It mustn’t get hungry.
Playing Fatum Betula is a deeply unnerving experience. Atmospheric, ambient audio is a constant. The visuals make use of their PS1-esque fuzziness, albeit with less texture warping than the real thing, making some features ambiguous and allowing your brain to fill in the blanks with the creepiest qualities possible. It would be easy to compare it to the likes of LSD: Dream Emulator or other assorted creepy things, but I don’t think that does justice to FB‘s vibe. In a word, foreboding. Something is coming. You just don’t know what, not yet. All you know is that the magical birch tree is hungry and it’s your job to feed it.
And it is truly up to you. You are the force of agency in FB‘s world, which sounds like I’m just calling it a video game, but it’s a meaningful distinction. FB is a game with a lot of walking but to call it a walking simulator is incorrect. It’s essentially an old school adventure game played in first person. I’ll confess that I played almost the entire game with the run button firmly pressed, but you still have plenty of time to look at your surroundings as you explore. Find items, use items, obtain new items, repeat. You’ll meet characters as you explore but their existence is largely as fixtures. Interactions with them are limited, though often significant, often consisting of performing a specific task involving an item in order to obtain…something else. Sometimes an item. Sometimes not. My point is that in the end the fate of this world and its inhabitants is yours and no one else’s to decide, and the game’s many endings reflect this.
Finding all of the game’s endings is not as challenging as it may sound. What’s harder is figuring out just how you unlock endings to begin with. It’s not that the game doesn’t spell it out for you, more that what it spells out isn’t especially legible from the outset. The game is esoteric, intentionally so, because it wants you to take some time to explore the world’s nooks and crannies. Down the path. Across the bridge. Over the river. Behind places. My first ending was technically one of the more complex ones because I hadn’t even considered that there would be so many that required fewer steps. Put simply and vaguely to avoid any potential spoilers, the birch is not an especially picky eater.
That said, don’t think you’re in it for several lengthy playthroughs. Each playthrough is ended when you feed the birch, and many of these endings are achievable very quickly. Once you get your head around where the interaction points in the world are it becomes relatively easy to try various permutations, acquire different foods, and chain various endings. This is especially true if you save partway through a playthrough before locking yourself out of any particular options. I don’t consider this an issue, if anything it’s a feature, just be aware going in that this isn’t a densely packed adventurefest as much as a highway with several offramps to discover.
Fatum Betula is a game of endings. That makes this a bit of a difficult review to structure, a tough game to communicate the strengths of. What I can say with confidence is that I like it very much. I can tell you that I went out of my way to see all of the endings, that I found them rewarding, that I found the process of figuring out how to earn them all enjoyable. If you like unconventional indie projects, a core loop focused on exploration in a strange world, and capping your journeys off with short scenes that will chill you to the bone one run and make you cackle with laughter the next, Fatum Betula is worthy of your attention.
A Nintendo Switch code was independently purchased for review.