The Bard’s Tale is a 2004 RPG spoof released by InXile Entertainment, which it says is a modern interpretation of the original 1985 Bard’s Tale. It’s basically a tongue-in-cheek look at the tropes of fantasy RPGs, with its big-busted barely clad women, random wild animals attacking you in forests and chests of gold lying about to plunder.
Instead of being an intrepid adventurer, you’re a bard, who’s more interested in bedding the barmaid and then robbing her than saving the world. And it’s not a bad idea, but you know it’s just going to be the usual hack and slash with added sarcastic wisecracks from your character. You start off in a bar in the delightful Scottish village of Houston, which you can walk around an explore although there’s not a right lot in it. The camera angle in the game is very annoying – it’s vertically above the bard, so you just see the top of his head and a circle around him, rather than being able to look over his shoulder. This makes navigating around places more difficult than it should be, especially because the village is mainly made up of round identical huts. An inset map only gives a general outline of things, but does highlight areas of interest.
The game really is just a basic RPG with the minimum of story. The adventure unfolds with a voiceover being a storyteller describing the journey of the bard as though it’s supposed to be epic, but it really isn’t apart from the giant fire-breathing rat in the tavern’s basement. Why are we wandering about a random Scottish village? Presumably to make money if he’s a bard, but the gameplay is of a warrior going around fighting animals for the locals. There’s a forest that you can enter at one end, but again there’s very little in it apart from a ridiculous number of wolves.
Your bardic power seems to have more use through the character’s ability to conjure up creatures with a lute. However, this means you have to pause whilst being attacked to strum your instrument to get a new creature to appear, which is another annoyance, along with the long loading pages you have to sit and watch every time you walk in and out of a building or move from one part of the world to the other. If you’re exploring all of the buildings in the village, this ends up being a lot of loading pages.
The bard himself is a scruffy cockney, who during conversations can either give somebody a nice reply or a nasty one, depending upon which button you press. More entertaining is the elderly richly-voiced narrator who tells the bard’s story as you move through the game and provides a bit of wry commentary now and again. The main thrust as it were is to make fun of fantasy games with comments that mostly make you roll your eyes, though now and again can be quite clever. However it sometimes comes across a bit laboured, with long lingering shots of the barmaid’s ginormous breasts barely constrained by the tiny outfit she’s wearing, for example.
The graphics aren’t bad, the ground is well textured and water when you step into it is done quite well, but it can sometimes be difficult to see loot for example, or even where the thing attacking you is coming from because if you run near a tree, you can’t move the camera under it, so your view is blocked, and the colours are quite muddy in the forest areas. The fighting is very basic as well – you can block and you can hit and that’s it.
So, overall, for the money (17p on Amazon) it’s probably worth a go to have a bit of a chuckle at how daft it is.