Tired of bringing the smack down on evil wizards? Bored with being the Chosen One whose destiny it is to vanquish said evil doers? Then, if you're willing to forgive a clunky combat system, The Bard's Tale may be right up your alley.
The Bard's Tale is a role playing game (RPG) for those who've grown bored with typical RPGs, or at least for those who want something a little different in their medieval fantasy worlds. While it may look like any other RPG, The Bard's Tale is filled with a wickedly cynical sense of humour aimed squarely at making fun of the gaming genre that spawned it.
This cynicism starts with the game's protagonist, the Bard. Not your typical young hero on a quest or a flawed ruffian with a heart of gold, the Bard is instead dodgier than a rugby league team on an end of season trip. He's rude, crude and most definitely only out for one thing - himself. The Bard even gets into heated slanging matches with the game's off screen narrator, who constantly berates the Bard for his impish ways.
The cynicism continues right through into the game world itself by taking numerous potshots at longstanding RPG conventions. For example, the main story revolves around the Bard having to save a princess from an evil wizard - a hackneyed RPG plot that even the characters within the game disparage for its unoriginality. Breaking barrels, a typical RPG method to uncover hidden items, is rewarded by the game world's resident barrel maker, who sees profit in replacing barrels lost to your senseless bashing. At one stage the Bard even jokingly asks a group of guards why they always place the control levers for a gate they're protecting in front of said gate instead of safely behind it. The Bard's Tale is also one of the few games we know off that takes time off for a song or two, usually Monty Python-esque ditties about getting drunk or dying horribly after being attacked by ogres.
So top marks for story, but how does it play? Unfortunately combat, which is what you'll be spending most of your time doing, can be a frustrating experience at times.
Combat is a fairly simple process - there's one attack button which you can bash for some simple combos, and a jump button (which is rarely, if ever, used). You can only block in one direction, which makes death when surrounded by enemies a near certainty, especially during the beginning stages of the game when your character is fairly weak.
There's no magic system per se, but the Bard can summon up creatures and allies to help him along the way. These characters - summoned using a lute, flute or other instrument - have specific purposes, such as lighting dark places, or healing your party, or being a ranged attacker. There are 16 different types of characters overall, and while you initially start off with having the ability to only summon one at a time, you do get several more during the course of the game.The problem is that summoning these friends takes a few seconds at the least, during which time you are unable to do anything except run around and play the appropriate tune. Fights (once again often early in the game) usually devolve to you running around summoning characters who have died, while you do your best not to get pole axed by your enemies. Add to this the baffling decision by the programmers to not include a way to quickly heal yourself and it becomes a recipe for agitation. You can only heal via summoning a specific character (the Crone) or by using a certain spell that can heal your entire party. Trouble is neither of these methods are very handy in a tight scrape. Gameplay is not all bad, however. The Bard's Tale introduces a great new concept in where instead of an inventory system, the Bard automatically outfits himself with the best armour and weapons at his disposal. You don't even need to go to a town shop to offload items - it's done automatically for you the instant you get a better piece of equipment. Graphically, The Bard's Tale is no stunner, although it does boast some varied textures throughout the different environments in the game world. The Bard himself is well rendered, with his facial animations particularly lifelike at times. The game's sound, particularly the voice work, is top notch. The Bard is voiced well by Cary Elwes, who many will remember as the hero in The Princess Bride, a film which similar to this game, poked fun at the fantasy genre. If you're willing to slog it through the early parts of the game where combat feels more like punishment than fun, then you'll be rewarded with a fun tale with attitude and cynicism to spare.