A State Of Constant Confusion
This is going to be an unpopular blog post, and I’m okay with that. It seems our niche in the audio gaming world is to cover topics everyone else avoids, to voice thoughts people tamp down because they don’t want to deal with the backlash. This is something I’m also guilty of, and I was honestly going to avoid reviewing this game for exactly that reason, but then I had a case of getting the F over it. Things need to be said, things that many with a voice are pretending isn’t real; just so they can cozy up to someone in the hopes that they’ll be graced with their great presence at a later point.
Title: The Vale: Shadow Of The Crown
Developer: Falling Squirrel
The Vale on Steam
The Vale on itch.io
From The Developer
The Vale is an audio-based action adventure game that places you in the worn leather boots of a blind adventurer.
- 5 hours+ gameplay.
- Specialized 3D audio provide an incredibly immersive game experience
- Action-adventure with RPG elements: Choose equipment, play-style, magic abilities, companions and quests.
- Emotionally engaging story, quality sound design and voice performance.
- Fully blind accessible
- Headphones recommended for best experience
As your elder brother takes his place on the throne, you are made warden of a small castle on the outskirts of the kingdom. Blind from birth and sheltered for much of your childhood, you welcome your exile as a chance for a little adventure.
En route to the castle, your convoy is attacked by a huge invading army. You find yourself alone in hostile lands where you must scrape together supplies and seek out allies in hopes of surviving the long, dangerous journey home.
The path home follows a dark and winding valley known simply as “The Vale”. It shrouds the land’s darkest secrets including startling truths about your family’s past.
BSG Live Stream Of The Vale From September 5, 2021
This stream is our second attempt at playing The Vale. The first attempt we got drunk,and it turns out that is the best way to play the game. It may not be the best way to show the game mechanics and features however, so we streamed it a second time without the alcohol, and you can listen to that stream below.
Content Warning! BSG streams are not for minors, nor are they for those who get offended easily. The main point is to entertain people, tell jokes, and play a game while gaming. If you don’t like this then there are plenty of clean streamers out there for you to enjoy.
Download the stream archive
A Quick Note
This review was originally only about the vale, but as I wrote it turned more into a review of all the games like the vale that keep being put out. Though this covers the vale in depth, and the issues I have with the game, it is also about other games released in the past. Games I feel all share something in common with The Vale. You may disagree, and that is fine, though I very highly doubt those disagreeing will feel fine with the opinions I express in this post. It is always a one way street after all.
The Difference Between Audio Games and Audio Games
This seems to be a distinction many people aren’t aware of. When we say audio game everyone thinks it is just an audio game, but it is not this simple. There are two very different definitions of an audio game. The first is that which is a game, but instead of visual cues they are replaced with audio cues. Think something like BK3, swamp, a hero’s call, STW, many very popular games fall into this category. The second type is a game where audio is the challenge, not the adaptation. Think something like blind drive, A blind legend, and The Vale. These are not normal games with audio cues, instead they are making audio both the experience and the challenge.
The simplest way I’ve found to determine if a game is one or the other. If you were to take an audio game and replace the audio cues with visuals, how would it hold up? With BK3 it would be the same, it is very similar to many platformer games out there. With Swamp it would be great, it is exactly the same as many FPS shooters out there. With STW it would be good since it is similar to many world building and exploration games out there, but the tile based movement wouldn’t work out too good. With A Hero’s Call it would be the same as it is just a standard RPG, granted one that is pretty great, but the same things apply whether it is audio or visual based.
The trouble with this comes with games like Blind Drive, A Blind Legend, and The Vale. If these games were turned from audio games to video games, how would that go for the new sighted clientele? This doesn’t take much thought, because you are either lying or dim to think these would make great video games. The reason they wouldn’t be taken serious is because of the game’s overly simplified mechanics, the mechanics made for the poor little blind people who can’t do anything difficult. It is this that I am not okay with as a blind gamer, I don’t need simplified mechanics to be able to play something. The issue will never be the difficulty of doing something in a game, it is the accessibility of doing something that is the barrier.
