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access_time August 26, 2021 at 10:21 AM in Reviews by Josh Boykin

Review | The Vale: Shadow of the Crown

The splash page for The Vale: Shadow of the Crown. A dark, shadowy woman holding a sword and shield stands over a silhouetted valley.

Video games often rely on visuals to help convey their effects. Whether they’re lifelike or cartoonish, pixelated or polygons, graphics are usually a cornerstone of a game. This is not the case with The Vale: Shadow of the Crown: you can play the entire game with no vision at all. A high-fantasy action RPG, players take on the role of Alex, a blind princess fighting to return to her homeland. Using great voice acting, audio engineering, and a streamlined combat system, The Vale provides a full-fledged RPG experience for players with any level of sight.

Alex is the princess of a kingdom where her brother has just been crowned king. Born blind, she’s often overlooked and underestimated, and she’s sent away from the castle to be warden of another space. On her way to visit the castle , her party is attacked by invaders and thrown off course. As Alex, alongside your new companion “Shepherd,” you’ll fight your way across the lands, and meet new friends who help you find home…and your secret destiny.

Fighting with no sight

A field of orange dots are spread against blackness like stars.
Players with sight will see a changing starfield for almost the whole game.

I’ll start out by saying: this is not a game just for people with lower vision. The Vale: Shadow of the Crown covers all the points you’d expect from a fantasy RPG. It features customizable gear, detailed story, explorable locations, side quests, branching plot, dynamic combat, and more. You’ll move around each area in a first-person style, using the sounds of the environment to help you navigate. When you’re in a town, you’ll hear the yells of street vendors mixing with the music of the local tavern and the metal clangs of the local blacksmith. This also goes for hunting wildlife in nearby forests, or creeping by nearby attackers. This is full movement in a open space with no grid to guide your steps. Though you might be able to play without headphones, I’d HIGHLY recommend them, especially for combat.

The Vale’s combat happens in real time, with enemies attacking either in front of you or on either side. Listening to sound queues, you can swing your sword at enemies or raise your shield to block. Combat grows in complexity over time: you’ll fight multiple enemies simultaneously, listening for small cues about attack patterns. There are three difficulty levels that you can shift between, so you can set your own challenge. For me, playing on Normal felt like the right balance of toughness, forcing me to really learn each enemy type and their attack patterns. Eventually you’ll unlock magic as part of the plot: it doesn’t change combat much though, and I found myself often forgetting about it. Though longer fights can feel a bit redundant when enemies don’t vary their attacks, I still had a good time.

Hearing is believing

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown’s highlight by far is the quality of its audio. The voice acting in particular is top-notch. As you push from city to city you’ll meet characters with a wide range of accents and vocal affects. I particularly appreciated the game’s characters: each person felt like they had lives and backstories of their own.

The overall plot isn’t anything too revolutionary: a princess fighting her way back home, finding powers, and learning family secrets along the way. Still, I appreciated the attention paid to Alex’s personality as a whole. Her blindness is part of her experience, but it’s only a portion of her character instead of the center. Her learning about the outside world, the struggles of those outside royalty, and more help shape her story over time. It’s makes The Vale feel like a complete game: all the pieces tying together in a cohesive whole.

Personally, I’d love to see more games like The Vale: Shadow of the Crown in a wide range of settings. This game helps prove just how widely games can reach and how many players can be brought into the fold. Even with some plot that felt middle-of-the-road, The Vale’s framework sets a great example for zero-vision games. I hope it’s one of many to come.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

GotGame is on OpenCritic, check out our reviews here.

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