The Bard's Tale

aka: Bingcheng Zhuanqi, The Bard's Tale (2004), The Bard's Tale ARPG, The Bard's Tale: Opowiesci Barda, The Bard's Tale: Remastered and Resnarkled, The Bard's Tale: Song of the Bard
Moby ID: 15800
PlayStation 2 Specs
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Description official descriptions

The Bard is a cynical, opportunistic musician who roams the country in search of carnal pleasures. However, this impatient and selfish fellow is compelled to accept the greatest quest of his life: save the princess Caleigh from a demonic cult that has kidnapped her. The unlikely hero must now explore the land in search of the princess, accompanied by the omnipresent Narrator who obviously can't stand the Bard and uses every opportunity to sarcastically comment on his actions. Furthermore, Fionnaoch, the mysterious abductor of the princess, does everything he can to stop the Bard, sending his minions after him.

A self-proclaimed "quest for coin and cleavage", The Bard's Tale is an action RPG that is more of a whimsical take on role-playing games than a remake of the classic series. As the Bard, players can fight off hordes of foes with blade and bow, and summon companions through magical Bard Songs. Leveling up allows the player to raise the character's main attributes and invest specialization points in the different types of weapons he can use. Magical companions must be sought out and then summoned during battles. After being summoned, they act pretty much like AI-controlled party members; some of them specialize in physical attacks and offensive spells, while others can heal the hero.

During conversations the player can choose "nice" or "snarky" responses for the protagonist. While mostly used for humorous effect, some of these responses may affect subsequent events. The game uses the Dark Alliance engine and has a similar camera and control scheme.

Spellings

  • Похождения Барда - Russian spelling
  • 冰城传奇 - Simplified Chinese spelling
  • 新冰城傳奇 - Traditional Chinese spelling

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Credits (PlayStation 2 version)

137 People (128 developers, 9 thanks) · View all

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Reviews

Critics

Average score: 74% (based on 51 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 77 ratings with 5 reviews)

There's a difference between pointing out clichés and avoiding them all together.

The Good
I don’t think I've ever played a game that started so strongly or sunk into mediocrity so quickly. The first hour of The Bard's Tale is simply brilliant. Sadly, only flashes of this brilliance show up over the next nineteen hours.

Within the first hour, The Bard is asked to kill at rat in the inn's basement, bumps into countless NPCs walking through Houton, and smashes many barrels. Of course the rat is fire-breathing, one of the NPCs demands an apology, and the barrel maker is paying him for each barrel he knocks off—it's good for business. This is The Bard's Tale at its best: pointing out RPG clichés and turning them on their heads or simply skewering them.

If you are a classic gamer, then this isn't The Bard's Tale you remember. There's no traditional party building or first-person jaunts down the streets of Skara Brae. This The Bard's Tale is an action RPG, equal parts sword & sorcery and tongue-in-cheek. It strongly resembles Dark Alliance, having the same engine and all, and plays out from that standard third-person once-removed viewpoint.

The Bard, voiced by Cary Elwes (Errol Flynn still being dead), is a rakish blackguard who's on a personal quest for "Coins and Cleavage", even though others (including the game's narrator) are trying to make a hero out of him. During conversations, The Bard has the option of being snarky or nice (i.e. marginally less snarky). This has an effect on game play—opening quests, gaining items, and the like—being snarky doesn't automatically trigger a bad outcome.

Before I get too far, I should mention this game is absolutely hilarious. The dialogue is always a delight to listen too, but so is skipping it—"Get to the good stuff," growls The Bard. Even generic quests, which are normally filler, are fodder for The Bard. The tutorial even features an exchange where The Bard berates someone who tells him to press the triangle button, "You're worse than that guy who went on about some invisible mouse."

In terms of role playing, The Bard's Tale is pretty bare bones. The Bard has the core attributes you'd expect and gains special combat abilities every few levels. Inventory collected (The Bard: Wanted Posters, Stonehenge Souvenirs, Weight Belts) automatically converts to gold. Stores only sell the bare essentials: swords, armor, flails and bows, and typically only have one of each type. There's no mixing and matching here, either you buy the weapon or armor upgrade or not. Also, if the store's inventory is worse than your current equipment, then the shopkeeper won't even talk to you.