This is why I am not constantly raining praise on developers who put out overly simplistic games. I find it very difficult to view it as anything other than patronizing to every blind gamer out there. In the real world everyone is saying we can do the same things as a sighted person, but when it comes to gaming everyone seems to forget this previously made claim. We can’t handle a full open map with 360degree rotation and combat, we can’t block, attack, switch weapons, throw spells all while holding a map in our head and navigating. The only way a blind gamer can fight in a game is if they don’t move, and only have three directions to deal with. This is how most developers have learned to view our capabilities at this point, and it is our own fault for giving them that impression.
There are groups of blind people out there who crave the gaming challenge. They want to fail again and again, then finally succeed because they got better at the game. These blind gamers are normally playing main stream games like MK11, Gears 5, The Last Of Us 2, Hades, anything they can get their hands on that is even remotely blind accessible. This is because a 50% playable mainstream title is better than an audio game that assumes you have the gaming skills of a child simply because you are blind. Many gamers don’t want to be given easy to play games, we want to be challenged and have to fight and adapt in order to progress in a game, but this is getting harder and harder to find.
This is the root of the frustration for many blind gamers. When something like The Vale comes out people want to like it, we want to enjoy it and have a fun time playing it, but that is made very difficult by the limitations place on the game by the developers.
I wanted to enjoy the vale, I was excited for it, I honestly was…until I saw the combat system. It is your standard blind left right center fighting. However if you complain about this mechanic people are quick to jump up and say it is different, it is more complex than others. That is great, but something that is more complex is keeping all that, then using full range of movement and rotation on a map with obstacles. Every video game you play is going to have these mechanics, so simply ask yourself. Why Doesn’t audio game X or Y also use these same mechanics? Why am I just standing still and hitting someone on left right or center? Why aren’t video games using this mechanic if it is so great? Again the answer is simple, clear, and apparent to anyone who is being honest with themselves. It is a bad way of handling combat, it really is that simple. The only reason it is accepted here is because we are poor blind people and couldn’t do anything else.
It Is An Audio Game, & They Did Focus On The Audio
This is the one silver lining in the game for me. Alone it is not enough to carry the game to greatness, but it is a solid positive I can latch on to. For me audio in a game is only the window dressing, and it should add to the experience, not be the experience.
Overall the audio design is pretty on point, and really adds to the feeling of being in a new world when playing. This is done through the use of well spaced audio cues and ambiences to make you feel like you are in a town, not just playing a game. Each map is clearly well thought out, and filled with different audio landmarks and ambiences to add to the experience. The audio landmarks and people you talk to fit in, they don’t seem awkward or out of place, and that is always good when the goal is world emersion like it is in The Vale.
All that said, it is not enough to take the game to a score of good for me. Even if every foley artist on earth made custom designed audio for The Vale, it wouldn’t fix the major issues with the mechanics and the story of the game. Audio cannot make a game great, it should enhance the experience, and even if the audio is a 10 out of 10 here, it doesn’t make up for the game play being a 1 out of 10 and the story being filled with holes even a poor blind person could find.
How Does This Story Make Sense To Anyone?
One thing I’ve heard a lot about when it comes to The Vale is how great the audio design is, and how much people enjoy the story. While I am onboard with the audio design being good, the story falls short in so many different ways. The game is definitely being driven by the story, and that is okay in a story game, but not in something under the action adventure RPG categories (which is used to describe the game on the Steam page).
The quick summary is that you are a princess, and are lost due to a ambush. You meet up with a nice shepherd man, and with his help you need to make your way back to your daddy king. The game is this story, you making your way back home, doing quests, and the character development of yourself, the shepherd, and those you meet along the way.
