Hearing is believing.

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is an adventure RPG that is fully blind accessible. Its graphics are nothing more than floating points of light, kind of like what you see when you close your eyes. The game relies on story and binaural audio effects to push gamers through. In this case, that’s enough.

The lack of visuals is worked into the narrative. You play as Alex, a princess who’s been blind since birth.

On a trip to her castle, her carriage is attacked by an invading army, leaving her alone and helpless. Well, maybe not helpless. As you continue to learn through flashbacks, she was taught to fight at a young age, relying solely on sound to defeat her enemies.

Movement is handled with the left analog stick, weapon use with the right. Early on, we’re told to approach a river for some water. If you’re heading in the right direction, the flow of the river gets louder. Unfortunately, your drink is cut short by wolves. You can hear them growling outside your reach, but when that growl becomes noticeably more discernible, you flick the right stick in the direction you want to swing your weapon.

Angry wolves are one thing, but how about human opponents? There, you’re listening for breathing, the creak of leather armor, or the clanging of metal. All the while, we hear Alex’s thoughts. Has she learned anything from her past that can help her out of the myriad dangerous situations in which she finds herself? Even meeting people is tricky. “Friend or foe?” she calls out when noticing someone approaching. Sometimes that’s not revealed until the person realizes she’s blind, as that can obviously affect their intentions.

For those of us who are used to the lush visuals of RPGs, you may think a 5-to-6-hour game played in total darkness could wear thin.

But it doesn’t for a few simple reasons. First, there’s the fact that it follows the typical action/adventure tropes, and that provides some familiarity in the unusual darkness. Rat extermination quest? Check.

Second, the voice acting is top notch. I’m that guy who will set the audio to Japanese just to avoid subpar English acting. That’s obviously not an option here considering the lack of subtitles, but the acting is great. Alex confronts danger with reserved determination that’s neither too vulnerable nor too confident. She comes across as being real, as do most of the people she encounters. Some acting is a bit over-the-top, but most of it is grounded and effective.

Of course, the audio effects are outstanding, too. They’d have to be during combat, where picking up even the most subtle of sounds is key to winning. Left/right separation is obviously clear. Attacks from the front were initially harder to detect, mainly because they sometimes sounded like they were coming from above or behind. Once I figured out that a forward attack worked on anything not coming from the sides, this wasn’t an issue.

Perhaps the most impressive audio feature, however, are the ambient effects. The amount of audio detail and the balancing of something like a simple carriage ride was very cool. I can’t describe why—it’s something you’d just have to hear—except to say you never realize how many audio details are omitted from games that rely on the visuals to create a sense of place.

Of course, considering the game’s dependence on audio, the developers do recommend you play The Vale: Shadow of the Crown on headphones. I didn’t even attempt this game in docked mode, and I thankfully have a fantastic set of Sennheiser over-ear headphones that were up to this task. That also means it’ll be difficult to play where outside noises can interfere with what’s going on in the game. This may not be one to try on noisy commutes.

The game isn’t all combat, however. This being an RPG, the game knows to provide merchants for item upgrades, quests to accept for various rewards, and key decisions to make along the way. Deciding to travel at night can help you avoid detection by the invading army, but it limits the amount of help you’ll get from your sighted traveling companions.

Also, it helps that your upgrades and other UI interactions are guided by a friendly narrator. This is key for visually impaired gamers, of course, and provides the option for gamers with sight to stay fully in character as Alex.

From my point of view, the biggest accomplishment of The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is that it became more than just a unique gaming experience. After about half an hour in, I was hooked on the story, the characters, and the audio presentation. I wanted to complete it not as an experiment, but as a gamer who enjoys quality adventures. I hope to play more from the development team at Fallen Squirrel, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they’re able to evolve gaming for blind and low-vision players.