The First Tree
The First Tree follows the journey of a fox as she searches for her lost kit. It also follows the journey of a man looking back at the relationship between his father. How the two are connected and where they end up can only be seen as they try to move forward.
Sept 14, 2017
A fox looks for her lost kits (baby foxes). A man copes with his estranged father. In The First Tree, the journey that these two go through helps them grow and adapt.
The First Tree deals with strong themes of death and loss. Both of the main characters have lost someone close to them, whether through nature or estrangement.
This game also serves to show how to deal with death and loss, and how to overcome grief.
First off, this is probably one of the shortest games I’ve played, and this review will reflect that fact. The game took me about an hour and a half to get through. There’s a little bit of exploration to be done, but the narrative is linear and clear. The First Tree feels like a vidoe game equivalent of a short story.
Short doesn’t always mean bad though. The Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall is short as well, but purposefully so. The First Tree actually shares a lot with Over the Garden Wall, in that it’s short, dripping with atmosphere, focuses on a narrative and metanarrative, and relies largely on symbol and metaphor.
In The First Tree, the main character, Joseph, describes a dream he had about a fox looking for her kit. The game focuses on the fox as she travels through different environments to find them. As the fox travels, she uncovers objects that are linked to Joseph’s life. As this is going on, Joseph is having a conversation with his (presumed) wife about his relationship with his dad.
It’s an unusual way to tell a story, and it’s a smart choice for a game like this. The First Tree deals with some harsh realities of life, like death and loss. A fox searching the wilderness for her lost kit is a strong symbol for this, and makes the narrative stronger. Wandering the forests of Alaska, sometimes getting lost, is a great way of symbolizing Joseph’s insecurity and uncertainty.
Similarly, the fox is always moving forward, not giving up and undeterred by obstacles that get in her way. Joseph’s willingness to talk about his father is made stronger here as well, representing his efforts to get beyond his regrets. The game’s use of symbol makes the story much more powerful.
Graphically, this game is beautiful to look at, and reminds me Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Some of the assets are obviously repeated, and the longer I played the more I noticed that a lot of the trees were the same, and even oriented in the same direction, which made this repetition more noticeable. The music is one of the high points of the game, and the game may be worth repeated playthroughs just to enjoy the soundtrack. Most of the pieces are just piano and strings, but they’re evocative.
The First Tree ends in a beautiful way, and without spoiling too much, makes it seem more real. Despite the linear story, the choices you made during the game matter, as does the opportunity when you are given a chance to contribute something directly. One of the highlights of the game is finding out what message was waiting for me, which changes with each play through. This alone makes the game replayable, just to see what changes at the end.
The First Tree is like a rainy day in the soul. There’s a pall of gloom and dread, but at the same time, it is refreshing and vitalizing. It’s a game that has something very personal to say, and says it in a way that makes it matter. And it asks you to do the same. The game invites you to reflect on the experience and put into words your feelings. In this way, The First Tree utilizes the fact that it’s a game: an interactive medium. It’s a somber, beautiful experience that deserves to be played.