The First Tree (Game Review): Exploring humanity as a Fox

The First Tree

Written and developed by David Wehle

Released: 2017

Platforms: PC/Steam, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo

Play as a little mother fox

I had been aware of it for a while as I recall a friend sharing with me the video game trailer, she knew I had a soft spot for foxes. I recall thinking it looked beautiful graphically and also it appeared to be a unique type of game as the premise is exploring the narrator’s memories of their dad, but as a mother fox looking for her lost pups. Two very unique stories entwined. The music also enchanted me to learn more and play.

‘A visual audiobook’

If I was to describe the gameplay, I would say it’s a visual audiobook, as you listen to the Narrator have a late-night discussion with his wife on a deeply personal subject – his father and whose funeral is in the morning. It is also a mystery game, for as the Mother Fox you discover items across a variety of different landscapes, terrain and weather, that trigger memories for the Narrator and so build the complete story.

The locations and surroundings further the narration

The best example of this is in a particular landscape, you as the Mother Fox discover that certain butterflies enable you to jump higher.  Thus you can reach areas of the terrain that were inaccessible otherwise. At one point you have to acquire a certain number of butterflies to achieve the biggest jump of all to escape the terrain and discover the next one. You learn about this skill and what you need to do to proceed in the game.

Whilst the Narrator explores his memories of being a teenager and feeling trapped in his small American town, where there didn’t seem to be much for a young person to obtain or achieve. How he eventually had to break free, escape and move away to find his own path in life. Thus as he recounts finding freedom and independence from his provincial youth, as the Mother Fox you find a way to further the search for your missing cubs.

Taking your time

There is no time limit on how long you can explore each terrain/landscape and some of them feel vast or deep or even high up! I recall one particular part being a series of jumps down an extremely steep mountain slope. So you can explore and experience everything at your own pace and time. Which allows you really relish the beautiful music and the landscapes and scenery you discover. As well as puzzle out the story for yourself for you do find objects and items in the landscape that relate to the Narrator’s memories without triggering audio recollections. So in many ways this landscape is a dreamscape, a mindscape, a most unusual linking of the Narrator’s past and emotions with a naturalistic yet abstract world.

At another point in the game, the Narrator’s wife actually adds her own memories. This helps the Narrator realise his experiences and emotions aren’t too dissimilar to her own. When this happens, Mother Fox enters a world full of Star light. She has to follow a glowing Deer to uncover the Wife’s story. It is the most magical and surreal of the entire game and I was a tad sad to leave that environment.

There are no enemies or dangers as such and no loot in the traditional manner. There are Stars, beads of light, that you can collect as the Fox throughout each landscape. Yet the purpose or benefit from them is only revealed at the end of the game.

Genius gameplay and storytelling

The ending itself is a real genius piece of gameplay and storytelling. It is such a surprise when it happens, is entirely unexpected and really brings the two stories together. The main themes are of the Narrator learning to manage regret and shame. But also appreciating undeniable pride and love for his father, and the Mother Fox, going as far as she does in her search for her pups. Family is a strong core to the elements of this game.

Listening to a secret

This game is most definitely written from a deeply personal place due to the strong subject matter. In some ways, I felt like I was listening to a secret that I wasn’t worthy of. As we learned more about the Narrator’s life and experiences, both good and bad memories of his father. After all, a midnight discussion about a deceased relative is extremely private. And I was surprised to learn that David Wehle himself lends his voice to the game as the Narrator. But it goes to show the quality of the game, the depth of the story and its meaning.

Over all the game is short and can be completed with ease in an afternoon or two. And if you enjoyed the music, written by Josh Kramer, you can also buy and download the tracks via Band Camp https://joshkramer.bandcamp.com/album/the-first-tree-original-video-game-soundtrack

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