Stories of Blossom accessibility review

Marijn / ActiveB1t11 minute read

Stories of Blossom accessibility

Stories of Blossom is a point-and-click accessibility masterclass. The flexibility of the controls allows play with limited mobility. The extensive and customizable narration options are more than enough to convey all information to blind players, while the captions do the same for hard-of-hearing players. The simple structure and hint system further add to the cognitive accessibility.

Pros

  • Flexible control settings
  • Excellent dialogue and text to speech
  • Clear and customizable subtitles
  • Element highlighting and descriptions
  • Cognitively load is minimal

Cons

  • Element highlighting isn't saved between play sessions
  • Clickable area doesn't always line up with signs at the edge of screen
  • Button prompts aren't narrated in focus navigation

Stories of Blossom is not new to us, as we’ve reported on the game several times. With the release of the finished game last week, developer Soft Leaf Studios sent CIPT a code to review the accessibility of Stories of Blossom. I should note that while Can I Play That? is included in the special thanks section of Stories of Blossom’s credits, we were not involved in the development in any way.

Initial settings including text to speech, audio descriptions, navigation (set to point), highlight color, text size, windowed mode and brightness.

On startup, the game goes through several screens guiding the player through options to set these to their needs or preferences. Text to speech is enabled by default, reading aloud the instructions and button labels. It’s possible to use a mouse or controller interchangeably at this point. In doing this, players also get their first instruction on how to interact with elements on the screen. After this the starting screen appears allowing players to start the game or adjust further options.

A stress free experience

Stories of Blossom is a great game whose story is appropriate for many age ranges and cognitive abilities, as long as the player is familiar with the English language. There is no pressure from time limits or potential failure that blocks progress. The game auto-saves on every location change, so players are unlikely to lose progress. Additionally players can manually save and load games allowing them to play the game at their own speed.

The game is presented in three stories, told to Clara by her grandfather. Clara plays the protagonist, helping her deal with her feelings by helping characters dealing with the same.

The protagonist stands next a stall with a cookie crumble character selling tickets. Another crumble stands blocking the path to a village in the distance.
A prompt on the left reads: Select the sidebar for more options.

As in any point-and-click adventure, I needed to find objects and use them in the correct spots to achieve the game’s goals. Unlike many others, there is no option to combine items within the inventory. This helps reduce the complexity. I just needed to find the items to solve a puzzle, which helped me get the items I needed for the next puzzle. The first location acts as a quick tutorial, guiding the player through the interactions needed to collect and use an item.

The number of screens (locations) increases in every story but remains manageable. With the increasing number of screens, the puzzles also increase in difficulty as the solution to them may require items or interactions found in multiple locations. Only one puzzle in the last story had me looping back and forth between two locations several times, as this was the only time this happened it didn’t become a nuisance.

Help is available when needed

Personally I never had to look for a solution too long, but when stuck, several mechanics are available to help the player. This includes the ability to highlight all interactable elements. Players can toggle highlights at any time, and they stay on between screens and interactions. I noticed highlights turned off between play sessions. It would be nice if they persist, not everyone might be able to press that extra button easily. It is possible to enable an on-screen highlight button to help with this.

In most cases the player can no longer interact with an element when it has fulfilled its purpose. Similarly items will disappear from the inventory when they are no longer of use. This helps avoid cognitive load, keeping the player on track. There is enough to do at any time to avoid the game from becoming a linear A to B experience.

Inventory tutorial in the diary, explaining to select an item to equip it, and how to use it or return it to the backpack.

The diary allows players to read back the story so far, and contains a list of goals. For each of these goals a progressive hint system reminiscent of Return to Monkey Island is available. It gives a single hint at a time, with several hints available for each goal. In case the hints haven’t helped, players can request a solution. Tutorials of interactions and inventory are available in the diary too, which is helpful for players new to the genre.

Control the game your way

Stories of Blossom allows a lot of customization of the controls. For my playthrough I mainly used the mouse, which allowed me to do everything without needing the keyboard. Similarly you can play with just a keyboard, or a controller.

Input settings for the select action. Primary input is set to left mouse button, secondary is set to E. Interaction is set to Press, with options visible for Press, Tap, and Hold.
Input delay is set to 0.

To help accurately select the elements you want, the selection method can be changed from pointer to focus. Point gives you a cursor, which works well with the mouse. For keyboard and controller, focus lets you cycle through elements through button presses. I say button presses, but players can also choose to set actions to either a double tap or a hold. To accommodate a player’s specific needs, it’s possible to set the duration for taps and holds. A sign appears on the left or right of the screen to indicate Clara can move in that direction. These are always visible when the player enabled highlighting, but I noticed the clickable area doesn’t always line up with the sign which could be confusing for some.

Minimal controls needed

This means that in its most simplified form players can play with one button when they are able to differentiate between presses and holds. For example I bound “Right” to a press of the A button, and bound “Select” to a hold of the same button. This allowed me to cycle through all options and select them. Otherwise two buttons are enough, inputs beyond that will make the game more efficient to play but aren’t essential.

Control mappings showing Xbox button prompts. Pointer control is set to left stick, while directional controls are set to right stick.
Other actions include Select, Deselect, Highlight, Side menu, Pause, Backpack, and Diary.

