August 20, 2021

Review of The Vale: Shadow of The Crown - a game with no graphics

As a blind princess in peril, you'll travel through a mediaeval action RPG completely through the medium of sound.

Many people are unaware that audio games exist in a range of genres, ranging from driving simulators to turn-based role-players. Advancements in 3D audio and binaural sound have helped to broaden the popularity of games like Blind Legend beyond the blind community during the last decade, but there hasn't been an audio-only product that has made a huge splash in mainstream circles.

The Vale: Shadow of The Crown, from new developer Falling Squirrel, may not be the first to break this tradition, but it makes a strong case for how audio games can be enjoyed by anyone.

You play as Alex, a princess born blind who has been installed as the warden of a keep on the borders of the country by her elder brother, who has assumed the throne. Her crew is ambushed while her route to the borderlands, but she manages to flee, leaving her alone to complete a risky voyage through The Vale and return home.

The entire game is played in first person, but apart from some tiny particle effects, your screen is blank. As you’d expect from being in Alex’s shoes, you navigate 3D spaces by listening out for sound cues, like flowing rivers or yelling merchants, to navigate your way around.

There's also a lot of variation in the enemies, with mystical beings, wolves, and bears all having their own attack patterns. The boss battles are the outstanding obstacles, and because you can only imagine them through noises and other characters' reactions, you'll have to use your imagination to fill in the details of how terrible these encounters are.

Without the amazing voice acting and sound design, none of this would be as immersive. Even when certain characters fall into familiar mediaeval fantasy stereotypes, the humorous banter and acting make the experience easy to lose yourself in.

Alex's narrative is engaging and well-paced, with enough surprises and memorable twists to keep the action moving throughout the eight-hour adventure.

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