The First Tree is an endearing game about the parallel lives of a human couple and a fox mother. Both with their own struggles, finding a way to cope with life. This is the second game by David Wehle. If you wanted to read my review on his first game Home is Where One Starts… you can find it here.
When you start the game up you play a fox, but hear the voices of two people. These are Joseph and Rachel, a couple that over time you will get to know and become closer to. They share stories from their childhoods and some of their time together as a couple. The narrative is an interesting overlay to the walking simulator since you never see people in the game. There are parallels drawn between the couple and the fox that you play as, like parenting. As an example of this Joseph talks about feeling trapped and the fox has to make its way over a massive wall to escape. This is all of the story you get, so if you are intrigued I suggest picking it up for yourself.
There are lots of nods to the story you hear Joseph and Rachel talk about in the world that the fox is in. There are remnants of the human world: school bus, campsite, flag pole, etc that are mentioned in the stories that are being told. The little details that David put into this game really make it more than just a walking simulator.
Additionally, I recommend turning on Commentary mode which lets you listen to snippets of David and his wife who voices Rachel talk about the development of the game. These are triggered by floating dialogue bubbles in the world that you explore. This was a nice touch to let the players get closer to the developer.
This game had my attention for being labeled a walking simulator. You play most of the game as the fox mother you wake up as, and each chapter has a different aesthetic. First is a snowy landscape that seems desolate aside from a couple of bunnies, and then in later chapters, you move into forests and mountains. The graphics are simple which allows you to focus on the story of the game. There are different soundtracks for each chapter and they are as diverse as the terrain is. This makes your time walking around exploring more interesting.
There are no achievements at first glance but the farther you look there are some. Additionally, there is no guide to where you are going either. This had me a little confused in the first chapter, however with further exploring I did eventually figure out what I was supposed to do. Sometimes you just have to walk to all the corners of the map till you finally figure out where you need to go. There are light globes that you collect throughout the game. However you do not have to collect them all, and about 3/4 of the way through the game you will learn why these are important. Other than walking your only other movement is jumping when prompted to.
Despite being a simple game, The First Tree is a heartfelt adventure. The story really draws you in and gets you to feel for the characters that you are hearing along with the story of the fox that you are playing as. Walking around and exploring is sometimes tiring as there is no real direction to where you are supposed to go. The occasional subtle hint is given through a story Joseph and Rachel are telling but other than that you are left to your own devices. I found that even though there are a couple of glitches or lack of guidance this was still a great game. Twice I was cried, which does not happen lots!
After 3/4 of the game, you will find yourself at the end of the fox’s story and come upon a massive tree. This is the first tree in the title of the game. It has brought life and death. In the end, you use the light orbs that you collected to write a message from to fox to her children who are dead now. The light orbs are as many characters as the message you write can be. If you collected 75 light orbs you can have a 75 character long message. This was by far my favorite part of the game.
After this, the game switches to you playing Joseph, the male character, whose life changed after his dad died. You wake up in the house that Joseph lived in and throughout the house are memories. You are now controlling Joseph in the walking simulator. There will be a tent behind the house. From the stories Joseph told you to know his father and him used to camp in it. When you turn around you see the spirit of the fox outside. She leads you down a mountainside and into the woods where you find a tree.
This is reminiscent of the first tree where you wrote your message. There you will find a message from a database of other people who have played the game and left messages. You have the choice to submit your message or not. This was a great addition to the game and the message I received made me cry.