With a flexible control system like this it is of course possible to remap any action, and to multiple buttons. An input delay can be set for each action as well. The game automatically switches button prompts to the detected control method. In testing I was able to combine mouse control with a button press on the controller. This can cause some confusion as it defaulted to the press of the mouse button even when clicking the A button set to a hold. This is unlikely to be a real problem though.

Volume and adjustable subtitles

During my playthrough I didn’t encounter sounds that felt unbalanced. The game does provide a number of volume settings for music, sound effects, and voices. The only volume I adjusted here is my go to; the music. My auditory processing isn’t the best, so I always turn down music volume as it’s most likely to interfere with more essential sounds.

Clara is shown as Annie, the protagonist of this story.
The subtitles read: Don't be a barrier to yourself!

Subtitles are on by default in Stories of Blossom and it’s possible to further customize the appearance. The size is adjustable but as a default is already quite large. In terms of appearance, players can disable a black outline, and set the color for text, speaker names, and background from black, white, or one of 9 colors. For the colors it’s possible to set the saturation of that color to low, medium, or high. Opacity of the background is adjustable, but I never noticed it obscuring an important element while I played.

Subtitles with extra context

To give more context to the subtitles, speaker names are on by default, but players can choose to include intonation as well. This will show if someone is whispering for example. Enabling highlight hints are helpful to identify important words, such as an object you need. Highlight hints will show these in bold letters, but the ability to choose a distinct color may probably be more visible depending on the other settings.

Speaker name color settings, showing a grid of 9 colors next to the hue setting. An example of the subtitles with the current settings is shown below.

To make sure I didn’t miss anything, I changed the advancing dialogue option from auto to manual. This meant the subtitles remained visible and waited for me to click before progressing to the next bit of dialogue. Very helpful for me as I get distracted (interrupted) a lot. Players can enable captions for sound effects as well. Helping to identify the current highlighted element, the selection label shows the name of the element and, if enabled, the button prompt. Both of these default to on.

Storybook visuals

The game’s visuals consist of bright environments and characters, illustrated like a storybook. Interactable elements don’t feel out of place and may be difficult to distinguish, especially for low-vision players. This is where highlighting elements is most useful. To make the selected interactable elements easier to distinguish from other highlighted elements, the highlight is adjustable like the subtitle colors. The global text size, applying to menus, is adjustable as well.

The protagonist stands next to a spaceship on the left of the screen, on the right a sign is visible. The spaceship and sign have an outline.

In the foregound a mushroom character looks at stars reflecting in a pond. It is highlighted and a caption reads: Star gazing Fungaloid.

Players that are sensitive to bright screens can decrease the overall brightness of the game. It’s possible to play in windowed mode, but in my case this resulted in a relatively small window. The window size seems fixed at 1280 by 720 pixels regardless of screen resolution.

Narration and audio descriptions

The dialogue of the game is beautifully voiced. Audio descriptions are able to provide blind players with the visual context they might otherwise miss. These descriptions are voiced like the dialogue, describing the surroundings and characters with a friendly accent perfectly fitting the visual style of the game.

Audio accessibility screen with text to speech toggled on, voice set to James, speed and pitch both set to 110, and input and audio descriptions both on.

In addition text to speech can read out any text not already voiced. This includes element names, and button labels and prompts in menus and the game. As noted before this defaults to on, making the initial setup accessible to sightless players. Customization of text to speech includes a choice between three voices. Both speed and pitch are adjustable to better match the player’s preference and experience with text to speech. It’s possible to include input instructions to text to speech as well, telling the player the needed input, like an audible button prompt. In testing I did notice the input instruction wasn’t read in focus mode, this might be a bug as this navigation mode is best suited to sightless players who need that information.

I chose to play with the whole suite of narration options enabled. At some points I clicked to skip descriptions but never felt there was a point where the visual and audible information where mismatched.

Clara as a pirate standing in a small sandy clearing. A crow sits in a crow's nest on a ship's mast in the center. On the right a small hermit crab is visible.

Conclusion

For seasoned point-and-click players the game is quite short, but the price is to match. Completing the game, save for a few achievements, only took me a few hours. A few hours where I had a lot of fun exploring the stories, and I am sure to dive back in to get those achievements. In terms of accessibility, Stories of Blossom is a masterclass. Playing with limited mobility should be no problem thanks to the flexibility of the controls. The extensive and customizable narration options are more than enough to convey all information to blind players, while the captions do the same for hard-of-hearing players. The simple structure and diary with the hint system further enhance the cognitive accessibility throughout the game, making it suitable for young players and those new to games as well.

A review copy of Stories of Blossom was provided by the developer / publisher.

Enjoy our work? Please consider supporting us!

Donating through DAGERSystem / AbilityPoints with PayPal may be tax deductible

Marijn
(ActiveB1t)Website operationsHe/They

CIPT's resident one-person IT crew responsible for the looks, functionality, and accessibility of the site. Inclusion and accessibility troublemaker and creator of the Alt Or Not browser plugin for Twitter. Child of the 80's without an intention of growing up.

See all articles by Marijn

Follow CIPT

Latest from CIPT

(Opens in new tab) starting with