The Bard's Tale

aka: Bingcheng Zhuanqi, The Bard's Tale (2004), The Bard's Tale: Opowiesci Barda, The Bard's Tale: Remastered and Resnarkled, The Bard's Tale: Song of the Bard

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 74% (based on 17 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 16 ratings with 2 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 (5375) · 2004

Right Script and Acting, Wrong Game

The Good
Just to let you know, if you are familiar with the original Bard's Tale series which was 1st person perspective RPG in the 1980's, well this Bard's Tale has nothing to do with that unfortunately. So if you’re a big fan of the series, you just got me.

Most old-skool RPG fans were waiting for this game to come out only because of its title. This little marketing scheme may have disappointed many hardcore fans of the series. Something I propose publishers never do again: Promote a false Messiah.

Anyway, back to the game. Bard's Tale, curiously enough is exactly was the title say's it is. A tale of a Bard. The bard is you and considering the time period, bard's are practically tricksters and scoundrels with the wit and charm of barmaids always fall least until she's taken advantaged or she's missing a few coins.

And so we have the tale of our Bard. A handsome fellow...a little rough behind the edges...maybe a lot rough behind the edges, has the tongue of a snake and most impressively can steal a maidens virginity before she realizes it’s gone! A little dramatic by my part, but our hero bard is everything every man at one point in his life wanted to be...but wasn't allowed by certain figures in society. Ahem.

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Now if you’re expecting this game to be an RPG, then you may be a little disappointed. Unfortunately for you RPG fans, this the game's genre follow this sequence :

  1. Adventure
  2. Action
  3. RPG

So if your an action adventure fan or a hack-and-slash RPG fan, then this may be up your alley. For hardcore RPG fans, this game however lacks fundamental elements an old skool RPG has, but we'll discuss that later.

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The difference this game has to offer refers to the Bard's skills. Our bard is practically a Fighter/Mage/Ranger/Thief. As traditional RPG bard's are, a Jack-of-Trades. A little bit of everything, none too good, none too bad.

Now the "magic" part refers to his bard abilities to play tunes or songs. When played, the magical notes create a spell. May it be a bonus to your character, but more interesting, the capability to summon monsters or NPCs to aid your bard. Depending on your charisma, you can summon a maximum of 4 (four) monsters to aid you in battle.

But what I like most in this game is something I totally did not expect: Good acting and good storytelling (well the storytelling got lame later on, but the first few hours were pretty good – especially the pub song). Now the voice acting (and whoever wrote it was genius!). I'm always a fan for intelligent sarcastic type-dialogs, since all those "serious-type" acting does get to be boring and repetitive after a while. The acting in this game is a breath of fresh and funny air in my gaming experience, since not many if not almost no RPGs have ever had a "serious approach to humor" before in there games.

The main actors of this game comprise of two individuals. Firstly, you the Bard - who has this pessimistic and opportunistic tone and idea of life. And the Storyteller, who doesn't seem to like the Bard one bit as if he has a gun...or crossbow aimed at his head if he didn't continue to tell the story. I love the fact that there are many scenes where the Bard and the Storyteller keep fighting among themselves, totally out of context of the game, which probably is a very refreshing diversion from all that monster-bashing. I don't recall playing a game where half of the time I was laughing...

Needless to say, the acting introduced in this game, to my subjective opinion is the best elements of the game. An approach which I have rarely seen in games and would really like to see more with this type of acting involved.

The Bad
Now from an RPG point of view for you RPG lovers out there, this game is a serious insult to the genre. If I didn't know any better, they'd should have dropped the RPG part in the first place, because seriously, it technically wouldn't made much difference.

Why? Simple little things like character development, which is minimal. But the most insulting trait to a hardcore RPG gamer is the elimination of an inventory and complex items.

My God, what have they done? This isn't an RPG, its an adventure game wanting to be an RPG! That's right boys and girls, you don't have an inventory. Well you do, but its automatic...similar to what you would normally find in action-adventure games.

Now the problem isn't that the game doesn't have much of an inventory, character development, and other stuff you'd find. It's because of one thing: the title.

It's called Bard's Tale. If you want to use a name that already has a reputation, in this case of being one of the best darn RPG series in the RPG classic world of gaming, then people you'd better live up to it or get trashing from the fans. Most of us already condemn this game just because of the title. Hey, we were really expecting a Bard's Tale sequel here you maggots! Don't blame us if we spit on your grave!

The Bottom Line
If it weren't for the splendid voice acting, I would give this game a good trashing it really deserves. A rare exception.

PlayStation 2 · by Indra was here (20635) · 2007

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Wizo, Max Hrabrov, nyccrg, Patrick Bregger, Jeanne, Alsy, Vovo 30.