The First Tree takes you on an emotional journey through a gorgeous looking landscape. You take control of a fox that can free roam through different maps where you find story pieces and other collectables. A beautiful piano soundtrack will underscore all important parts of the story.
Your control your fox just like Mario 3D and make your way through differently themed maps. The controls do not always feel snappy and you will occasionally hit a hidden wall. Each map contains collectables and special places where you have to dig thing up up. And this is where the real gist of the game comes in. The fox is just a vehicle to uncover the story and to carry the mood. Levels vary depending on what is uncovered in the story. And is very clever that the fox has to dig up things that are buried in the protagonists memory. The story feels a like What Remains of Edith Finch but the way it is acted reminds me of The Fidelio Incident.
Every piece of story that you uncover will be carried by great piano melodies. It is a sad and solemn sound that gets on rare occasions supported by a violin. But there are a few times on your free roam when you are left without any sound. Whether this is on purpose or not, it does break the immersion of the game. Without the sound the game just turns into fox jump’n’run instead of a story driven walking simulator.
In large parts of the game sound, level design and story told fit perfectly together. It is a story about loss, about how things we cannot change haunt us and what we will do better. It is about growing up and taking responsibility while still unsure if everything we do is right. The story or stories do not feel constructed, they feel like they happened to someone in real life. And at time you can almost feel the despair.
Overall The First Tree felt very familiar to me. It had the sound I connect with Dear Esther, it had a dialog similar to The Fidelio Incident and at the emotional parts reminded me of What Remains of Edith Finch. The execution was not entirely perfect because occasionally the jump and run parts with the fox broke the immersion of the game. Nonetheless the game delivers an emotional story that add a few unexpected mechanical twists at the end.
If you like walking simulators with an emotional story then this game is for you. It is not the highest thumbs up but it still is a thumb up for The First Tree.