Game Info:

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown 
Developed By: Falling Squirrel, Creative Bytes Studios
Published By: Falling Squirrel Inc.
Released: August 19, 2021
Available On: Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X
Genre: Action Adventure, RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10+, Mild Violence, Alcohol Reference
Number of Players: 1
Price: $19.99

Thank you Falling Squirrel for sending us this game to review!

When I first saw this game, my immediate thought was 'I bet Sonny would love this!' You see, my wife's stepdad Sonny was blinded in Vietnam, and while he has done quite well for himself despite that, he has certainly sought out alternate forms of entertainment, since he's rather limited in that area. It's been a real challenge explaining to him what video games are like since he hasn't seen a thing since the late 1960s, but I bet he would absolutely love The Vale - and the best part is, even those of us with full vision have a lot to gain from it as well.

At its most basic level, a game is something to stimulate your imagination in order to help you pretend you are somewhere or someone else. Whether you pretend to be blasting aliens out of space, a rich landowner, or a plumber who saves (or eats) mushrooms, one's imagination plays at least a part in the experience. What makes The Vale: Shadow of the Crown so amazing is that it does an incredible job of putting you in Alexandra's shoes - and making her world feel real.

Alexandra is who you play as in The Vale, and she is a princess who was blind from birth. Her father chose her brother to rule the kingdom at his passing, and after it happens, she is sent off to rule a distant region in the borderlands. Near the end of her five hundred mile journey, her carriage is attacked, her uncle goes missing, and she is forced to rely on a stranger who says he's a shepherd in order to return to the kingdom she once called home.

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown

Strong Points: Absolutely incredible sound design; amazing voice acting; very interesting story; unique approach to combat; completely playable beginning to end with no sight required
Weak Points: Normal difficulty can be quite challenging, I recommend Casual; inventory management can be tedious if you can't see the text
Moral Warnings: Action violence, with audible screams during combat, and people cry out when they die; some enemies are undead or dark spiritual creatures; magic from another realm used by the player; character speaks to the dead/spirits

Most games use a combination of graphics and sound to tell a tale, and as a result, you can see things to fill in the gaps; most gamers might not notice if a sound effect is coming from exactly where it would be in real life - close enough is good enough, and our minds (and eyes) take care of the rest. If that extra visual data is missing, then sounds must play a much larger, or perhaps only source of information as our imagination fills in what's missing. And by adapting technology developed for VR headsets, The Vale makes an incredibly convincing world around you entirely using sounds, where everything is exactly where it sounds like it is. And unlike most of us sighted folk, you get to actually test if your instincts are right by walking to where the sounds come from.

Given the distance of her journey, and the dangerous world she finds herself in, it doesn't take long before she's forced to defend herself against nature or other enemy tribes with her sword, shield, and other implements. The way the game handles combat is quite interesting; enemies can only approach from the left, right, or center, and if she stabs (or defends) in the direction she hears them in, she's likely to hit them. You can stab in that direction repeatedly, but eventually you get tired, and need to take a moment to catch your breath. There is also a counter system, and eventually magic plays a role.

Outside of combat, the game is an interesting combination of audio storytelling and exploration. Some parts are scripted, where you just hear a conversation. At other points, you are asked to find something, or given freedom to explore a town on your own. In town, you hear conversations, music, or various sounds in the distance, and walking towards them shifts what you hear based on where you are. If you travel towards the clinking sound, you'll reach the blacksmith. If you head towards the music, the inn is likely waiting for you. These and other chatter makes for lively areas, and makes them all feel real. The forest has different sounds as well; each area sounds believably distinct.

In addition to exploring towns and the countryside as you travel, you can also perform side quests, and upgrade your gear. The process involved in purchasing and upgrading your weapons and armor is the only part where having vision gives you a significant advantage. There are statistics to compare, and there is text on the screen to compare them with. Of course the game will completely read the two sets for you to make it better for the visually impaired, but it is not as intuitive as the rest of the game's systems. But no game is complete without money and inventory management, so it is what it is.

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay - 17/20
Sound - 19/20
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 82%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The overall game time was around six hours for me, which is reasonable given the price point. If you complete every side quest like I did, then it's likely to take around that long. If you skip some of them, which you can choose to do, then it may be a bit shorter. I did find them all worth doing though, as you can earn significant coin, or earn upgrades. You can also just learn more about the game world, which is reward enough for me.

While the vast majority of the experience is through audio, there are visual elements that are completely optional for the player. For example, you see what amount to snowflakes, rain, or what amounts to eye dots that appears before you against a black background. They are colored based on the time of day or a few other story-based factors. Something to note: I am removing the graphics sub score for this game, and giving those points to sound/music instead. It's not reasonable to penalize a game for visual aspects when it's designed for the visually impaired.

Morally, it's fairly clean, with some things to note. I did not catch any curse words, nor is there any sexual content. There is violence, and the creatures you attack cry out or yelp when struck, and you can also hear them die when defeated. Spirits, magic, and clairvoyance/visions play prominent roles in the story. Some enemies are undead or other dark spiritual creatures, and you speak to departed spirits.

Technically, the game plays fantastically, and the system requirements are vanishingly low. I even played the game on Linux via Steam's Proton, and everything played perfectly. Both controller and keyboard controls work fairly well, though I preferred controller, as both analog sticks are used simultaneously, rather than the WASD and arrow keys together. While there is the rare bit of onscreen (but read out loud for the player) text, it's perfectly accessible.

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is quite a remarkable game, told in a unique format that I hope others emulate. While sadly our visit with Sonny was cut short this year – he didn't want to stay longer because of an impending snow storm – I did show this game to others who aren't normally into games and they were really impressed with the incredible sound design and interesting setting of The Vale, and even found the controls reasonably intuitive. Everyone who tried it was excited to have our blind family member check it out, and we promised him that the next time we get to have an extended visit with them, we're going to make sure he gets to play this game.

The Vale tells an engaging story in a unique format to reach an under-served audience. (Trust me – there are far too few blind friendly game titles out there.) If you or anyone you know is visually impaired, this game should be on your short list. And even if you aren't, it's an interesting tale told in a way that everyone, outside of the hearing impaired, can enjoy. Highly recommended!

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Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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