off the emotion on screen with positive memories brightening up the scenery and darker recollections dimming the lighting and the mood. Similarly, the emotive soundtrack rises and falls along with the story. Every decision the developer has made seems to have emotion at its forefront, and the overall effect is a powerful one.
Finally, adding to the game’s exquisite atmosphere is the brilliant voice acting. For a one man production the voice acting is that of extreme professionalism and the voices carry true sorrow and grief. The emotional journey suffers slightly when the graphics suddenly pop in and disrupt the flow of the game, but aside from that the experience is near-perfect, well thought out, and leaves you thinking about the game’s themes long after you put down your controller.
Everything aside from the story is simplistic, but it doesn’t matter if the puzzles are non-existent or that the graphics are basic, because The First Tree packs an emotional narrative and is a game that every indie fan should play as a result.