Since owning a dog for the last decade or so, I find myself going for a walk every single day, come rain or shine. I guess that’s why I’m so fond of the ‘walking sim’ genre. It’s about getting out into the open world, away from it all, just without having to pick up dog mess or get my feet wet. In recent times there has been a certain developer – one Tonguç Bodur – who seemingly loves making these narrative experiences, slowly building out a very impressive collection of games. After filling Steam, it’s now the turn of Xbox players to try to understand these games, with experiences like Lucid Cycle and Drizzlepath providing some intrigue. The latest from Bodur is that of The Dead Tree of Ranchiuna.
The story of The Dead Tree of Ranchiuna whisks us off to a Romanian countryside village, following a University graduate who returns after a long time in the city. The place is now deserted, but images and ghosts of memories tell a tale of another who returned to the city, covering their experience fitting back in. The story covers love, betrayal, jealousy, and conflict. It’s a disturbing tale at times but doesn’t quite live up to what I was expecting from it. You see, the narrative – at times – feels rushed, especially towards the end and it doesn’t really deliver a satisfying conclusion. Without spoiling matters, as you progress through the game you also get to hear a voice with thoughts about the universe and a human’s journey through life. This is more interesting and gives a good backdrop to the actual gameplay itself.
The gameplay of The Dead Tree of Ranchiuna consists of you walking around – a lot – exploring the world in quite a linear way. You have the option of swapping between the first person and third person on the journey, but it doesn’t feel right to be in the third person at all and takes away from the overall experience.
As you walk around the world – a world which consists of a mixture of beautiful countryside locations – it combines the surreal and the real world cleverly and satisfyingly. Huge statues loom in the background of mountainside vistas and decaying dwellings are strewn across the landscape. There is a lot of walking to be had in this game and sometimes certain sections feel like a tad too long, like you’re stretching your legs a few miles too far.
It’s not all about walking though and other parts of The Dead Tree of Ranchiuna involve some minor puzzle solving as well. There are several gates that you have to get through, allowing access to other parts of the world, requiring you to unlock a little puzzle of locks in a certain order. In one section you have to push over a tree and, in a flashback sequence, find yourself in a small flat looking for objects to unlock a door. These puzzles are pretty straightforward and won’t tax your brain at all, but they work as a welcome distraction from the traversal.
That’s about the majority of The Dead Tree of Ranchiuna gameplay-wise and the whole experience will only take you a few hours to complete. And whilst the walking around is pretty smooth, it’s not all like butter; there are some points when the camera judders a bit, especially in the interior spaces of a flashback.
Visually the game does a good job though with the outdoor spaces providing a sense of beauty as you wander the countryside. There are some nice surprises too; a statue of a large man in the distance or a lake with a beautiful autumnal tree stuck in the middle of a tiny island. It’s an enjoyable place to be, generally interesting and well designed.
Soundwise and it employs a great soundtrack for your strolling, with some nice emotive music that works well with the gameplay. I like the way it’s not always present and you might just find yourself navigating areas only helped by the atmosphere, to turn a corner and find the amazing composition emerge. It’s very affecting. The voice-over does a good job too, although it does sometimes struggle to sell the script.
There are some important indie developers currently on the scene and Tonguç Bodur is one of them. Experimenting in the creation of low budget games that could be seen as an art pieces is something that should be applauded and whilst The Dead Tree of Ranchiuna fails to reach the heights of other titles, it’s still worth a look. It’s a bit rough around the edges, the walking can feel drawn out and the story doesn’t quite work, but I look forward to see what Bodur comes up with next.
The Dead Tree of Ranchiuna is on the Xbox Store