The First Friend Review

Explore a beautiful and relaxing atmosphere while searching for your lost friend and old memories in The First Friend.

A review copy of The First Friend was provided for this review. No compensation was involved and all thoughts are my own.

Format: PC via Steam
First playthrough time: 1 hour

The First Friend. View of an empty doghouse with subtitles saying 'Zack, he's wandered off again'

Released Dec 10th, 2020 by Alexander Westwater

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Quick Overview

Major Pros:
  • Beautiful music
  • Sweet story
Major Cons:
  • No toggle for run
Minor Pros:
  • Pretty nature scapes
  • Explore for memory fragments
Minor Cons:
  • Weak level 5 narrative
The First Friend. Instructions to find 3 memories related to a boat, chest, and game controller.

Memories are hidden around in the environment

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In-Depth Review

The First Friend is a story-focused exploration game inspired by The First Tree (review available). Players explore the world around them and collect memory fragments to uncover the protagonist’s story. The story focuses on a man’s reflections on his life, primarily around his childhood, parents, a dog Zack. Some dialog is automatically triggered as part of progression, but others require finding out-of-the-way objects to trigger them. All dialog is fully voiced with subtitles.

The First Friend. View from inside a beached rowboat. Subtitles say 'People hate the thought of hunting wild animals'.

Dialogs discuss the memory object and give backstory on the character and their family

While listening to the story, players explore several nature scapes and search the terrain for partially buried items. Uncovering these trigger dialog which at least early on may be necessary to progress. I found the nature scapes to be very pretty with very complementary color palettes. There is also beautiful background music throughout the game which carries the emotional tone of the narrator even between dialogs.

The First Friend. View from floating in a large calm river bordered by autumn colored trees.

Beginning of the water-heavy level 3

Even though I enjoyed The First Friend, I have to acknowledge there were some rough parts where I’d have liked to see more polish. For example, there’s no way to switch the run key to a toggle so not even halfway through the game my pinky was hurting from holding down shift. I also encountered heavy frame issues in level 3 (likely due to a ton of water being rendered) and then accidentally walked off the edge of the map, fell infinitely, and had to restart the level. I see these as minor issues though that can hopefully be addressed in an updated, instead of glaring gameplay problems.

The First Friend. Grey stone trail through the mountains with light snow and barren trees.

Level 5 was also more visually bleak compared to other levels

There was one issue major issue in my opinion, and that was the narrative of level 5. Without spoiling the story, I felt the narrative of level 5 was disconnected from the rest of the game. While the rest of the story felt authentic and meaningful to the narrator, this part felt unnatural to the narrator, and parts of the voice acting felt overly forced. While I have to applaud any solo developer that attempts their own narrative and voice acting, it really felt like they lost their spark for this section of the story and it leaves me wondering if there was an alternate chapter here they’d have liked to include instead.

The First Friend. Large glowing crystals amidst grass with the shadow of trees being cast on a cliff in the background.

The mix of scenery and colors is something I love about this game

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Recommendation

Overall, I enjoyed The First Friend. I especially liked the natural scenery and relaxing music. While there were some parts that lacked polish, these were relatively minor and did not detract from my interest in future work from Alexander Westwater. I did find one level of the story to be pretty disconnected from the narrative, but I still enjoyed the story and found it meaningful. I recommend The First Friend to fans of story-based exploration games looking for a short but meaningful experience.

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