Saturday, September 28, 2019

The First Tree (PS4)

When The First Tree was released last year, the visual direction intrigued me to play it, as did the premise of the stories of a fox and a human intersecting. Though I did not purchase the game digitally when it first launched, I did obtain a physical copy for PS4 through Limited Run Games, which included a fold-out poster and a full color manual that contains notes from the developer. After getting around to playing it, the experience was short, though I still thought it was worth the price.

The story tells that of an unseen man talking to his wife about a dream he had, involving a vixen searching for her cubs as she seeks out the First Tree. The gameplay reflects this by having the player control the fox, with the human characters providing voiceovers as the fox travels the environment. The level design itself also contributes to this, with the fox being able to dig up and discover items relating to the man’s life, with some objects being worked in as part of the environment. The story itself on both sides also gets very emotional at times, especially towards the end of the fox’s journey, aided by some good music and voice work.

The stylized look of the game works with the narrative
and allows it to potentially stand the test of time.

The controls are very minimalist and easy to pick up. One option the player has is the ability to choose whether to walk or run, though the levels are large enough that running is usually the best option. The walking and running animations for the fox are also very realistic, displaying that some actual research was made into real-life fox behavior. The player can also perform a double jump, though a couple sections allow you to gather butterflies that can increase the height of your jump to get around the area. There is one button reserved for interactions, most of which involve digging to uncover items of personal attachment to the man to learn more about his life story.

Digging is one of many potential actions the player can make.

While there is a general suggestion of a path, the game actually rewards you for exploring every nook and cranny of the environment, which includes the aforementioned personal items among many others, increasing the game’s potential replay value. What helps in this regard is that the environments themselves are beautifully rendered, making you want to explore them as much as you can (even with some visible draw distance). Additionally, scattered throughout each level are 150 collectible stars between them all; gathering all 150 isn’t required to finish the game, however the number you are able to collect actually becomes far more important than they initially let on.

While short (it can take about 2-3 hours with a lot of exploration), The First Tree is an amazing indie title that takes full advantage of its premise. The level design and narration effectively tell an emotional story while offering incentive to play through the game at least a second time to find any hidden collectibles and Easter eggs that may have been missed the first time around. If you’re looking for a quick, well-made indie game and are ready for the emotional journey, The First Tree is a great option to go with.

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