26 Feb, 2005

The Bard's Tale Review

Xbox Review | A deliberate walking cliche.
With the Xbox hardly drowning in RPGs, The Bard’s Tale will probably be better received than it deserves to be. Using the same view-from-above engine as Champions of Norrath and Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance on the PS2, The Bard’s Tale is a parody on the genre, and fantasy games in general. However, the game is nowhere near as good as its relatives, largely because it is entirely too simplistic.

It’s bad luck to be you

Funnily enough, you play a character named The Bard. Seriously. The man is, to be blunt, a pig. He isn’t, nor does he desire to be, a hero. He has three interests wine, women and song. So, it is with much difficulty that Princess Caleigh, unsurprisingly entrapped in a far away tower by an evil wizard, convinces The Bard to save her at much personal risk. In it for him are uncountable riches, and, well, Caleigh’s body.

Very cliché – but that’s the whole point. Throughout the game you will come across countless more, most of which The Bard himself and the narrator will point out. The game relies heavily on the story and the humour it brings, and thankfully, despite being a little rough around the edges, it works. In fact, it is probably the strongest aspect of the game.

Well, that picture is certainly chaotic.

Well, that picture is certainly chaotic.
You want the sword? Here, catch!

Throughout the game, The Bard will more or less insult everyone his meets. You can often control his responses, by pressing either the ‘be nice’ or the ‘be nasty’ button. Of course, the ‘be nice’ responses are never actually nice, just less insulting. A healthy mix of the two is required throughout the game. Being constantly nice will mean that many people will have no respect for you, but always being nasty will ensure you miss out on winning many potential friends. For example, being nice to the dog at the start of the game is a very wise idea, but a certain Bodb(s) character will run you around in circles until you start threatening to cut them in half with your sword.

And while unfortunately you can’t actually kill those frustrating non-playing characters, there are plenty of things you can kill. There are also plenty of tools at your disposal, such as swords (obviously), maces, bows, fists and so on. Unfortunately, the fighting mechanics are far too basic. There is only a single button for attacking, meaning you can either hit an enemy once, or have a two or three hit combo. On top of this is a block button, which can, understandably, only block attacks from in front of you, making it pretty useless when surrounded by enemies in a tight spot. It is simply not enough when the game relies almost entirely on combat. A quick attack button would definitely been appreciated. Changing weapons in a pinch is also incredibly slow, and cannot be performed through the menu. Accessible through a weapon wheel, it takes two button presses and a rather long animation before The Bard is ready to go – meaning a lot of running around in circles dodging sword attacks while waiting to draw a sword.

Unfortunately, you will also be running around in circles while using the ‘magic’ system, if you can call it that. Rather than using a conventional system of various spells, The Bard can summon different creatures by playing a tune on his magical lute, or various other instruments he obtains over the course of the game. They are utterly essential to the game, as it is basically impossible to defeat all of the enemies thrown at you alone. Creatures range from a small rat, to mercenaries and even an old man who will warn you of various traps scattered around the game. Unfortunately, like drawing a new weapon, summoning a creature requires you to run around frantically while avoiding enemies, except that it takes much, much longer.

Yar, I be rich!

The Bard’s Tale implements an interesting system when it comes to management of your items. You don’t have an inventory – all items, such as pearls, swords, even the clothes of your enemies, are converted into silver as soon as you pick them up. Similarly, if you pick up a new weapon, the old equivalent will also be converted into silver. The whole thing is incredibly streamlined, and, while not necessarily a bad idea, it just doesn’t work here.

Why? Because aside from the story and the fighting, there isn’t really anything else to The Bard’s Tale, and having to management an inventory would have bought some variety to the game. There are no real puzzles in the game to speak of, and the number of side quests are actually quite minimal – plus, there is no real reason to go on them either, as you will never be short of silver after the first two hours of the game. While this may be forgivable if an engaging combat system was in place, when there is only a single attack button it is almost unforgivable.

The Bard would hit it

Considering you spend most of the game looking down at your characters from a distance, it’s understandable that The Bard’s Tale is hardly a graphical tour-de-force. Zoom in for the cut scenes and things do improve, thanks to some well designed characters. Unfortunately, the animation is very choppy at times, particularly when encountering one off non-playable characters. There is also the slightest hint of slowdown when there are a multitude of characters on screen, but this doesn’t have any real impact on the game.

Beer, beer, beer

The voice acting of the The Bard’s Tale is an absolute highlight, with Cary Elwes providing an exceptional effort as the title character. The way he delivers his lines makes them much funnier than they would have been on paper. The supporting cast, of various British/Scottish/Irish accents, are just as good too, especially the various people that pop up throughout the game to sing Bard songs. Also worth mentioning are the ditties The Bard plays while summoning creatures, as they are rather impressive and sound incredibly good.

Look, an enemy. And another. And another.

The Bard’s Tale is a decent romp which will see most plays clocking in between the 15-20 hour mark, depending on how many sub-quests are played. Once this is achieved, it is incredibly doubtful that anyone would want to come back and play the game again, despite a few extra bonuses. The game isn’t an easy 15 hours though, as it can be quite tough at times – largely due to an overwhelming number of aggressive opponents who refuse to let you get any good hits in.

The Bard, probably about to die.

The Bard, probably about to die.
I challenge you to a duel

Those seeking an RPG on the Xbox should give The Bard’s Tale a good look, as it can be enjoyable at times. The story is definitely interesting, and quite funny thanks to the voice acting provided. Unfortunately, most – especially pure RPG fans – will find the game is incredibly simplistic, with the actual gameplay being far too shallow, containing a basic fighting mechanic, an innovative ‘magic’ system and… Well, not much else.
The Score
The Bard’s Tale is a solid action RPG, but there are far better alternatives out there, especially on the PS2. The game can be quite funny though, so it may be worth a rent to see if it is your thing.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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9 years ago
good points in there crusen. definately at least worth having a look at, but hire it first if you aren't definate.
9 years ago
Before the spelling police attack, I had to remove the accent from the 'e' in 'cliché' as it was messing up the linking on the front page icon_razz.gif
9 years ago
Pfft, my spelling was fine thank you. icon_smile.gif Unless Word Americanised some words, stupid program.
9 years ago
Nothing wrong with your spelling, it was just messing up the 'featured item' link by having the 'é' on cliché. Not sure why, maybe something to get our technical guys onto.
9 years ago
Good point. Apostrophes in article titles seem to be a hassle too.
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