The Bard's Tale Review (PC)

The Bard is a hero in the true sense of the word; brave, handsome, a jack of all trades and pure poison for the ladies. Arriving at a simple inn to see if he could get a warm meal and a place to stay for the night, our hero finds himself caught in an epic quest to free the fair princess from an evil sorcerer on top of a tower. The bard embraces his destiny and bravely marches towards certain doom to rescue his fair Calleigh, oh what a brave man he must be...

Some of the tunes Bard has in his possesion The bard and his companions getting ready to kick some a**

Well, feel free to forget what you just read up there, the bard is nowhere near your typical hero. His appearance is one of your everyday bar fly; a bear gut, greasy hair, an unshaved face and the look of a man who just slept in his clothes are only bonuses to the quick wit and sharp toung he uses so often. The story begins with our hero arriving at a small village, and taking a quick pause in front of a local inn owned by the widow Mary McReary. Using his musical talents, he conjures up a rat and sends him into the inn for whatever reason. After hearing the scream of a fair damsel in distress, our hero lunges forward and "bravely" sends the rat back to the lute from which he came. After that heroic act, the widow sends the bard into her cellar to kill a rat... go figure, but the problem was our hero got more than he bargained for; a giant fire-breathing rat. He meets a mysterious old man down there, and gets a new tune from him; the lightning spider, with which our hero easily disposes of the rat, and wins the favor of the foxy widow. Well, the other morning, our hero talks to the old man who gave him the tune, and finds out about the princess in the tower. And thus the bard's tale begins...

Storyline aside, The Bard's Tale is basically a hack'n'slash dungeon crawl RPG and sequel to the all around well liked game from the mid 80's. The idea of the game is to, more or less, mock the fantasy genre, which is most obvious with the "princess in the tower" storyline. The bard's snide comments to almost everything are a huge bonus the parody stile of the game. Unfortunately, his comments are fun only at the beginning of the game, later on they get boring and repetitive, as does the rest of the game.

The first thing one notices is the lack of an inventory; whatever item you pick up, it automatically gets turned into silver (the currency in the game). But if the item is more powerful than the item you're using at the moment, you equip the newly found object, and the old one gets turned into silver. There are multiple weapon sets our hero can use; a sword and shield, a sword and dirk, a bow, a flail, a big two handed weapon (sword or axe), and a few slots for the special items you find. This system simplifies the game quite a bit, but pretty much takes all the joy out of buying a new weapon or armor. If you're prone to using magic in RPGs', The Bard's Tale might come as a disappointment, as there aren't any other than the 16 tunes the bard can utilize to summon a bunch of followers to aid him. Starting at a measly rat, and all the way up to a powerful knight who hacks his way through hordes of enemies with ease, the bard's summons are an essential part of the game... and of course, the better the instrument, the more followers he can have...

A merchant sucking up to Bard... a pure example how low can one man go An unwritten rule is to never, EVER step into a large field with tall plants... care to take a guess at what the Bard does next?

The level-up system is simple and offers nothing new, as one could expect from a hack'n'slash game. The bard has several attributes (such as dexterity, strength, toughness, rhythm etc). And every few levels, he learns a new skill such as Riposte, penetrating arrows etc. Every skill depends on a certain attribute, and to state the obvious, the higher the attribute, the more effective the skill is. The combat is, at the start, pretty interesting and fun to be a part of, but as the game progresses, it gets tedious and something you'd rather avoid if possible. It's quite a pity that this is a trait that exists in every single aspect of this game.

Aside from the usual swords, axes and flails, the bard also collects tokens and charms all through out the game. These tokens add various bonuses; most of them just adding attribute points, while others increase the total mana or health. The bard can also increase the total damage he inflicts and his armor rating for a short period of time by giving donations to a priest. By giving these donations, you also unlock all sorts of bonuses like concept art galleries, cinematics, take-outs and the karaoke-style songs you hear in the game.

The visual part of the game is pretty good, but nothing special. It uses the Snowblind engine used in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and it uses it pretty well even if the graphics tend to get a bit pixelised from time to time. Although the direct vertical perspective in the game takes getting used to, the depth in the game is very well portrayed.

The audio part of the game is excellent. The background music is a blend of lutes, flutes, and back pipes, giving the game a medieval feel. There's also a number of karaoke style songs all through the game, greatly adding to the medieval atmosphere. One other thing worth mentioning is the voice acting. One thing that's always funny is the constant bickering between our hero and the narrator. And considering that Cary Elwes (Robin Hood: men in tights) does the voiceover for the bard with a thick British accent, these squabbles tend to be hilarious.

The mercenary, one of Bard's companions... he's big, he smells like urine and beer, and can barely speak English... but hey, he's got a big axe The Bard's Tale... open it at your own risk

Top game moment:
The "dialogues" between the Bard and the narrator.

All in all, The Bard's Tale is a game with enormous potential. But, unfortunately, most of that potential was squandered who knows where. But you won't be sorry if you take a whack at it... after all, it does tend to make one laugh on occasion. At heart, the game is still hack'n'slash, so if you're a fan, go for it... if not, you'll just be disappointed. My suggestion is that you try it, who knows, you might like it, and you might not.