The Bard's Tale

The Bard’s Tale is a 2004 action role-playing game developed by InXile Entertainment. InXile Entertainment is an American, San Francisco-based video game developer founded by the legendary founder of Interplay, Brian Fargo, notable for developing Wasteland 2 and having several other projects underway. The Bard’s Tale was originally published and distributed by Vivendi Universal games, but now its distribution rights are handled by InXile Entertainment themselves.

The Bard’s Tale

It should be noted that this game is not directly related to the game with the same name from 1985 developed by Interplay and relesed by Electronic Arts. While many people from the original game were involved in the development of this one, it is not a remake nor a sequel. Despite that, the current “The Bard’s Tale” is plagued with pop culture references to the 1985 one and the three sequels it spawned, even though InXile Entertainment had not been able to secure the rights to the original game when it was originally released in 2004. An arrangement of some sorts must have been made some time between 2004 and the Steam release in 2012 because the Deluxe Edition of The Bard’s Tale now features the original The Bard’s Tale from 1985 and two of its sequels.

The Bard’s Tale is a parody of high fantasy and RPGs. Our hero, “a sardonic and opportunistic musician and adventurer, driven by carnal rather than noble pursuits. The Bard, who is never identified by a specific name nor addressed by anything other than “The Bard,” is not interested in saving the world; his humble motivations are strictly “coin and cleavage.” Taking place at some point during the Middle Ages at the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland and drawing heavily from Celtic Mythology, the not so valiant anti-hero ends up being recruited in a mission to fight a crazy Druid-like cult and to save a rich and beautiful princess named Caleigh. And so, the adventure begins. Mostly everything from The Bard’s Tale is parodic. As such, the first quest involves a menial task common to RPG heroes that consists in clearing the cellar of a tavern from rodents but ends up with The Bard having to fight a giant, fire-breathing rat. The story is narrated by a mocking, biased man known as “The Narrator”, who dislikes The Bard. The Bard occasionally breaks “the fourth wall” and addresses to The Narrator directly.

The game features a 3D environment with a third-person overhead cam. It’s more of an action-adventure game rather than a true RPG, because it lacks several mechanics characteristic to RPGs such as an inventory or character classes. The Bard has access to different weapons and magic to aid him at his mission. He can use melée, ranged weapons and summon a lot of different creatures to aid him during fights, such as knights, mercenaries, light faeries and many more. The game features a “snarky or nice” dialogue system in which being snarky or nice provides different outcomes to several different dialogues along the game. There are three possible endings that add well to the game’s replay value.

The graphics were great in 2004 and, while the game still looks good, the graphics are already starting to show their creases. Unless you are ensnared by 4K 120 fps graphics, The Bard’s Tale graphics will provide an acceptable visual frame to the storyline and they will not stop you from liking the game. The character design is really comprehensive, there is more than 50 different types of enemies and that is without even counting the bosses. The sound effects are great. The voice acting is one of the most dauntless aspects of the game, featuring celebrities of the caliber of Cary Elwes as The Bard and the late Tony Jay as The Narrator, among others. The music consists in folk tunes from The British Isles and features musical numbers such as the drunkards from the first tavern in the game singing “Beer, Beer, Beer”, a song about the mythical inventor of beer.

Ultimately, I had quite a good time while playing The Bard’s Tale. It’s a hell lot of fun, the story and dialogues are so smart and amusing that they could perfectly belong in a Monty Python film. The overall gameplay is long, featuring many dungeons and enemy types. The Bard’s Tale is a huge game, a lot bigger than it may seem at first sight. If you’re looking for an action-RPG, a dungeon crawler with a sense of humor, The Bard’s Tale is your game to go. If you’re a fan of British humor and / or action-RPGs you should at least give it a try. A lot of coin and cleavage are there for the taking if you’re feeling courageous!

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