Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy
December 31st 2004
Introduction:InXile has developed a joyful little treasure in The Bards Tale. This interpetitation of 1987's classic Bards Tale has some similar qualities with its thick story, comedy and action. Along with Kingdom Under Fire we have found another Xbox hidden gem which was overlooked in 2004.
The Game: The Bards Tale is exactly that, a story of a Bard. Full of adventure, over the top situations, action and sarcastic satire the Bards Tale is an adventure everyone should embark on. The Bard is a simple man with his magical lute at his side he seeks out to fill his pockets with as much gold as he can carry. The Bard the typical reluctant hero who jumps from quest to quest trying to further his own personal gain. It's a good thing the writing is above average in The Bards Tale because the plot is the standard fantasy story of the hero with no memory saving the princess in the tower. Yip, that's the main goal overall, although it's not laid out as straight forward during the game. InXile has found a good combination with its common plot and strong lead character which blends well with the comedy satire.
The gameplay is pretty close to the top down standard which have come before the Bard, like Baldur's Gate and Diablo. You will be mashing the buttons while to you franticly while trying to use your magic. The clever thing about the Bard is that the only magic item he has avaliable is a Lute. You use the lute in the form of different tunes to summon his powers. Mainly you'll be creating creatures to fight along side of you while you battle through hordes of enemies. You can summon several different creatures to help you at once giving you a nice extra strategy element to the game. There are healers, electric spiders, bodyguards, trap finders and allot more which can be conquered up by your little lute. In the spirit of the game they all have the same sarcastic wit about them just like their master the Bard.
The gameplay does have some problems, like every game. nothing is perfect. The main downfall of the game is even though the game is cleaver and fun, at the heart it's just another hack/slash. If you enjoy the diablo style gameplay then this game is right up your alley. I know several people who either hate or love this style of gameplay, so I'm sure many wont give it the chance. You will also be assaulted with their sense of humor which I found very humorous, but then again it might not be everyone's cup of tea. They overdue the sarcastic comedy routine in almost every scene during the game, so the comedy is spesfic. The Bards Tale will mostly turn out to be one of the extremes; you'll either love it, or despise it.
Brian Fargo (Fallout, Baldur's Gate) has done it again, making a memorable game based on an old videogame premise. Fargo's most memorable titles Fallout & Baldur's Gate both had a great connection besides fun addictive gameplay, they both had a great storyline. Giving his prior work you kind of get a feeling of the spirit of the type of game The Bards Tale is and like his games in the past The Bards Tale has taken place alongside of the best.
Graphics & Sound: The graphics of The Bards Tale are average, absolutely nothing to gawk at besides the maidens. The game looks good, but running beside one of its competitors you won't notice anything special. Luckily RPG's can get away with weaker graphics with an excellent gameplay and story elements. Bards Tale uses the Everquest: Champions of Norrath engine which gives us an graphical presentation close to Dark Alliance II, with some added original designs ideas on top. The graphics accolades are more noticeable in the art direction then flash which is common in role-playing games. Bards Tale has the silly NPC's, over the top enemies, vast environments, and classic clichés woven together into a nice nit giving Bards Tale a distinct style of its own. Bards Tale graphically does woe us, but keeps us satisfied.
The sound element of The Bards Tale is its strongest point, and this game has one of the best voice over work all year. You'd would have to be deaf not to appreaste the variety and distinct originality of many of the NPCs in The Bards Tale, complete with song and dance. The main characters voice over was created by Carl Lewis who provides the perfect tone for the reluctant, rustic Bard. The sound department also takes a twist in Bards Tale with the combination of song and dance thrown into the mix. It's been a long time since a game has combined a musical element into a game and it has to be commended. The sound isn't all peachy although, besides the voice over work the rest of the sounds are average at best. There are some small nuances which can be ignored but have to be mentioned like the triggers for environmental effects being too noticeable and the overdone one liner from the supporting units. Overall Bards Tale triumphs sonically, but could have used one more coat of polish.
Innovation: The innovative part of Bards Tale has to be taken from the great storyline with the branching dialog responses. It's not so much that the system is new and dynamic; it's more in the way the script was written and delivered. The good and bad answers really have their own tone and come a crossed perfectly. Where other games have the same type of system worked out, not many have come so close to having the main character is so rude, honest and abrasive in responses. This system also works beautifully because the 'good' option isn't always the best. I would recommend just playing along with your instincts, but if you want to hear both sides of the coin you can always save before you answer and see how the other responses do.
The Bards Tale has some other innovations which are mentioning, one has to be the interesting magic system based on the song of a Lute. It's important to use the magic in the game if you want to survive long. In other games you can steer away from magic and usually do well by other means, but in Bards Tale it will become an the resolve of your arsenal. Also, I need to mention that you can get a pet dog (if you're nice). The dog is an option which is pretty cool. The dog will follow the Bard around and help him nip and distract the enemy. Also, the dog doesn't have a health meter, so you can have him the entire game. It's not a huge combat advantage, but it's nice to see man and his best friend travel the lonely country side together.