The Bard's Tale Review

The title of The Bard’s Tale will invoke memories of a classic series of RPGs in those who have been gaming since the 1980s. However, the similarities end with the title as the 2004 iteration of the game is not a throwback or tribute to classic RPG gaming, but rather an action-RPG in the style that has been all the rage since the release of Dark Alliance. With one important difference, that is. While RPG games tend to take themselves very seriously, The Bard’s Tale takes a satirical, tongue-in-cheek approach that has as much fun at the expense of the genre’s conventions as it does with itself.

In The Bard’s Tale you are the bard in the title, a rapscallion fortune seeker more interested in lining his own pockets than he is in saving the realm from the latest threat from Evil. You’re first introduced to the bard as he tries to con his way into a free meal and bed for the night by conjuring a rat and subsequently “offering” to rid the tavern of its “rat problem”. As it turns out the tavern really does have a rat problem of the giant demonic kind, and the bard finds himself saving the day although his motivation is more a question of saving his own skin and scoring a free meal. And so it goes throughout The Bard’s Tale as our hero does continually does the right thing for the wrong reasons, always asking the same question before accepting a quest: “what’s in it for me?”

Keeping the wolves at bay.

Our self-absorbed antihero is the perfect point man for a game that pokes fun at just about every convention, cliché, and aspect of action RPG games that you can think of. The game’s narrator and the bard don’t get along too well together and constantly trade quips back and forth, a local barrel maker pays you to smash the world’s barrels to increase demand for his product, and, of course, clear the proverbial cellar of its proverbial rats; and all of this just at the start of the game. From there the game pokes fun at everything from opening random chests, to items dropped by slain monsters, to rescuing the captured princess. Most it is pretty humorous and will keep you smiling as you make your way through the game.

The Bard’s Tale not only pokes fun at RPGs, it also tries to streamline some of the genre’s more tedious aspects. For example, there is no character inventory in the game. Whenever you pick something up in the game it is automatically converted to coin on the spot – no need to trek your way back to a merchant and sell your loot each time you run out of inventory slots. If you come across a weapon or armor, it will automatically be equipped if it is better than what you currently have and your old item will in turn be converted to coin. At first this will seem like a godsend as it will save you the time of having to examine the worth of every little thing that you come across in the game and constantly fooling around with your inventory space to try to hold on to the high value items until you come to a shop. However, this comes at the cost of some of the strategy that comes into play when managing weapons inventory. There’s no need to keep a couple of weapons around to use on different types of foes as one weapon is as good as another against all creature types. There’s no choice to be made on the tradeoff between speed and damage as all the weapons can be swung at the same frequency. And so on… I’m all for streamlining tedious tasks, but this is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. On the other side of the coin so to speak, because you can instantly convert everything that you find to silver and since creatures respawn in the areas you visit giving you plenty of opportunity to pick up even more items, you’ll find yourself flush with coin throughout the game. There are a limited number of stores in the game and they each have a limited inventory, so you won’t have much trouble buying everything the game has to offer.

Another thing that you won’t have to worry about in The Bard’s Tale is selecting a character class as you can only play as the bard. The bard is a versatile character though, as adept at swordplay as he is with a bow. The bard’s specialty, though, is music, and he has the ability to conjure magical companions to fight alongside him by merely playing the appropriate tune on his loot. Each of these summoned companions has their own particular specialty and you will at times need to have the right companion at your side in order to progress through the game or get past a particular enemy. You have a little room for character customization by assigning points to statistics each time you level up and by selecting your bard’s special skills – dual-wielding, critical striking, etc. However, if you want to play a mage or thief you’re basically out of luck as even with a customized skill set the bard is still pretty much a ranger-like character.