The Bard's Tale

InXile pokes fun at the RPG genre with its mead drinking anti-hero.

The Lowdown

Pros: It's got a good sense of humor and lets players make choices about what the hero says.

Cons: The actual gameplay is simplistic hack and slash, with not much reward.

Purchase at Play-Asia

Purchase at Lik-Sang

If you were in to role playing games back in the eighties you probably played the Bard's Tale. This classic dungeon scroller was released for the PC, Commodore 64, Apple II and the good old NES. When the mid nineties came around RPGs changed and the Bard's Tale franchise vanished from the market. Out of nowhere, InXile Entertainment picks up the name and designs redesigns the Bard's Tale for this generation of gamers.

Right off the bat InXile has some innovation in the game. Instead of being a swashbuckling hero or a troubled soul with spiky hair, you play the role as a self indulgent drunk. It's an interesting change because typical RPGs are so caught up about saving the world or on the off chance destroying it, RPGers get to play an entirely different role. The bard isn't exactly a bad person, he just has a sharp tongue. Although that may be the bard's nature it doesn't have to be what he does. Players are given the choice of what the bard says to other characters. He can be nice or you can make him use his wit by picking the less honest snarky option. Each situation is a case by case basis, there is no overall morality meter like in Fable or Knights of the Old Republic. At times it pays off to be nice. Early on in the game you'll meet up with someone who can teach the bard a new song. If you react nice to him he'll ask you to rescue some people from jail and then he will help you. You can opt to chose snarky instead, but he will send the bard to an empty well first before going on the quest. InXile made sure that nice isn't always the best option. When the bard leaves town he runs into a woman he met before and has been waiting for him ever since he left town. Choosing nice nets you painfully meeting up with her angry parents, while choosing snarky ends the conversation quickly. The system works because it really encourages players to try out different options and it gives the game some extra replay value when you complete it.

The story of the Bard's Tale is told out of order. We see a glimpse of the a powerful bard far in the journey. Quickly the narrator cuts in and explains how the entire quest started. The bard is down on his luck and takes a job to exterminate some rats. After playing the rat song he brings the tiny critter out. Little does he know a huge fire breathing rat is waiting for him around the corner. When he goes up to attack the huge vermin, he is set ablaze. The drunken patrons of the bar laugh at him when he is looking for some water to put himself out. The game has a good amount of humor in it, which keep the story fresh. Best of all is the judgmental narrator who tells the story and doesn't hide that he disapproves of the bard's actions.

The Bard's Tale isn't a cinematic RPG. You'll be spending a lot of time playing the game, which means entering forests, scouting caves and adventuring in castles. While you're controlling the bard the game is played in a top down perspective. You can control the bard by moving him with the analog stick and swing your weapon by pressing the attack button. By no means is the bard a versatile fighter at the start of the game. He can deal a fair amount of damage with a sword or bow, but his real strength lies in his allies. The bard can summon a wide range of allies like a thunder spider that stuns enemies and a knight that can take heavy damage. Instead of running up to trolls and goblins directly, the Bard's Tale encourages letting the summoned allies do the work. You can execute simple commands such as attack and return to the bard to your minions. Most of the time you don't need to control them. Instead letting them run around and kill stuff on their own usually works.

Fighting with the top down perspective doesn't work that well in this game. Many times obstacles like tall trees will occlude your vision so you can't see the bard. When you're trying to battle an enemy you can't see on screen all you can do is hopelessly slash in midair. Besides this technical problem combat can get really frustrating at first then really boring later on in the game. Early on you will only be able to summon a single ally, which makes battles feel like a savage beating. The bard just isn't meant to battle groups of six or more enemies at once. While late in the game the bard can summon up to four additional helpers. This makes your team the aggressor and groups of enemies become to easy to beat. All the bard has to do is summon the right allies and he's on easy street. At this point you won't need to fight all of the time and you end up watching battles go on. Since, the Bard's Tale is a hack and slash RPG having faulty combat mechanics hinders the gameplay a lot. Everywhere you go there is something to slash at. In the dungeons this is to be expected, but for some reason on the game's world map there are enemy encounters. If you touch an enemy on the main map the view changes into a top down screen and you're forced to battle the enemies.

InXile did a decent job with the game's graphics. You have some good looking character models, even though the characters might not have as much detail as other games out there. The world of the Bard's Tale has vibrant environments with a lot of nature scenes. The animation of the bard can be clunky at times, but it's never awful. Music is always an integral part of creating a game's setting and the choice of music does set the Bard's Tale in the middle ages. The score contains a fair amount of Old English sounding music with the other majority of the score being environmental sounds. InXile made sure to have most of the NPCs and all of the bard's dialogue done with voiceovers . This was a good choice because it gives gamers a chance to hear the jokes instead of just reading them.

It's no question that the Bard's Tale is a refreshing change from the other RPGs out there. The game's good sense of humor carries the title from start to finish. On the other hand the gameplay isn't all there. It feels like a hack and slash Diablo-esque game that you don't actually fight in. Even if you do fight in the game the bard doesn't have any specific moves or abilities so you end up button mashing. For a first game InXile has done a good job recreating the franchise. As a whole this game gives us a good idea of what to expect and what improvements should come in the Bard's Tale 2.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 0

Since it is a US game all of the in game voiceovers and text are in English.

US Bound?

This game was released in the US first and should be on the shelf of your local video game store.


The game's light hearted nature and sense of humor give it a unique take on roleplaying. However, the game's actual gameplay is left with more to be desired.