In the hustle and bustle of the big game release season that is October-December, players can become a little desensitized to hardcore, graphic titles with rigorous inputs and frustrating enemies. Sometimes it’s pleasant, however, to take a break and cleanse your gaming palette with something a little calmer. The First Tree, developed and published solely by David Wehle, is one such breath of fresh air its focus on exploratory game play, collectibles, and juxtaposed narrative.
Players take control of a mother fox whose three pups have gone missing. As we explore the sprawling forests, leaping from the highest water falls and crawling under the lowliest of rock caves, in search of the three pups we’re introduced to a narrator. A young man named Joseph (voiced by David Wehle) begins to talk about this dream he’s had – one where a fox is searching relentlessly for her lost pups. It soon becomes apparent that the game you are experiencing is actually Joseph’s dream. The fox’s journey to find her pups at the First Tree is only one half of the experience, meant to draw the correlations between the fox’s journey (the heartbreak a parent feels when they’ve lost their children) to Joseph’s story (the heartbreak a child feels when they lose their parent).
As players navigate the forests with the mother fox, they’ll have the opportunity to collect 150 stars, as well as hidden items that must be dug up. These items provide opportunities for Joseph to give more details about his childhood, his relationship with his parents, and his thoughts and fears about his future with his significant other, Rachel (voiced by David Wehle’s wife) . Occasionally these narrated segments venture not only into Joseph’s backstory but Rachel’s, as well. Fragments of the couple’s memories make appearances in the dreamscape inhabited by the fox leaving players to search for the stars and hidden memories among ruins such as an ambulance, a run down cabin, and an abandoned crib.
It takes approximately two hours to travel through the entire narrative, with more or less of the story being told based on how many collectibles you can find during your playthrough. As there are quite a lot of missable collectibles and story bits, it is a bit unfortunate that the game does not offer any sort of chapter select option so that you can return to previous areas easily. Once you’ve completed a chapter, intentionally or not, you’ve got no choice but to carry on through the remainder of the story and to start over at the beginning if you’d like to replay a segment. There is a collectible counter for the stars, though it only tells you how many you’ve collected over all. It would be nice if there was some kind of indicator that let you know how many stars are available in the chapter as a whole, and how many of them you’ve already found. There are no counters for the memories at all.
The First Tree is a melancholic, emotional tale that most people can resonate with. The fact that the game is a first time effort by a solo developer makes it an impressive entry that is nothing short of being a pleasure to experience that also leaves you hopeful for what David Wehle can produce in the future.