You are blind…because of course you are, oh yeah and you are also the only person fighting, the shepherd with the working eyeballs does nothing and all enemies ignore him. This is one of the most obnoxious things about the game, and it completely brakes the story at every turn. Every time there is a demon bear, a bandit, a monster, the blind girl is going all left right center, but the guy with eyes is doing nothing what so ever to help in anything. He actually adds nothing to the story in any way, except for the blatantly obvious romantic interest later as the princess realizes shepherds are people too. I haven’t actually played the game that far, but it is sign posted everywhere along the way.
This makes me very confused, I don’t get the constant shouting that it is about the story here. The story is broken, but everyone is ignoring it. If you want your game to be story based, then you need a solid plot, setting, and character development the same way a novel or movie would require it. That simply is not the case here, and it is so blatantly obvious that I am honestly confused why people are holding to the story as the shining part of this title.
In full disclosure I have not played the game all the way through, nor will I be playing it any more. All my time spent with the game was on stream, and we only made it up to the point where magic is suddenly introduced through Maggie. Not only does Maggie somehow manage to make it to the same point on land faster than we do by boat, but at this point we get magic introduced into the game, and the way we use it really doesn’t make sense. Anyone who has played any RPG knows when fighting something made out of fire using fire attacks isn’t going to be a good idea, however it works great in The Vale. Maybe the magic is explained later, but I doubt it, and I won’t be making it that far because of the reason we ended stream and why I have 0 interest in ever downloading this game again.
Death Means Exactly Zero
In most games death is used as a way to add suspense, to give meaning to failure, and encourage you not to fail over and over. This is commonly done through the loss of currency, experience points, skills, equipment, something that won’t make the game impossible, but shows you that you can’t just fail repeatedly with no punishment. That is how most games work, but it is not how The Vale works. You can die literally one million times and it will have no effect on the game whatsoever. You lose nothing, there is no punishment, you just start right back over at the start of the fight and get to give it another try…again and again and again. This may be something a casual gamer likes, but it is not something I am looking for in a game.
It makes sense why this is the case, but I don’t have to like the reason. The amount of currency you can collect in the game is finite. This means you cannot lose currency on death, or the game would break. There is no leveling in the game, so you can’t lose experience. There is no real inventory or crafting so you can’t lose your stuff, there is just weapon, shield, and armor, and all that is tied to the finite amount of currency, so that has to stay. What you are left with is a game with no penalties for failure, and that is honestly a great disappointment. Maybe the failure of the developers to add in a reason not to die is the failure, and we are just meant to live with that, and it should be enough.
As I said above, this is a game for blind people who play some games, not for the blind gamer. There is a large group of people out there who will enjoy this game, and that is okay. This is not a site for the casual blind gamer though, and I’m reviewing it with that in mind. The mechanics are over a decade out of date, the story is shallow and lacking, and it has no RPG or adventure features. These are all things blind gamers look for, what we crave, what we wish for, but what we never get in a big production audio game. The one thing I cannot complain about is the sound design and voice acting, it is on point and I appreciate how well it was done. If it was up to me I’d rather trade great voice acting and sound design for a more open world, RPG elements like leveling, equipment upgrades, skill trees, character advancement, and a real combat system, but this falls short where I feel it counts.
If you like a story you can sort of play along with then this is for you. But you can honestly get a better story from reading a book, Graphic Audio, or watching a movie. There is no real choice in the game, so you’ll end up at the same place no matter what, and that makes it no different than any scripted production you consume. If you are a hardcore gamer then you probably are not going to find much you enjoy here, you’d be better off replaying Return Of The King which actually has some RPG elements and open world movement, and a solid turn based combat system.
The sound design is the only thing that is giving this any positive score for me. Nothing else about the game was enjoyable. I’ve played way too many games with so much more to offer, and that experience with audio games really hurts this game. If I had only played a half dozen or so games this would be great, but as it is, this was just not enjoyable.
Original Rating: 4 / 10
Updated Rating: 3 / 10
I originally rated this as 4 out of 10, but then I was informed that the shepherd is making fighting sounds in some fights? It sounds more like he is hitting a wooden boat with a stick though, and that just shit all over my previous statements about great sound design. He still doesn’t assist in any fights, and a poorly made sound off in one channel at a low volume hardly counts.
