by Joe Matar2
The Bard’s Tale Review
Level up a jerk in your quest for coin and cleavage
The Bard’s Tale is an action-adventure concerning the Bard, a medieval hero less noble than most, as he embarks on a conventional quest, saving a princess and the world. However, this just happens to take place en route to his primary goals of riches and sex. The Bard is an inconsiderate, greedy, lascivious bastard and his tale is a refreshing take on fantasy RPGs.
The game is an action-adventure with RPG elements. It features a world map, summoning, party members, HP, MP (here called mana), and leveling. However, the Bard is directly controlled in and out of battle by tapping two icons on the right side of the screen, one to block and one to attack, and by thumbing an icon on the left that mimics an analog stick. Everything else from stat-checking to summoning is done by touching the appropriate icon. You can also swipe in four directions to issue commands to allies. There will likely be times you’ll accidentally block instead of attack or a swipe won’t register but this is still one of the more intuitive and fluid control schemes I’ve experienced in an Android game.
The game’s RPG conventions are approached in unusual ways. You can only ever own one of each type of equipment as the best is automatically equipped with lesser gear instantly converted to its value in silver. You can heal yourself, but MP just regenerates. Leveling up earns two points to allocate to your stats and every other time you level you pick new abilities to learn, such as stun and charge attacks.
Especially unique is the intertwining of summoning and party members. Aside from your dog, you have no permanent allies. Rather, you spend mana to summon them as necessary and, when they die, you simply summon them again. This is accomplished by playing a magical lute. You’ll soon discover more tunes to provide you with new characters who run the gamut of abilities, such as the Crone, who periodically casts healing spells. Your first lute only allows one summoned creature to accompany you at a time but obtaining better lutes ups this number. Some allies are needed to complete specific parts. For example, the Light Fairy illuminates darkened areas but can stun enemies too. He also takes endless damage, which seems like a bug in the game, as it gives you a decidedly unfair advantage.
Gameplay is pretty basic. There’s not much strategy required beyond attacking and blocking occasionally (or picking off enemies from afar with bow and arrow) and, as I leveled up, I found myself getting lazier, often not bothering to block at all. Still, though simplistic, the game is never boring. You’re rewarded frequently with new abilities so progress feels palpable, driving you onward. There are times the difficulty seems unbalanced as, after carelessly dispatching droves of enemies, you’re suddenly ravaged in a random encounter, but this happens rarely.
Much like the gameplay, the story engages you enough to make you want to see it through. Being an amoral jerk, the Bard is a perfect commentary on many gaming protagonists, wandering around in pursuit of self-growth, regardless of the ramifications. In an inspired bit of narrative design, many quests require you to undo the damage you yourself caused. In conversations, you’re often presented with the option to be either amicable or snarky and the results aren’t so black and white as “nice equals better.” This is cool but not exactly fair as it’s impossible to guess the best choice, causing you to miss out on rewards for saying the wrong thing. Furthermore, when you aren’t in control of his dialogue, the Bard’s default disposition is to be a prick, so having him respond pleasantly feels out of character. But these are small niggles in an otherwise surprisingly smart storyline.
The sound design is well done and the voice acting top notch, as the cast is composed of voice acting veterans. Aside from some musical numbers and the brief lute tunes, the game opts for ambient sound rather than music. This generally works fine, but it’s odd that the cutscenes weren’t scored as it often makes important plot moments seem flat.
Graphically, there’s the option to download standard or high-definition assets. Though the game was originally released in 2004, the upgraded HD visuals look great. There are sweet particle effects when using magic spells and nice details like falling leaves from trees. Aside from minor issues like foreground objects occasionally obscuring your view and a glitch in which the floor completely disappeared temporarily, this is a good looking game.
The game is satisfyingly long and several more hours are piled on through optional areas and quests. Further, there’s unlockable behind-the-scenes content, plus all three (though the third is currently labeled as “Coming soon!”) of the original first-person Bard’s Tale RPGs from which this game took its namesake (though, admittedly, these haven’t aged well).
The Bard’s Tale is a simple, yet satisfying adventure with some clever variations on the fantasy RPG formula. It’s a competent, dedicated Android port with intuitive controls and nothing major in the way of glitches or bugs. Considering how many hasty, buggy ports are out there, as well as the many games in which there was little effort put toward designing them to be Android-friendly, The Bard’s Tale is a more than welcome adventure.
Check out Joe Matar’s Bard’s Tale Strategy Guide: How to Get the Most out of Being an Ass here.
Summary: Simple gameplay, but a refreshing storyline, with smart design that adds up to an overall high-quality port.