“As the sun set, my dad found something I hadn’t seen for a long time - the tree where I made my first carving when I was six.”
There’s something about minimalist games that really gets to me, with the lack of menus and skill trees and just all the story, story, story. I’ve always been absolutely in love with narrative-driven games, and The First Tree is exactly that and more.
In just roughly an hour and a half or so, the game takes you through an incredible journey through a dream, where you play as a fox looking for her cubs. You start off wandering through the snowy mountains alone, with only the voiceover of the protagonist narrating his past softly to his significant other. You’re essentially playing through the protagonist’s dream, but as you roam around the woods amidst the stunning landscape you’re in, you eventually get to know more about the narrator’s childhood and his relationship with his father - and that’s where the beauty of the game lies.
With the top-notch voice acting and a soundtrack that’s now on loop on my Spotify, the bits and pieces of the protagonist’s past that you literally uncover (the fox digs up mementos from the man’s childhood to unlock the next audio clip) are what make the game just so darn compelling. Add to that the sense of sheer wonder that will no doubt exhilarate you as you go through the vast fields, open greenery, and rushing waterfalls and your emotions are sure to swell with every new discovery.
As for the gameplay itself, you don’t do much but leap across platforms either alone or with the help of butterflies that give you a friendly little boost. It does get a little frustrating when the graphics get clunky (I got stuck between weird places for a couple of times and had to reboot the game).
You can collect tricky orbs along the way, but they’re not really required to progress through the game. There’s also a huge tendency to get totally lost, because there’s literally nothing on your UI that tells you where you should go. But to be honest, getting lost doesn’t really feel that bad, because everything around you is just that breathtaking.
This is where the power of really good atmosphere-building comes in. Everywhere around you, you see memorable pieces of the narrator’s childhood strewn across the forest floor. When you stumble across forgotten blueprints in the vast nothingness or spot a rickety old cabin half-sunk into the ground in the distance, there’s just nothing quite like it. All these make the stories that the narrator is sharing more real, making the overall impact when the final blow comes all the more bittersweet (no spoilers, but you’d best have some tissues within reach because the epilogue is a doozy).
By the way, there’s a feature at the end of the game about The First Tree that really makes the game uniquely interactive - you’ll just have to play through to the end to find out what it is.
Overall, The First Tree relaxes you physically but exhausts you emotionally, mainly because the emotional journey it makes you go through is incredible. It’s an exploratory game that not only helps you discover the world around you, but also invites you to look inside and discover who you are within. Amid conflicting feelings of nostalgia, complicated family relationships, and regret, the game eliminates everything else to make you focus on the things that matter most. It tells you that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and that there’s always hope.
Because at the end of it all and when it’s all said and done, isn’t that more than enough?
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