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5 Replies to “Smoke’s Review Of The Vale: Shadow Of The Crown”
I agree with pretty much everything in the review and I appreciate that you were willing to say these things despite the potential backlash and highlight things that many of us (including my self) were sort of just ignoring for the sake of our enjoyment.
Still though, only finishing a game half way when it’s this short is still pretty lame for someone writing a review on it.
I doubt it would have changed your opinion much, but the devs especially and any sighted people interested in The Vale stumbling across this probably would have taken the article more seriously if you had.
Also, you said your self that you know this game is meant for more casual/first time gamers. Given that, it’s hard to take some of your more general conclusions about this type of game as seriously, even if your personal opinions make plenty of sense.
Thanks for doing this writeup.
I have 2 points here, one regarding the game, one OT.
I played through the game telling myself that this is an audio game and can’t be compared to a mainstream game.
Personally I had fun with it for a few hours and that one playthrough was some good time spend, but nothing I would call revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination. I really hope that any future games these guys produce will incorporate more advanced systems of combat.
My second point is actually about PGA 2k21 because I couldn’t ffind anything other than the stream, how accessible is the hole thing in your eyes?
I quite like the sound of the game and how it feels, the problems for me start when I reach the green and have to putt the ball in, I always miss the first putt if it’s farther out, 5 feed and above give me trouble.
I suck at putting as well, but with practice it actually does get more doable. You can mess with your settings to allow for unlimited putt preview, but that is not something I have mastered yet. It is very dependent on the greens. Some courses are nice flat greens, others are like mini mountain ranges. So far what I’ve done is adjust my CPU difficulty to make it so I need to have a good 18 but not a crazy one, something like 5 under for example. This allows me to play at my level, and not a sighted person’s level. Also if you play online with other blind folks we all pretty much suck at putting and it becomes it’s own sideshow of the game, but par puts are pretty easy once you get use to the system. Also try and get as good as possible with your approaches. Once I did this I found myself getting birdies and pars a lot more often.
I couldnt have said it better. people clearly stated their disagreement towards these type of mechanics when they were doing the public demmo but they didnt make any changes in it.
Few things here.
Re: The weird fighting sounds the shepherd makes, I don’t think they were meant to be fighting sounds at all, but more like encouragement, i.e. you can sometimes hear him saying “Yes!” if you score a big hit. However that kind of crushes the tension of some of the scenes, so I still agree it’s a bit out of place. Other than that the sound design and voice acting is top notch.
The one form of upgrade that isn’t your weapon or shield does in fact involve your flaming weapon/shield. Every time you close a riift, the hand that you close it with will get a stat boost. Good in practice, but it does fall short given that it does not drastically alter the course of the game given you can fail infinitely.
The baker fight on hard mode is actually a legitimate challenge, I just wish there had been more of that in-game (i.e. multiple opponents and moving battle while in the dueling rounds in that tonw). Consequently, the general, even on hard, wasn’t nearly as challenging as the baker fight. You didn’t have two enemies going at you at once, one launching far deadlier attacks than the other. If death in this game meant anything, the baker fight would have been a perfect example of an area that you could actually improve performance in.
speaking of moving battle, the only thing that comes close is the fight with the fay witch who is in kahootz with the general. You alternate between doing rounds with multiple of the deadrise, and then you need to sidestep the witch’s flame attacks while still trying to center and get a good shot with your bow (speaking of which, even the hunting you can never run out of attempts for). Again, if given more of those fighting opportunities the game would have been much more of a challenge.
Now for the reason I think this is. Making a game for a general audience is a blessing and a curse as has been demonstrated many times, particularly when you’re pulling hard for funding from these organizations who probably expect an extreme novelty that can also be created for a general audience at the same time. So then you wind up with one of these. It might mean that Kickstarter and Indiegogo whould be employed if it means no creative/mechanical constraints, which is something I do hope they will do since they said they plan on making more games.