As far as action, The Bard's Tale is a mixed bag. The Bard either uses a one-handed sword, a two-handed sword, a flail, or a bow. Combat is a matter of pressing one button to attack and another to block—which requires timing. The Bard detects enemies faster than they detect him, but once he's close enough to trigger them it's quite a battle. Luckily, The Bard has some friends along.

Using his magical instrument (whichever one's on hand), The Bard can summon a character that serves him until it dies or he unsummons it. Starting with the lowly rat (later upgraded to a Vorpal Rat), The Bard finds more characters to summon and finds instruments that lets him summon more than one character at a time. Whether it’s the Crone for healing, the Knight for combat, or the Trapper for dungeon crawling, most of the characters are essential to the game and they work well together—even commenting on the action from time to time. Also following The Bard are the omniscient Narrator (who hates The Bard) and (if you are lucky) The Dog—the best canine companion since Dogmeat.

The Bad
I usually find combat in games easy or hard. Here, it is tedious. Simply put, I'm not playing one of the funniest games ever written to kill 1000 trow (kinda like goblins). Unfortunately, The Bard's Tale is combat-intensive, even though combat controls are basic and weapon choices are limited. In fact combat is so poor here, I kept thinking of other games where it was better and where multiplayer was an option. You know, the games The Bard's Tale is poking fun at.

The Bard's Tale has no trouble mocking RPG clichés, but can't seem to avoid them. At one point, The Bard learns that he must fight his way to the top of a tower to free a princess. He grumbles that nothing ever takes place on ground level. At the first floor of the tower, he's confronted by the Boss who awaits him on the top level. "Can't we just finish this here," begs The Bard? The Boss agrees this makes sense, but that's not the way things work. Instead, The Bard must fight his way up three levels, fight the Boss, and then fight his way back down the three levels. Of course the princess wasn't at the top of this tower; The Bard must defeat all three tower bosses to rescue her. Rinse and repeat.

At least with Dark Alliance's tower battle, you have an interesting level design and the conviction of the characters. With The Bard's Tale, you have the sad case of a game that pokes fun at other games, but then delivers an end product worse than them. The Bard's Tale can joke about barrel-smashing, obligatory lava levels, and "Chosen Ones" all day, but isn't bright enough to figure out what to do instead.

The Bottom Line
I was disappointed by The Bard's Tale, but much of it is involving. It has great sound, great graphics, and top notch voice acting. However,I think the designers felt that gamers wouldn't accept an unconventional action RPG and hedged their bets. I'd like to see The Bard return (most of the alternate endings permit this), but in a game that's either shorter or sharper.

PlayStation 2 · by Terrence Bosky (5398) · 2004

Even mediocre endings don't lower the game's black "humour" level

The Good
I liked the game's "humour". It is mostly black, but it appears everywhere. All the dialogues, songs and approaches to solve the problem are full of it.

The game is 'rogue'-like RPG. It may even be described as a Diablo-clone, but it has many simplifications to make it closer to action/arcade. Such simplifications are good, in the meaning of such a game type.

One of simplifications is the ability only to buy items in store, but not to sell them. How is that good, you may ask? The good thing is the ability to sell the looted items automatically, if they are worse than items currently worn. Most of the items aren't used by the Bard in any way, so they are sold immediately.

Controls in the game are also very well designed. You may simply hit an opponent with a weapon by clicking on the button, or use a special ability of the weapon holding the button for a certain period of time. Simplified, but very useful.

The Bard's musical instrument is used to summon different allies in human-like form or in form of creatures. Such allies may simply help the Bard in combat killing enemies, while the Bard is smoking around, or open certain unlockable door with their unique abilities. Each ally is unique and combination of 16 allies allows to build tactics in combats.

