inXile
VU Games
Action RPG
1
10.27.04

The Bard's Tale


For those of you that remember the good old days of gaming, the name "Bard's Tale" is probably going to bring back at least a few fond memories. This game, made by its original producer Brian Fargo, will probably create a few more. This version doesn't feel at all like the original, but it is well made, comes with its own tone of sarcastic humor, and will offer you at least a few hours of good play interspersed with a few laughs at other people's expense.

In The Bard's Tale, you play "the Bard," driven for some reason to go find, as the game puts it, "coin, cleavage and carnage." This of course, requires you pick up items, kill a variety of beasts and people, and flirt with most of the ladies you encounter. Eventually, you'll find a quest to rescue a fair maiden from a tower who has lots of coinage and cleavage, and of course you're more than welcome to create as much carnage as you can on the way. If you think I'm being a bit rough on the cookie cutter plot don't worry, the game takes itself just about as seriously as I just did.

Graphics

The Bard's Tale looks about as good as any of the rest of the Snowblind games like Everquest: Champions of Norrath and Balder's Gate: Dark Alliance, and it has about the same amount of problems, but their all so easily ignorable that it won't detract from your gameplay experience. Small things like disappearing ground and people walking through each other aren't that big a deal, and they rarely happen outside of a cut scene, so the overall gameplay isn't affected. The game's camera seams to stutter a bit every so often, but this may be more as a result of the running animation than any actual intense graphical calculations, since you can pretty much spin the camera around forever with no problems. Generally, you won't see any slowdown during combat, which is probably the most important thing.

The best looking thing in the game is definitely the environments, which, while not masterpieces, are unique enough and interesting enough to keep you interested in the game as you're hacking down your millionth wolf.

Sound

Sound and music are provided by the infamous Tommy Tallerico, so they are quite good and never really interfere with what's going on. You've also got drinking songs and Oopa Loompa songs that will come in at various points in the game. Nice touches and funny, but I can't see sitting through them more than, say, twice. Thankfully, you can skip them and it won't really affect anything. Other sounds are mostly well mixed and well placed, though frequently carry over when they shouldn't and frequently play when you just don't want to hear them. The Bard's commentary, a dog's frequent growling, or your healer saying random screechy things can occasionally be annoying, but never too much to get more than a snide remark. The only exception to this is some of the environmental sounds, specifically a very noisy river that appears suddenly and blocks out dialogue until you get far away enough that the sound disappears as suddenly as it appeared.

Gameplay

The Bard's Tale plays well with an easy to master and use interface, though parts of it seam incredibly useless. Unlike other Snowblind games, The Bard's Tale allows you to jump. To what end, however, I have no idea. Most obstacles are just too high to jump over, and those that are you can usually simply walk over anyway. One of the game's selling points, the "Snarky/Nice" conversation choices, might have been interesting, except either choice usually makes little actual difference on what happens in the grand overall cosmic scheme of things. You will see different events, and being snarky may come back and bite you in the ass at some point, but since its usually not terribly obvious what you're actually effecting or changing with these quips, it's going to be pretty much a random choice anyway. As for puzzles using the snarky/nice system, you almost always have a chance to go back and change things if you do something wrong. If you're nasty when you should have been nice, you'll get another go round with no real consequences, and visa versa. So feel free to basically be nasty to everyone, your character's going to be anyway.

A good point about this game is that you never have to sell anything. You have a magic bag (well I assume it's magic anyway) that converts items into money automatically. This includes enemy weapons and armor, so the only way you can actually get new weapons and armor is to either find it (usually as part of a plot point) or buy it off of a shop keeper. On the down side, you have less control over what you can wield, but on the up side, you don't spend hours looking at the statistics of many weapons. With only seven classes of weapons, one class of armor, and the ability to carry the best weapon in each class, there's really no guesswork for equipment. This makes for a great gameplay experience, but it's less configurable than your typical RPG.

Like most other games based off of the same engine, this game really doesn't offer much in the way of variety of gameplay. Within the first 20 minutes or so, you'll probably have done all of the unique actions you'll see in the game. Certainly, you'll get better weapons and armor, see new and interesting areas, get new summons and trigger new traps, but it'll all basically come down to the same combat driven system. Thankfully, the combat doesn't get terribly frustrating or difficult (though it can, it doesn't happen too often) and plot more than holds its own with its unique (and often juvenile) sense of humor.

Replay Value

The Bard's Tale doesn't offer much in the way of replay. In some cases, you may want to go back through and check out the "what-if" scenarios generated by the snarky/nice conversation trees, but even this won't keep you entertained for long. However, the game does offer you a lot to play with if you do decide to wander through the game again. It contains many different artifacts you can find on your adventures and a good amount of unlockable art galleries and other extras, so there are many reasons to replay the game.

The one thing The Bard's Tale really excels at though is its humor. This alone gives you a reason to play through the game many times, if only to show friends the drinking song at the beginning, a few of the more immature jokes, or the Oompa Loompa warning songs. It may eve keep a permanent spot on your shelf as a game to play during industry low points, when new games seam a bit lack-luster and uninspired. The general consensus is that, because the game isn't horribly interesting on the first play, replay exists only to relive the situations that you enjoyed the first time through.

Bottom Line:

The Bard's Tale game is definitely worth the time you put into it, though it's questionable whether it's worth its full price. Once it starts hitting the used shelves though, the unique story, simple and easily manipulated game mechanics, and bouts of good humor will make the game worth your while. Couple that with a large amount of unlockables and 3 difficulty levels, The Bard's Tale is a game you'll be sure to bring out and enjoy during any dry spell in the world of gaming.

Related Links:

Official Website for The Bard's Tale

-Jeff Ward




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