Close your eyes and listen to the details of the world around you. A pair of birds in a tree chirp away in the distance. Something is rustling in the bushes just a few feet from you. The babble of a creek can be heard coming from somewhere in front of you. A soft wind blows brittle fallen leaves across the ground. Now let these sounds paint a picture in your mind of your surroundings. Developed in conjunction with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), The Vale: Shadow of the Crown takes this premise and runs with it, the result being a highly experimental and unique action RPG experience that shouldn’t be passed over.
Videogames are, by and large, a visual medium: though developers do seem to be thinking more about how to make games accessible to a wider audience these days. So if you’ve ever seen the trailers for the game, you were probably wondering where all the gameplay images were. Shadow of the Crown is the story of a blind princess and in keeping with the theme, the screen is black, with colorful motes floating around the screen. With very little in the way of traditional graphics, The Vale relies on superb 3D audio to guide players on their journey. And with the addition of narrator-guided menus, you can enjoy this little audio action-RPG even if you were 100% blind.
Blind from birth, Princess Alexandra (Alex) has always experienced the world differently from everyone else. The story begins on the day of her brother’s coronation. Alex is being escorted by her uncle and a convoy of soldiers to her new post at the farthest edge of the kingdom when an attack by an invading horde of barbarians called the Odedan scatters them. Separated from the others, Alex decides to try and journey back to her hometown of Nobell. Almost immediately after the attack, she meets a sheepherder who decides to help her out on her adventure. This Shepherd (a bit obvious with the metaphor) will be your stalwart traveling companion until you reach the safety of Nobell, helping to guide you throughout the land’s many perils.
The Vale relies solely on audio clues to guide you so I cannot stress enough that you need to use a headset and that if you are hearing impaired then this game may be unplayable to you. I found the game to be most enjoyable when I played with my eyes closed so I could immerse myself in the excellent 3D audio. The fantastic job done by both the voice actors and the audio team makes it really easy to bring the world to life in your mind’s eye.
You may think The Vale is just some simple audio adventure at first, but don’t be fooled: it is a full-fledged action-RPG, complete with battles, side quests, exploration, and equipment management. When you arrive in a town, you will be able to move around. Amid the hustle and bustle, you can pick up audio cues that might be worth looking into. The loud music implies an inn, where you will be able to conversate with patrons and pick up quests to earn coin for new gear. The loud clanking of a blacksmith working his wares alerts you to a place to buy new equipment. As you browse the pieces he has available, you can cycle through the different stats and they will be read to you and compared to your currently equipped piece. Simply orient yourself until the sound cue you are looking for is loudest and start walking. Sometimes you may bump into a wall or obstacle, just re-orient and keep going. You’ll encounter a few dangerous spots later in the game, like a stable on fire. You will need to keep an ear out for danger and use the distance of the sound to maneuver around it.
The battles are much more intense than I expected, thanks to the reflex-based inputs and immersive audio cues. The left stick controls the shield and the right controls your weapon. Each can be aimed in three directions: front, front right, and front left. Your opponent will be moving around in these directions and it’s up to you to listen to his movements to determine where he is and when he will strike. Enemies can block too, so you can either block and counter-attack or launch a pre-emptive strike the second you hear him move to attack. Charging up to use a power attack is also an option, but you need to watch out for your stamina, or else Alex will be too tired to attack. And just because you’re blind doesn’t mean your opponents will fight fair. A lot of times you will be engaged with multiple opponents that will gang up on you and attack you from all sides. Some of the dirty bastards will even shoot arrows and axes at you during the fight. The Vale does a great job of gradually increasing the difficulty and adding in new elements and enemy types to keep you on your toes. There are no visual indicators of things like health or stamina, so it’s necessary to listen to cues, like heavy breathing or injured groaning. There is a vibration option for haptic feedback but it didn’t seem to work for me that often.
So now that you know how the battles work, I want you to try something. Close your eyes and imagine you’re engaged with two opponents. You hear heavy breathing shuffling to the left from the one you injured. Directly in front of you, you hear leather gloves creaking as they tighten on a weapon, the slight clinking of chainmail in motion, and a deep-chested growl as he lifts his weapon high in preparation for a heavy attack. As you contemplate whether to strike fast or block, you hear screaming coming from your right as a savage comes charging at you to attack, but then you also hear the whoosh of an axe flying head over head towards you so you quickly bring up your shield and are rewarded by the satisfying thunk of a blocked attack. When all this is happening in real-time, it can be pretty damn thrilling. While The Vale: Shadow of the Crown clocks in around 5 hours when all is said and done, it may just be one of the best surprises of 2021.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8/10
Player2Reviews aims to be a reputable second opinion on the gaming industry covering news, reviews, and commentary on all things pop-culture!
All 3DS Batman #BreakdownsAndBrews DLC Giveaways Google Play Hardware IOS/Android Late Night Netflix Let's Play Movies News Nintendo Nintendo Switch Original PC Player2Plays Preview PS4 PS5 PS Vita Review Reviews Steam Submissions #TBTReview Trailers Twitch Unboxing Video Games Xbox Xbox One Xbox Series X/S Youtube