With his level rising, the Bard may use different kinds of weapons and each of them has different influence on the enemies. Variation of the melee and range weapons also gave some sort of freedom.

There are many secret areas in the game. Such areas may be unlocked either performing certain wish or simply buying the map to such an area. But maps sometimes cost much money, and they can't be afforded by the Bard. So kill more enemies, loot more items, and buy the maps as fast as possible, because some events may occur in the game unexpectedly that untwist the plot cardinally, and ability to buy such maps may be lost as well as access to certain secret (or side-quest) areas.

During the game, the Bard collects the Tokens that increases his stats, but much of them may be taken only following the certain way in conversations or policy. Almost all useful items are hidden in chests or stumps, and it is tasks of the player to find and open them. They all are unlocked. Such simplification is also welcoming.

Conversations suppose the style of the Bard, and it is task of player to choose either to be snarky or good in tongue. Not always good style is useful, and it allows the player to be on his own.

The game is full of songs performed by game participants and may be used in Karaoke system to revive the memories.

The game is linear in general, at least in its plot, and you always come finally to the ending point, where you should choose one of three options to finish the game. All of them may be tried, but none of them is good to be real ending, though.

The Bad
First of all, I didn't like the movie sequences. I'm not sure that all platforms use such sequences, but Windows platform uses Windows Media Files (WMF) to play introduction, 3 endings, logos, etc. The quality of such movies are below all the possible standards for the period of time the game was released. I was very wondered that such movies exist in Low and High Quality formats. It seems that High Quality format was made for 640x400 resolution or lower, so I don't even mention Low Q. one. While the game may be played in 1280x1024 resolution, and the quality of the in-game engine is satisfactory, you do not have any desire to play the game to see the endings. They are awful in the terms of video quality.

The second thing is the content of the endings. I will not describe what they are about, but I may say that I did not play such a great game to see such mediocre endings. Any of them does not satisfy my expectations. So if you want to play, just don't expect to see something special in the end.

The third thing is game view. It is generally top-down, but in-game animations allow the camera to move in 3rd person view. Why the game does not allow this? It seems that some difficulties was encountered by game developers to prevent the player to have such a pleasure.

The Bottom Line
The game is not an RPG, it is mostly slash action with RPG elements. It includes underrated black "humour", many fights, songs for Karaoke, and twisted plot. The game relies mostly on its plot and style than on replayability in self-generated dungeons. There are three game endings of low quality, but the game should be played for the gameflow not for the result. It should be played by fans of mid 80s RPGs, may be played by fans of Diablo-clones, and should be at least looked at by all the players not indifferent to games with "humour" in its different kinds.

Windows · by POMAH (66436) · 2009

Playing a "music man" is pretty darned refreshing, not to mention hilarious!

The Good
Rogues, pirates, scoundrels, womanizers .. ya gotta love 'em. The world would be a boring place without them. Look at the smash hit movie Pirates of the Caribbean and tell me that's not the case! The comical parts of that movie (and its sequel) remind me very much of this game.

It's been a very, very, very, very long time since I played the original The Bard's Tale games, so digging deep into grey matter to find an inkling of remembrance is necessary. I do recall those being part of my first role playing experiences and that I was able to finish all 3. Somehow I know I liked them and it was a thrill to be able to install and play them on a modern Windows XP system from my new Bard's Tale CD. (It only took me about 10 minutes for me to uninstall them .. but they'll play.)

The new Bard's Tale game takes place in a fictional world that reminds one of rowdy ole England (although I think our bard's voice is Australian). There are pubs where drunkards get sloshed and sing happily in slurred voices and wenches serve brew, rustic dwellings in towns with cobble-stoned streets or mere dirt. And, of course, there are monsters we've never seen the likes of before plus humans (both good and evil) inhabiting the lands. It's mystery and mayhem, deceit and treachery, magic and dungeon trampling - all rolled into a bundle with comedy wrapped around it like a pretty bow.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, what can you expect as far as gameplay is concerned? This single-player game uses a combination of keyboard and mouse. The mouse is used for moving around, changing camera angles, etc. Use keyboard commands (customizable) to access menus, change weapons and for summoning party members. Yes, I said Summoning! With a punch of a few keys you can bring forth companions to journey with you. Early on, only one will accompany you, but more become possible as you learn more "songs" and gain experience. Towards the end of my game, I had 5 people in my party (out of the 16 available). If they die .. who cares! They're not "real" people .. can't carry any equipment for you .. you can't talk to them .. and you can always re-summon them if they get diced. (Sometimes, though, certain party members do respond (talk) during cut-scenes. Interesting.)

