The Bard, our eponymous anti-hero, travels from place to place, exploring the land, conning the citizens, and wooing fair maids – or barmaids he’s not picky. He is not the first person you;d think of as a hero, so when a beautiful princess asks him to be the next hero to try to rescue her it is rather unexpected. Apparently all the better candidates have died. After some intense negotiation over the going rate for rescue and princessly rewards, the bard sets off on his new quest – that is, if he can take his eyes off gold and women long enough… And why exactly are zombies popping up everywhere, anyway?
The Bard’s Tale is an excellent mix of RPG, action and dark comedy, which should appeal to most gamers. It has a well-written script and strong storylines and characters supported by standard gameplay and graphics, with surprisingly good sound. The voice acting in particular is superb, particularly Cary Elwes as our not-so-noble bard in his many debates with the extremely cynical narrator. Since the narrator sees everything the bard does, you can understand his scepticism over the “hero”.
The sound is excellent, and a particular highpoint of the game. As well as strong voice acting, it has good atmospheric effects and background music, which adds to the game and atmosphere. This is particularly true during the songs and performance sequences. The musical numbers are both funny and well done, and surprisingly catchy.
Aside from lethal sarcasm, the Bard’s main power is summoning creatures to fight or perform tasks for him, although if needed he can fight with a good array of weapons. Unfortunately these creatures can be less than reliable. Witness the trapper, whose job is to throw himself on traps so the Bard does not get damaged – or occassionally to stand back, snigger and let the bard take the fall.
The graphics are reasonable but not outstanding. This is true of both the gameplay and the cutscenes, although the occassional “Bard’s eye view” and good direction mean the cutscenes are immersive, and generally there is a good balance of cutscene to gameplay.
Unfortunately the game’s main weakness is the gameplay. Played as a topdown action game, some levels are dark enough that you cannot tell where you need to go, or get hung up on obsticles you can’t see. Some of the camera angles contribute to this problem, although turning the brightness up can compensate. It is also possible to have problems with smaller enemies being blocked by your larger sprites, making targeting difficult. The summon creatures are good, but their AI is fairly basic, leaving the Bard as your main fighter in several battles. This may however be deliberate as their contempt for him is obvious.
It has a reasonable play length, and lasts about 20 hours. There are numerous paths though the game, and the number of hidden quests and multiple endings give it reasonable replay value. However before replaying it, you may give it a few weeks to get the songs out of your head.
This game should have broad appeal. RPG and fantasy fans should enjoy it, but so should survival horror and action players looking for the sarcastic side of their hobby. Some sequences may be disturbing to younger players, and the smut and language definitely targets an older audience, but gamers in their teens and up should thoroughly enjoy it.
If you spot this one get it – it’s definitely good for a laugh and you’ll be humming it for ages.
The game was released on Xbox, PS2 and PC and is often available online. The links below go to Amazon.co.uk
More About the Bard’s Tale
For more including video clips, reviews and some downloadable content (as well as US availability), view this lens: