Review copy provided by Soft Leaf Studios.
Stories of Blossom is a point and click adventure, a genre that has historically been very difficult to play by Low Vision and Blind people due to accessibility barriers. Created by a small team at Soft Leaf Studios, this game tries hard to change that to make it accessible for everyone. I haven’t played any game like this in more than a decade, so I was intrigued by it. Let’s go together and see if they managed to solve this puzzle.
When opening the game for the very first time, the Text-to-Speech reads “Press any
button to continue”. Then, we have to select a box to play by pressing the A button. This
box is the save file you want to play. After selecting the box you want, we must adjust
the initial settings. It is worth mentioning that the narration was there from the very
beginning, making the entire process extremely easy.
The first screen has a few interesting options. The first on the top, like it always
should be, is the Text-To-Speech where you can turn it on or off. This reads any text on the screen through voice. This feature reads the information in the following order: Option name, option description, current value selected, the number of the selected option and the prompts at the end. If you change anything, TTS will say something like “Option set to On”. In my opinion, this is how it should work, having the most important information first and the least important at the end. There is nothing more annoying than having the option number being read first every time you select a new one, or having the prompts being read before useful information.
Next, we can turn on or off the Audio descriptions. I had watched videos of the game and without this feature I wouldn’t understand many visuals, so without hesitation, I turned it on. We can choose the Navigation type we want to use. We have Point that requires you to use the mouse or left thumb stick to search for items on screen using a cursor, or Focus that allows you to navigate between interactable objects by pressing the directions. I have tried both methods and I personally prefer to use the Focus mode because this way I don’t need to scan the whole screen to find what I need. It feels much more comfortable, simple and enjoyable like this.
On the same screen, we can change the Highlights Color. When pressing on it to
adjust, a different screen is shown. There we can change the color by pressing on Hue
and change the Colour Saturation between Low, Medium and High. When you hover
over a color, it will say, “Set the Hue of the Color to Red” for example. This way you will know the color you’re selecting. Why is this important? Sometimes we can’t tell the exact color, but we want to know what color we are selecting.
Still in the first screen, we can adjust the Text Size between 30 to 60. And finally, we can
turn the Windowed Mode on or off and adjust the Brightness.
In the second initial settings screen we can enable Subtitles and adjust the Subtitles appearance, but I turned them off since I can’t read text. The only option that I found useful for me is the Advance Dialogue where you can choose from Manual and Auto. I personally like when the dialogue progresses automatically.
Once we’re done with the initial settings and press continue, the Audio Description
kicks in and describes the studios and partners involved with high detail to how their brand logos look, with colors and names.
In Audio options we can adjust the volume. We can adjust the Master, Ambiance,
Voice Over, Music, General Sound Effects, UI sound effects, Text-to-Speech and Audio
Description independently. The volume sliders have a range from 0 to 100. The only thing I set down was the music. I set it to 60, but soon I realize that I didn’t need to do that because everything is clear and it does not get in the way.
Still in Audio Settings, we can adjust the Audio Accessibility. Like in the initial settings,
we can turn the Text-to-Speech on or off. We can select from three different Voices,
James, Beth and Molly. Adjust the Voice Speed from 50 to 300 and the Voice pitch
from 50 to 200. In this menu we can enable the Prompts Instructions and the Audio
Under Controls we can find the Navigation mode like mentioned before and remap all inputs for both keyboard and controller.
In Visuals we have the Highlight color, Text Size, like mentioned in the Initial Setting and finally a Highlights Icon that will show a symbol on the bottom right. Clicking on it will show or hide the visual indicator for all objects that you can interact with in a scene.
When the game starts, we get the cutscene audio description that in my opinion is
amazing. I wouldn’t understand what was going on in most scenes so, I really appreciate that the team added this feature to this game. Actually, if you’re a person with low vision or blindness, it’s a must have.
When you gain control of your character, the game will teach you how to play with simple tutorials. The tutorials and prompts on the top right corner are perfectly read by the TTS. It’s worth to mention that the text is really big, but still, in my case I’m unable to read it. Using the Focus Navigation method, you can press the directional buttons or the right thumb stick to navigate between characters, objects and items and the TTS reads all of them to you. I also want to say that, the ReadSpeaker voices are amazing, with James being my favorite one.
You can access and interact with all elements with a button press. By pressing one button you access the side menu. This menu contains the backpack or inventory, where you can access your items, options and Diary. Those features have also a direct access button if you prefer. Pressing another button you can Toggle Highlights on and off for all objects on screen.
Pressing down, you can access the Diary where you can see your Goals, the Story So Far and Tutorials. When accessing the goals, you can unlock Hints and the Solutions for all the puzzles you’re trying to solve in the game. So, if you ever feel lost, you can get a hint or the solution for that. I don’t need to say that the TTS works here as well, because it works everywhere.
The cutscenes pictures are not easy to see, but thankfully the Audio description helps
me to understand every detail that is presented. On top of that, it works like a charm, as the dialogue pauses for the description, and once the description is done, we go back
to the dialogue. It also seems that these descriptions are given to us at the right time to
provide context before any action.
In gameplay, the overall contrast is awesome! The image is clear, and big enough to
see. The highlights are also great, and I can see clearly where my selection is but even if I couldn’t, I would know because of the TTS description. I’m not sure what a lot of the objects are by looking at them so here the TTS is the feature that allows me to know everything I need.
The best part of this game is the fact that it is extremely consistent. There isn’t anything
that changes from the initial experience. Move left or right to navigate and interact with
objects, select objects and characters to hear about them and their stories, pick and use items. In case you run into something difficult to solve, press a button to open the side menu, access the Diary and unlock hints or solutions… Everything is simple, intuitive and totally accessible.
To be honest, I never think about playing any point and click games because I know
that they are not accessible for me, and Stories of Blossom just changed the way I look
at the genre. It turned something that was impossible into a very relaxing and
enjoyable experience, all thanks to the features they introduced in this game. If you
read my reviews, you know that I always try to explain things to help players that are
not sure if they can play a game or not, but in this case there isn’t anything negative to
say. The whole experience feels natural.
Stories of Blossom came to change the way visually impaired gamers play point and
click games, and I’m sure that no other game of this genre will feel the same after this one. In my opinion, not only this game did well in this genre, but also a lot of what it does could be transferred to other games. TTS working and reading things in the right order,
consistent highlights, providing crucial information at the right times and great audio
descriptions. For any developer out there making point and click games, you should look at this game as a reference. With all that said, I can easily say that there isn’t a single barrier that I found and that says everything about the work and passion that this team put into this game.
- Consistent design.
- Text to Speech works everywhere.
- Great audio descriptions provide important context.
- Highlights have good contrast and are visible all the time.
- Simple controls.
- Hints prevent blockers.
Victor is a gamer with very low vision who is passionate about game accessibility. When he is not glued to the PC, he spends his days with his dog on long walks in green and beautiful places. Trying to improve every day in order to contribute as much as possible with the accessibility community. You can contact him on Twitter at @VictorAndre87