Check out our review of the audio-focused RPG The Vale: Shadow of the Crown…
With very little visuals, can this approach to the genre carry an adventure chock full of quests, characters and narrative? Watch on to find out…
Hey how’s it going guys! This is Tom from UDS and welcome to our review of The Vale: Shadow of the Crown, a brand new game by developers Falling Squirrel. We’re going to tell you everything you need to know before you play, and don’t forget to subscribe for more on all things gaming every single week. You’re not going to want to miss it…
I’ve reviewed a lot of games over the past few years, but The Vale: Shadow of the Crown might be the most unique to date.
You play the role of the recently appointed warden of a small keep on the outskirts of the kingdom ruled by your brother. Now on the surface, this might seem like your usual RPG affair, however things take an unusual twist when you find out your character has been blind since birth.
Instead of relying on your sight, you’re served audio cues and haptic feedback in your controller to make sense of the world around you. It’s a premise unlike anything I’d heard of before, but would it be enough to sustain a full gaming experience, complete with action, narrative and exploration? Watch on to find out…
So how does a game with next to no visuals work? Well, before you do anything, grab yourself a pair of headphones, preferably with noise-cancellation if you can. It’s the only real way to play The Vale, and when you do, you’ll quickly get immersed in this unusual world.
Each explorable area is filled with plenty of characters and noisy objects that work as waypoints to help you navigate your way around. If you’re a sighted player, it can all feel a little bit alien to start with, but I found myself quickly getting used to this new auditory, tactile world. From the crackle of fire to the thump of a blacksmith working, it’s strange how expansive a world devoid of sight can be.
The same can be said for the combat, which works in a similar way. You have to listen and feel out for incoming attacks, and pay attention to the footsteps of your enemies to work out where they are. Whatever difficulty you pick determines how much margin for error you have. Personally I found that normal offered enough challenge, while giving you enough space to understand and comprehend what’s coming next. You learn to trust senses that previously might’ve been supporting, and once you do, everything feels really responsive.
The controls themselves are fairly simple, which is definitely a good thing given the nature of the gameplay. Most of your movement and actions are done via the analog sticks, with in game choices occasionally requiring the trigger buttons. I think using the sticks was a nice choice, as it complements the tactile experience much better than clicking more static buttons.
While the way you navigate this world is very impressive, it’s more than matched by the world itself. There’s a deep, branching narrative, rich with colourful characters, plenty of variety and range of side missions to keep you occupied. Make no mistake, this is a full RPG experience that demands your investment, and will give you plenty of enjoyment in return.
The story is told through both natural, environmental exposition, as well as audio cutscenes and flashbacks. Normally I’m not a huge fan of narrative being spoon fed via cutscenes, but given the nature of the game I think it makes sense here, and the story is compelling enough that I looked forward to each next chapter.
And this is all augmented by arguably the best sound design I’ve come across in a game. From each fully voiced character, to the ambient buzz of the wildlife around you, this is a vibrant, living world. It’s a unique, magical experience allowing your imagination to fill in the gaps and paint a fantastical tapestry as you explore.
There are these colourful dots that serve as your only visual connection to your surroundings, but honestly they’re not needed, and if I could I’d play the whole thing blind folded to truly let the soundscape take centre stage.
It’s also worth mentioning how by focusing entirely on the audio, The Vale is one of the first games to be truly inclusive for totally blind players. Regardless of your level of sight, everyone will be able to enjoy the full package, and it’s impressive and admirable how Falling Squirrel have not only made an accessible video game, but a deep, expansive experience to rival many established franchises.
Phrases like ‘essential plays’ get thrown around a lot, but I think The Vale is just that. Not only is it a great time, but it might allow sighted players a greater perspective and understanding of the experiences of those less fortunate than themselves. And with the world as it is now, a little understanding is always welcome.
But what did you think of The Vale: Shadow of the Crown? Please let me know in the comments below, I love reading your thoughts. And while you’re there, please consider subscribing for more video game content every week, or visit upsidedownshark.com to find out more about everything we’ve got going on.
But until then my name is Tom, this has been UDS and we’ll see you next time.