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The Bard's Tale
Review By: J. Michael Neal
 
Developer:  inXile Entertainment
Publisher:  Vivendi Universal
# Of Players:  1
Genre:  Action RPG
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  12-13-04

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 be grateful.

HIGHS:

  • One of those rare games that are intentionally funny and WORKS! Thank you Brian Fargo.
  • Surprisingly high production values from a new development house. Bravo.
  • Has charm and charisma to spare.
  • Gameplayís not half badÖ

LOWS:

  • Ö But itís only half good.
  • Camera can be a headache.
  • Even the best single-player only action RPG has longevity issues.

FINAL VERDICT:

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.

Overall Score: 8.3

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