J. Michael Neal
|# Of Players:
I doubt The Bardís Tale will appear on many peopleís
Christmas lists this year. Itís a sequel, but not to a franchise
like Warcraft, Doom, or Metroid. Itís an update
to a game that hasnít been seen since the 80s. There was some
fanfare around it, particularly among fans of Brian Fargo, a name
that use to mean something in this industry, but no where near the
level of hype that fueled sales the likes of San Andreas and
Halo 2. And alas, itís a fun game, but not nearly the
midnight oil-burner that Snake Eater, Fable, or
Paper Mario is. However, this does not mean that The Bardís
Tale is unworthy of purchase, or that one canít make space for
it on ones busy Holiday gaming plate. To the contrary, The Bardís
Tale is one of the most enjoyable games Iíve played all year,
and (re)introduces the world to one of the most memorable main
characters seen in a very long time. Itís just that humor and charm
can only carry bland gameplay so far. But, lucky for the Bard, it
can carry him pretty dang far.
Before you pop the game in, youíll be laughing (read the
instructions on the front of the disc). Within the first few minutes
of turning on The Bardís Tale, you will have already guffawed
a dozen times. This game is hilarious, and has a wonderful
self-parodying style few others can match. Itís all about setting up
typical role-playing clichťs and knocking them down, something
long-time fans of the genre will appreciate and recognize from
classic Interplay RPGs like Fallout and Planescape:
Torment. Itís less subtle than No One Lives Foreverís spy
spoofing, but not quite Conkerís level over-the-top Ė a
perfect middle ground between tongue-in-cheek and farce.
Leading the charge in this accomplishment is some of the best
writing, music, and voice acting Iíve encountered all year. Dialogue
is wall-to-wall laughs and delivered with spot-on timing by the
likes of Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men
In Tights) and the always-excellent Tony Jay. The game has a
pitch-perfect score, provided by industry staple Tommy Tallarico
Studios, and some of the most enduring lyrics since PaRappa the
Rapper. Youíll be singing the ode to Charlie Mops for days.
The gameís no slouch in the visual department, either. A surprising
amount of detail and personality has been placed in the character
models, and their designs are traditional, yet distinctive.
Environments are typical of the genre (forests, caves, artic
wonderlands, etc.) but there are no hitches to speak of thanks to
the engine used in the game, licensed from Snowblindís Champions
of Norrath. It also features the kinds of little touches that
make geeks like me go a big, rubbery one, your dog chasing random
birds when you arenít in combat for example. If there is a visual
problem, itís that the isometric camera doesnít always provide the
best view. It can be repositioned slightly with the right analog
stick (rotated, zoomed in and out), which helps from time to time,
but if you are fighting under a tree or some other large
obstruction, youíll have to fight blind. A real annoyance, but it
often comes with the territory.
The biggest problem with The Bardís Tale is that once you
strip away all its charm and personality, it becomes practically
indistinguishable from any other action-RPG, save for the fact that
itís not as deep. Five minutes into wandering around a
troll-infested cave and youíd be hard-pressed to differentiate it
from any other troll-infested cave youíve ever had to hack-and-slash
your way through, particularly since the combat system lacks any
sort of finesse. Sure, once you encounter the next cut-scene youíll
be treated with some hilarious deconstruction of troll-infested
caves in action-RPGs, but in the meantime youíll still have to mash
through wave after wave of brain-dead monsters. It has neither the
endless item hunting of Champions of Norrath, nor the complex
character building of Dark Alliance 2, and a total lack of
multiplayer limits the longevity quite a bit. This isnít to say you
wonít enjoy the game, but gameplay alone wonít make you love The
Bardís Tale. You have to play it for the story, the characters,
the dialogue, the songs, and just consider the hack and slashing a
necessary evil to get you from cut-scene to cut-scene.
Also, the game isnít nearly as open-ended as Brain Fargo let on in
interviews. Sure, itís not as linear as Fallout: Brotherhood of
Steel, but you never feel like the worldís your oyster. The
levels are still as restrictive as anything youíve seen, even if you
are relatively free to pick your quests as you see fit. If it makes
you feel any better, you can affect the game by your reactions in
certain cut-scenes. In most instances, you are allowed to choose one
of two reactions to questions and comments - the smirking, sarcastic
reaction and the smiling, heroic one. Thereís no incentive to pick
either, no right or wrong reaction, but the one you select will
change things slightly. It doesnít have enormous sway over the
story, this isnít Knights of the Old Republic weíre talking
about, but itís more role-playing than Xenosaga gave you, so
One of those rare games that are intentionally funny and WORKS!
Thank you Brian Fargo.
Surprisingly high production values from a new development house.
Has charm and charisma to spare.
Gameplayís not half badÖ
Ö But itís only half good.
Camera can be a headache.
Even the best single-player only action RPG has longevity issues.
If you picked up The Bardís Tale to be wowed by gameplay,
you grabbed the wrong game. Return it for something flashy and
leave this one for people who can appreciate the value of humor
and personality. My recommendation? Pick this one up once it hits
the bargain bins and you wonít regret it.