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I liked this game when it came out on PS2, so when I saw it was out on PC on budget I picked up a copy to play it again. Having been out for a few years the Bard's Tale is not an expensive purchase - you can pick the PC version up online for a couple of pounds and at that price it is a steal!
The plot is simple: the Bard, our eponymous anti-hero, travels from town to town conning the locals out of their coin, and occassionally trying to get into their beds. So when a beautiful princess asks him to be the next hero to try to rescue her it is rather unexpected (apparently all the better candidates have died). After some intense negotiation over rescue rates and fees, the bard sets off on his new quest - that is, if he can take his eyes off gold and women long enough to remember it...
The Bard's Tale is an excellent mix of RPG, action and black humour, which should appeal to most gamers. It has a well-written script and strong storylines and characters supported by standard gameplay and graphics, with surprisingly good sound. The voice acting in particular is superb, particularly Cary Elwes as our not-so-noble hero, and Tony Jay as the narrator.
Aside from sarcasm, the Bard's main power is summoning creatures to fight or perform tasks for him, although if needed he can fight with a good array of weapons. Unfortunately these creatures can be less than reliable. Witness the trapper, whose job is to throw himself on traps so the Bard does not get damaged - or occassionally to stand back, snigger and let the Bard get hit.
The game uses the Baldur's Gate engine, giving a top down view of the gameplay, and the graphics are reasonable but not outstanding. This is true of both the gameplay and the cutscenes, although the occassional "Bard's eye view" and good direction mean the cutscenes are immersive, and generally there is a good balance of cutscene to gameplay.
The sound is excellent, and a particular highpoint of the game. As well as strong voice acting, it has good atmospheric effects and background music, which adds to the game and atmosphere. This is particularly true during the songs and performance sequences.
Unfortunately the game's main weakness is the gameplay and lighting. Designed to be dark and atmospheric, in places it is too dark to dee what you are doing. Some levels are dark enough that you cannot see where you need to go, or get hung up on obsticles you can't see. Some of the camera angles contribute to this problem. It is also possible to have problems with smaller enemies being blocked by your larger sprites, making targeting difficult. The summon creatures are good, but their AI is fairly basic, leaving the Bard as your main fighter in several battles.
It is a single-player game, with no multi-player even on the PC. However it has a reasonable play length, and lasts about 20 hours. There are numerous paths though the game, and the number of hidden quests and a few endings give it reasonable replay value. However before replaying it, you may give it a few weeks to get the songs out of your head.
While it is available as a console game (on Xbox and PS2) the PC version provides much the same play experience. One bonus with the PC version is that if you buy the right release it comes bundled with some of the earlier Bard's Tale games, which have nothing to do with this game and have completely different gameplay, but are a nice add-on.
One technical note: While I played this on XP without problems, I know people who have had trouble playing it on Vista, so check your machine's spec. This is also a game that definitely runs better with a lot of extra memory and a decent processor.
The Bard's Tale should have broad appeal. RPG and fantasy fans should enjoy it, but so should survival horror and action players looking for the sarcastic side of their hobby. Some sequences may be disturbing to younger players, and the smut and language definitely targets an older audience, but gamers in their teens and up should thoroughly enjoy it.
(An Update of my CIAO review).
Older games players may remember the original Bard's Tale games. If you're looking for an in-depth RPG game in the style of those games, this modern version of The Bard's Tale may not appeal as it's a very different type of game to the original. Though it's got the same Producer as the original - Brian Fargo - this is not a remake by any means.
What we have here is an action-RPG a curious mix of game styles that works well in some ways, not in others, but in the end it works very well because of the large doses of humour injected into it. Most RPGs have rather hackneyed storylines and this is no exception rescuing a princess held captive in towers by some evil critters, etc but The Bard's Tale takes this storyline and makes fun of it, along with the clichés that infest the whole genre. The game has a narrator (veteran games Voice Actor, the late Tony Jay) who at times lets you know what's going on, and frequently insults the Bard, who is voiced by Cary Elwes (not always brilliantly it has to be said, but he's often funny). The humour in the game is mostly very good, especially the narrator's dislike of the Bard, and they often have short conversations - sometimes with other characters in the game wondering just who the Bard is talking to!
The game simplifies many of the aspects of a traditional RPG - for instance weapons and combat are kept quite simple. Combat can be a little too repetitive at times, which is probably the main weakness of the game, but there is a range of tactics that can be employed and different enemies can require particular tactics to defeat without taking too much of a beating yourself. There are three difficulty levels - easy, normal, and "old school", which determine your starting stats. These consist of the normal things like strength (for melee weapons), dexterity (ranged weapons), vitality, luck, charisma (for getting shopkeepers to reduce their prices!), and rhythm. Rhythm isn't something you would normally expect to see, but you are a bard after all. Instead of wandering around trying to find outcasts and misfits who are willing to join your merry band of adventurers, you can instead summon various characters and creatures by playing a special tune on your instrument (as you get more powerful instruments, your mana and the number of creatures you can summon increase). This gives the game a different flavour and during the course of the game, or even during a battle, you can change your party around. This can be tricky if you're in the middle of an intense fight since, of course, you cannot wield a weapon and your instrument at the same time. You have to learn the correct tune before you can summon a creature - you start off only knowing how to summon a lowly rat, but in time you can learn more and improved versions of those you have.