Back to gameplay .. I would consider the game to be a Role-playing/Adventure game .. not an Action/Adventure because there's no jumping or climbing or sleuthing possible. As a role-player, you build up your tolerances and "skills" as you and your party kill off things, advancing your stats gradually. As an adventure .. well maybe that's a stretch because there are no puzzles like you'd find in the adventure genre.

I've always hated games with specific save points, which this game has .. but the spots in this game are intuitively placed so there's not a great deal of doing things over if you fail to kill that something-or-other, or get zapped unexpectedly by a laser beam.

There's no inventory as we're used to seeing. In fact, you don't even accumulate extra weapons or armor. When you go into a shop, the only things possible to buy are better than what you already have. Wow .. no more guesswork as to what armor is the best, which to keep and which to sell .. no encumberment problems .. not even arrows need to be bought for your bows. Ingenious! That frees you up to concentrate on questing and advancing the story.

Speaking of the plot, it's a good one with a final twist at the end that you don't expect. (All 3 of the multiple-endings are worth playing through, btw.) At first, as you're getting to know the controls, there seems no point to the game except doing errands for the townsfolk. But, when you're finally able to get outta town and are in the midst of a real quest, you bump right into the main objective of the game .. save a damsel in distress .. rescue the love of your life .. a Princess!

Terrence Bosky's review of the PS2 version of this game mentions that it is "combat-intensive", and that's true .. but I enjoyed 90% of it in my Windows version. I liked the gameplay, the music, the voice-acting, the plot .. and especially the "snarkiness" of the Bard. Many times I was laughing out loud .. sometimes to the point of tears!

The Bad
I didn't think the graphics were all that great .. good, yes .. but not exceptional. Cut-scenes (with the close-ups) were the best.

The narrator, although he had funny moments too, became irritating at times.

The mapping system was rather lame. The most important view appeared right in the middle of your screen. Although faded so you could see what was going on with your characters, it still obscured my point of view. I would've liked being able to add labels (notes) to the maps too so I could remember, for instance, where the weapons shop was located when I returned to a town.

A quest for coin and cleavage? Coin maybe .. Carnage for sure .. but you won't find loads of busty women anywhere. Several yes .. but not as many as the company blurbs suggest.

The Bottom Line
My experience with The Bard's Tale was thoroughly enjoyable.

The game is not so huge that you can't finish it in, say, a month's time. There are ways to extend the gameplay with extra, non-essential quests too if you wish.

As I mentioned above, there are multiple endings, each of which provides an alternate scenario as to the outcome of the Bard. Me? I like him - just the way he is - sarcastic, a little short tempered, with a snappy wit that keeps you laughing - smart and somewhat handsome. I hope they make a sequel!

Windows · by Jeanne (75973) · 2006

[ View all 5 player reviews ]

Trivia

Extras

The Polish version contains the first three Bard's Tale games as a bonus, just like the US one, but apparently unlike any other European release.

Information also contributed by JRK

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Terrence Bosky.

PlayStation 4, PS Vita added by mars_rulez. Windows Apps, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One added by Kam1Kaz3NL77. OnLive added by firefang9212. BlackBerry, Ouya, Android, iPad, iPhone, Macintosh added by Kabushi. Linux added by Iggi. Windows added by Jeanne.

Additional contributors: Unicorn Lynx, Jeanne, JRK, Sciere, Cigam, Stratege, Paulus18950, Patrick Bregger, Plok.

Game added December 9, 2004. Last modified February 26, 2024.