The Bard’s Tale (2004 Release for PS2, Xbox, PC, Mac, Blackberry Playbook, Android, Linux, and Ouya)

And I think this game is the most widely available title released since Tetris.

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A long time ago in that fantasy land that’s pretty accurate to actual legends and tales while still being campy and hilarious — you know the one– there lived a young boy who was tired of being hungry. He learned that travelers were paid just to sing songs at the local tavern. He dreamed of doing that someday. Having learned a magical tune that summoned a rat he stole a musical instrument and headed for the hills. He then traveled from town to town eliminating rat infestations he created with his rat summoning tune. You play as the sarcastic, pragmatic, sardonic, insufferable, kleptomaniacal, and rather roguishly handsome Bard as he uses his magical tunes and power of summoning to free a capture enchantress –seems pretty straight forward, what could possibly go wrong?

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Everything probably.

History

The Bard’s Tale is a game with a pedigree that goes back to the barely graphical text adventures of the 80s. The classic games didn’t actually feature the Bard as a playable character. The stories were the stories the Bard was telling to his audience. The final game in the Bard’s Tale trilogy was released in 1991. It came as a mild surprise to people when a new Bard’s Tale game was announced to be released in 2004 — I just imagine the conversation that lead to the game’s creation. At InXile headquarters two old nerds are chatting. “Do you remember those Bard Tales games?” one game dev asks. The other looks to him and says, “Yeah. But we never did figure out what the Bard’s story was, like where he came from.” Then I imagine they both start shouting in unison like a crescendo broken only by them running to their computers, getting to work, frothing at the mouth, and shouting “Make it! Print it!” repeatedly.

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The class games were real groundbreaking stuff. It had color and everything.

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It was 1985 and this was state of the fucking art.

The game is a lot like Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance and that would probably be because they both run on the same engine — which seems to happen a lot with fantasy games. One fantasy game comes out with a good engine and the other developers all jump on it.

The Bard’s Tale was released October 24th, 2004. It’s competition was The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (PS2, XBox, and Gameboy advanced), Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (Gamecube), and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2).

Experiences

I can’t think of the last time I had as much fun or laughed as hard when I was playing a game. The Banter between the Narrator and The Bard is comedy gold — especially when it’s ripping on videogame tropes. It was one of the games I played where I was having so much fun I didn’t care if I found all the loot. I stopped worrying about what I had missed or what would have happened if I had acted differently. It was one of the first games where I relaxed and had a good time.

Gameplay

In the game you control the Bard as he travels and completes various quests — and argues with the narrator. The signature system of the game is the snarky vs. straight dialogue system. In conversation the game will prompt the player to make the Bard respond with a sarcastic snarky quip or to play it straight. It might seem worthwhile to spend the whole game being honest and at least a little polite but that’s not the case. It’s very important to learn when the Bard can throw his weight around or whether he should just keep his mouth relatively shut — besides, being snarky is much more fun anyway!

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It’s always tempting which to choose just to see what The Bard will say.

The Bard isn’t the greatest of fighters or thinkers. Thankfully, if he upgrades his instrument, he can employ various allies to help him in and out of combat. Some summoned minions help in combat like the Mercenary who can dish out immense amounts of damage with his axe or the Witch who only ever learned healing spells. Some minions help in other situations like the elderly Explorer who can disarm traps, pick up loot, and find secret passages –if you’re going dungeon delving this guy is a necessity– or the rat who can earn you extra coin by frightening tavern keepers or frighten other enemies in combat. The Bard’s adventures will take him far and wide across the countryside so it’s important to mix up his minions to match the situation.

The Gush

The voice acting cast in this is really good. The Bard is voiced by Cary Elwes– though you might know him better as Wesley from the Princess Bride– and the Narrator is voiced by Tony Jay — though you might know him better as the Claude Frollo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Oh yeah, and all the dialogue from the lowliest NPC is great.

A game about bard’s has got to have music! And music the Bard’s Tale has. Every tavern features a new song for the Bard to perform or listen to. Every minion has a different tune that The Bard plays on instruments from the lute to the Shadow Axe — minions can even be upgraded by finding more music for their song.

The Bard’s only loyalties are to food, coin, and cleavage — not necessarily in that order– and I love that about him. Saving the world is just a means to the end of getting into the Enchantress’ pants — well it is if you’re snarky. To him, it’s not about saving the world and I’m able to connect to the character more because he doesn’t have a lofty quest.

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Even the game advertisements showcased this perfectly.

Something small but I really liked how the enemies dropped sellable loot instead of money. What Trow runs around with a coinpurse? None of them. But someone would pay some silver for a Viking’s sword.

The Kvetch

The Minions actually have personality, in some situations they can offer important advice and that’s good. What’s not good is listening to the crone wail, “Be healed!” Or hearing the Mercenary talk about how much The Bard is gonna owe him for this one for the thousandth time.

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That being said, they at least all look awesome.

The combat in this game is really clunky. Thankfully the minions do most of the fighting for you but in the early sections of the game The Bard will have to do the fighting himself. So it creates a weird downward difficulty curve where the game starts off more difficult that it ends… and that’s not how difficulty curves are supposed to work.

The game isn’t really great to look at. I liked the character designs but the background designs were usually stock and uninteresting.

The Verdict

This game is awesome. It’s for anyone who’s played Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age, Icewind Dale, and Planescape Torment and needs to take a break and have a laugh. The combats a little clunky but it couldn’t kill my good mood. This is a marvelous title and if you buy it on Steam then you get the original Bard’s Tale games for free if you feel like pulling your hair out through he laughs.

Next Week: Dungeon’s of Dredmor.

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