When it comes to battle, you control both that Bard himself (using the mouse plus the spacebar if you are equipped with a shield) and your party. These are commanded (though they sometimes like to do their own thing as well!) with four basic commands - attack, defend, come to the Bard's position, or fall back. There is a little scope for genuinely devising your own tactics for different situations even if it does seem a little limited at times. The characters themselves are often very funny - for instance the Explorer is a very handy chap to have around - he searches for and disarms traps, open chests containing objects, and collect any objects that are left over from battles (the objects are instantly converted into silver, another instance of the game mechanics being simplified). He does however enjoy it greatly when you blunder into a trap yourself! The Crone is hilarious - "I'll put a spell on you!), the Light Fairy always make me smile (though for some reason he doesn't usually make much difference to the actual amount of light in most locations), and the Mercenary is quite fun. There are 16 basic creature types to be summoned in all, plus improved versions of existing creatures. The higher your rhythm, the better their abilities.
Aesthetically the game is nice, not amazing by any means but it gets the job done. The voice acting on the whole is very good and as mentioned often funny, but once or twice it just sounded like completely the wrong inflection was put on some of the words. There is a little bad language and quite a lot of innuendo in the dialogue (the game is subtitled: "A Quest for Coin and Cleavage"), which along with the slightly gory battle merits the 12+ PEGI rating for the game. To give you fair warning, its not a game for the very easily offended. Nor is it completely sick as some much publicised games seem to be (those sort of games I wouldnt want to play, incidentally - this sort of fare is about my limit for what could be considered objectionable content!)
There isn't much scope for conversations in the game beyond the pre-set conversations, though you do get the opportunity to give a positive or negative reply in many situations. This doesn't generally have a massive impact on the outcome but does at least give you some control. Oh, and many people in the game seem to like it if you're rude to them - which considering the Bard's personality is just as well!
Overall it struck me as Gauntlet meets Dungeon Master (I appreciate that if you weren't into gaming in the late 80s and early 90s, this may mean nothing too you!). It's no quite an arcade game, and not quite an RPG - it may not be a satisfying blend to most hardcore fans of either genres, but I found it an entertaining and rather unique experience. Without the humour it definitely wouldn't have been as good, but it's a game that will frequently have you laughing, which makes up for any parts of the game that start to feel a bit repetitive.
Now that it's out on budget (on the Revival brand, the game's original publishers were Ubisoft), it represents great value for money as it's a long-term challenge to get to one of the possible endings, let alone all of them. (Not sure how many there are but the packaging says there are "many" possible outcomes, and I've already come across several areas where the game looks like it has the possibility to branch out in different directions.) I don't think there's a CD-ROM version available now, but even if there is go for the DVD-ROM version. The full game takes up a whopping 7.5Gb and even the normal install uses up just over a gigabyte of memory. If you don't have a really good graphics card you'll probably experience some slowdown at parts of the game where there's a lot happening on screen, and considerable slowdown in some of the cut scenes.
Operating System: Windows Me / 2000 / XP (+Vista - see below)
Central Processing Unit: Pentium P3 933MHz or above
Graphics Card: GeForce 3/4/FX/6/7/8 series (probably not GeForce 4 MX), or Radeon 9000 or above.
If you have Windows Me/2000/XP you can skip the next bit!
Running The Bard's Tale on Windows Vista
Officially the game doesn't run on Vista, and I had problems both installing it and playing it after I got it to install - it constantly crashed to the point of it being completely unplayable. However I managed to overcome both problems - here's how:
The problem is not in fact with Vista itself. The game uses Windows Media Format 9 (used in Windows Media Player 9), whereas Vista comes with WMF 11 which does have some backwards compatibility issues. When you try to install the game, it looks for the DLL files associated with WMP 9 - and, of course, does not find them. However if you exit the dialogue box that comes up telling you that you need to have WMF 9 installed, you get the option to either cancel the installation or install with the recommended settings. If you choose this the game does actually install properly. Problem solved.
You might find that the game frequently crashes to the point where you think it's a waste of time trying to play this game - but never fear. As the problem is with WMF not Vista itself, and the game worked fine most of the time but crashed when entering a cut scene, it occurred to me that turning off the different graphical effects or turning them down to minimum might help. Once I had done this the game naturally didn't look quite as good (though the difference isnt really all that noticeable), but it was still perfectly playable and I didn't have a single crash in the 20 hours or so it took me to complete the game.
I got it from HMV for a penny less than a tenner. Amazon.co.uk and Play.com have it for half that, which cant be bad!
The Bard's Tale is an action/role-playing game in which the player takes on the role of the Bard - a sardonic and opportunistic musician and adventurer, driven by carnal rather than noble pursuits. The Bard is not interested in saving the world, his humble motivations are strictly "coin and cleavage." A truly non-linear game, the player chooses the Bard's responses towards other characters he encounters with either 'snarky' or 'nice' dialogue. Each choice changes the course of events in the game. The action takes place in medieval times in a land based on the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland - the inspiration for many of the classic fantasy stories.