Lifting the Vale on the Vale: A Review

Let’s get this out of the way right now. The Vale from Falling Squirrel is one of the greatest audio games of all time. It stands with Blind Drive, having features that separate it from the pack of audio games out there. It raises the bar for what is possible in audio games, and shows just how far the subgenre has come. The Vale, man. It’s good. Let me tell you why.

The Vale’s gameplay is very, very, very inspired by A Blind Legend, but don’t let that put you off in any way. The Vale takes that concept and multiplies it by 1000. It sports RPG elements, (equippable and sometimes modifiable gear, multiple weapons, a small magic system), that a Blind Legend didn’t possess. And while it has similar combat, (right stick to swing your sword left, right, or center), it also has explorable towns, side questing, and other things I’ll get to later. That’s not a bad thing, though. Make no mistake, a Blind Legend is also a good game, and iterating has been a thing in games since forever. This was the natural progression, and the Vale does a smashing job of it.

Honestly though, the gameplay mechanics are only part of this equation. There’s so much good here. The overall audio design, the use of 3D audio, the little things like how the game often doesn’t cheat when an NPC moves away from you. In a few cases, they don’t disappear for quite a long time, and can be followed. I don’t care that I can no longer interact with them at this stage, but the fact that I could still see in which general direction they’re headed is cool to me. And that’s not all.

The voice acting in the Vale… It’s insane! Of course, lots of that comes from the fact that Falling Squirrel pulled no punches here. You have voice actors from video games like Far Cry 3 and 5, and even TV actors from shows like The Expanse. In an audio game! And all of them, seriously all of them, do a fantastic job, with some truly standout performances amongst them. Dennis the Traveling Merchant may low key be one of the best characters in the game. Just my opinion, but that’s a solid, solid performance.

And then there is the quiet, mostly subtle use of player choice mechanics. This one really got to me, because it’s implemented in such cool ways. I won’t spoil anything here, but let me just say that it doesn’t just matter what obvious choices you make. Which actions you take, which characters you speak to and which you ignore, which areas you visit and which you don’t, and even the order in which you do all these things, matters in the Vale. Full disclosure here, you can’t change the ending, but little bits of malleability sprinkled all throughout the journey give the game tremendous replay value. Trust me, once you start noticing your affect on the world, you will want to play the game more than once.

I think that’s nearly all I can say about the Vale without spoiling things. I will add that the game will take you from 4 to 6 hours to complete depending on how much exploring and side questing you do, but when you factor in your replays, you could spend a good 15 to 18 hours in total. There is just nothing about this game that isn’t done well. Even the marketing is spot on, as mainstream gaming media and content creators are picking up on it, which is just wonderful to witness. I was truly honored to be part of the beta team for the Vale, and I hope that you feel it has the polish we tried to give it. The Vale is available now on Steam, ich.io, and yes, Xbox consoles! So if you’ve been on the fence, or haven’t heard of it, or would just like to try out an audio game, please pick up the Vale. I’m confident you won’t regret it. Thanks for reading!

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