The Bard's Tale
The Bard’s Tale in fact already exists for 20 years. Originally it was one of the first games to call itself an rpg and came out on pc and some old, old consoles. Now, the original producer, Brian Fargo, released a modern version on pc, PS2 and Xbox. I made a little walk with the PS2 version to see if the bard didn’t play out of tune.
The Bard’s Tale is built up like most similar titles. First you’ll receive a couple of small quests in order to warm up, after which ‘the big quest’ commences. You, a simple, lonely bard that spends his days making a pass at barmaids, is sent out to rescue an imprisoned princess, thus saving the world from evil. While traveling, you’ll come along some side quests, but they never take very long to complete and aren’t always obligatory. Due to this, the game is quite linear and after finishing it, there’s no real force that makes you want to do it all over again.
The Bard’s Tale does have three different endings. However, these don’t depend on how you played through the game, but merely on a choice you have to make in the end. This way, fortunately, you can experience all different endings without having to play trough the whole thing again.
The gameplay isn’t something out of the ordinary either, it’s even quite monotonous. It’s all about hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies with your sword or bow. Lucky for you, you’re not on your own. Being a bard, you can summon some helpers with your instrument. As the game progresses, you’ll learn new songs and thus be able to call other or stronger allies, all-in-all sixteen. When your bowman, healer or electical spider passes out, you can simply re-summon it, in exchange for some mana. When starting off, one can only have one active creature, but with better instruments come more active allies, up till four.
The A.I. of your helpers is quite good. They almost never hang around corners and always choose for a full-scale attack. Some basic commands (follow, stay here, attack) are available, but won’t be used very often.
Next to physical helpers, there are also four different spirits to aid you with magic. The spirit of princess Caleigh can heal you, another one entangles enemies, sends some flying swords around you or develops a devastating whirlwind that follows you. In order to summon these however, you’ll need some adderstones, of which you’re lucky to find quite a bunch. A downside to this however is that, while one spirit is active, another cannot be used. Quite annoying when you’re in desperate need of healing, but you’re unable to heal yourself since there’s this whirlwind chasing you …
When the bard dies, you’ll inevitably have to load back from your last save point. Saving the game is done on predetermined save points – what did you expect ? The good thing is there are quite a lot of them, almost in every level at least one, so they’re no pain in the ass.
The rpg influences are kept to a minimum. The bard receives experience points when he, or his allies, defeat enemies or when he completes assignments. After a while, he can level up and increase six different qualities: strength, vitality, dexterity, charisma, luck and rhytm. Only the last two are unusual; luck has a certain effect on different aspects throughout the game, while rhytm increases the qualities of the creatures you summon. After every two levels, a new talent can be taught to you. These are very different, ranging from a new, powerful move with your sword to the training of your faithful dog.
The graphics are alright. Everything looks fine and, even with a lot of enemies running around on-screen, there aren’t any noticeable framedrops. The only complaint I have, is about the fixed top down camera view. Not only is it a bit old-fashioned, you can’t see very much of the environment around the character. When using the bow, for instance, I often couldn’t even see what I was hitting. There is a mini map that shows the location of nearby enemies, but a small angle in the camera would’ve been helpful.
The sound isn’t that great however. The short tunes the bard plays and the background music are quite simple, the one-liners from the NPC’s are very repetitive and the sound effects are only of standard quality. The only cool thing about all of this, are the songs that are sometimes sung throughout the game. Players can sing along – rest assured, I of course never have – since the text is displayed in karaoke style. The songs are catchy and the text is quite witty, as are the characters dancing around.
Up till now, you might consider The Bard’s Tale a very mediocre game. There’s nothing really wrong about it, but on the other hand, it doesn’t add anything new to the genre. And it’s true, except for one thing: The Bard’s Tale is hilárious ! You end up in crazy situations and all the clichés from the genre are dealt with. Let me clarify with some examples.
In fact, the bard isn’t interested in saving the world. All he wants is coin and cleavage, resulting in some very funny dialogues. The narrator always laughs at the bard, and sometimes both even end up in a quarrel. When arriving in a town, looking for some guy named ‘Bodb’, it appears four persons are called ‘Bodb’. Everywhere the bard encounters young men who claim to be ‘The Chosen One’ who have to rescue the princess. However, they always die in a very silly way.
As stated, The Bard’s Tale is no die-hard rpg at all. In fact, it’s only a mediocre action adventure, with some rpg elements incorporated. Although a bit monotonous, the game is fun to play. But what makes it so nice is the humour. Fans of the genre that feel like playing a more light-footed game have a good reason to give this one a try. It keeps you entertained, when completing all quests, for some 15 hours, after which the final credits will appear. Not that extensive, but the game just isn’t diverse enough to keep you going any longer.