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March 1, 2005
The Bard's Tale - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
25/2/2005THQInXile1M15+Medium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
400KBStereoYesNoNoneNo

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Three friends helping out.
Every time a RPG (Role Playing Game) is released in PAL territories it's a big event. Unlike Japan which seems to get a steady stream of high quality RPG’s, PAL gamers are grateful just to get two or three good releases in a year. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. Fortunately InXile's The Bard's Tale must be our good RPG release for the first part of 2005.

I'll be the first to admit that the story in this game isn't anything original. Essentially you play the role of the Bard. A musician and adventurer whose main pursuits in life are coin and cleavage. Soon enough, however he ends up on a quest to save a princess who, unsurprisingly, has been captured by evil. What makes this story so engaging is the way in which the dialogue unfolds and the story is told. But more on the impressive dialogue later, let's look at the meat of the game.

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Taking on some wildlife.
Essentially The Bard's Tale plays the same as almost every other RPG. You start out with little experience, few weapons and a nice town to explore. It's not long, however, until you are given a few small tasks to complete to build experience and get the essentials. Soon after you start the main quest, but the number of side quests in The Bard's Take is impressive and could take hours to complete. Over the course of the game you will visit dungeons, cities, forests, iced areas and lava areas. Combat occurs in real-time with summoning of friends taking a few seconds leaving you vunerable to attack. At the beginning of the game The Bard is on his own however as the game progress he can summon characters to join his party.

During the game when the Bard is conversing with characters you often have to choose how to respond with either a snarky or nice tone. This can greatly affect the outcome of the conversation and progress of the game. At one point you meet a dog in town. Be snarky to him and he'll run off never to be seen again. Be nice to him and he'll join your party. If you then learn how to train the dog after leveling up he will attack any enemies during the remainder of the game. It doesn't pay to be nice all the time. Some situations require that you be snarky to make progress with more stubborn characters.

Another very amusing element to this game is the songs. During his quest the Bard will encounter situations where he can, or will have to, listen to songs from people he meets. Some of these are absolutely hilarious with more then a touch of Monty Python style and bravado.

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One of the superb songs.
The main issue which I can see many RPG gamers having with The Bard's Tale is the simplicity. There's little opportunity to upgrade weapons or stats and really it's more a case of find a new weapon, it becomes available. Combat in The Bard's Tale is probably the weakest aspect. At times it's hard to see what's happening, especially if you have several enemies and a couple of friends all in close quarters. Sure, you can zoom in but it then removes the ability to see enemies a little further out - especially those whimps with bows and arrows! The range of summoning and spells is very limited as well while it would have been nice to have a slightly longer game as 20 hours doesn't seem enough when having so much fun. Still, if you play all the side quests and find every item you will likely spend double that time playing The Bard's Tale.

Graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. The backgrounds look quite nice and the frame rate holds fairly solid with the only occasional drop. What is a bit more of an issue is the look of the characters when the game goes to the real-time cut scenes. The character models are quite low detailed and when they get into close up face shots you can certainly see a lack of detail and effort in this area. It's not horrible, but it certainly could be better.

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Two bloody big enemies!
One aspect of The Bard's Tale stands above all others - the voice acting. With superbly written lines of dialogue the voice acting captures the spirit of the game perfectly. Actually it's probably the other way around, the spirit of the game is created through the voice acting. Cary Elwes (from movies such as Ella Enchanted, Liar Liar, Kiss the Girls and Twister) as The Bard and Tony Jay (from movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Twins, and Treasure Planet) as The Narrator sound wonderful together as they insult and banter during the game. Here's a perfect example of the wit associated with this title. In this scene The Bard is talking to Lugh, the evil person who controls the Mountain Tower:

    The Bard: "Can we just get this over with. I've a princess to rescue and the sooner you go down, the sooner she'll go.... well, can we just get this over with."
    Lugh: "Princess! I admire a man who will die for love"
    The Bard: "Who said anything about love?

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Just hanging in the tunnels.
As well as the two main voices the developers used 41 other voice actors to bring to life the other characters in the game world. Every single voice is fantastic. Sound effects are solid enough however the music could have been a little more dramatic and exciting in places. Still, this is one of the best sounding games on the PS2.

So as an RPG The Bard's Tale is a bit light on from the side of upgrading and leveling up, but the story and humour is presented in such a fashion that you just have to love this title. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this game has the best humour I've ever seen or heard in a video game. It's fantastic. For that reason the slight deficiencies in the depth of gameplay can be overlooked. But I ask you this question. Why do we play games? To be entertained. In that regard The Bard's Tale is an absolute winner and worth adding to any PS2 collection.

Review By: Dave Warner

Order your copy now from Gameswarehouse (PAL version) or Amazon (NTSC version)
GRAPHICSClose up characters look average, but in-game graphics are solid.
78%
SOUNDAmazing voice work is backed by good effects and adequate music.
87%
GAMEPLAYA simplistic RPG, but very entertaining and will keep you hooked.
87%
VALUEAround 20 hours to complete, but it will take longer to find everything.
80%
OVERALLThe Bard's Tale is one of those games that is better then the sum of its parts. It has a solid engine, great sound and a good story. Most importantly it's very funny and extremely engrossing. Certainly a game worth looking at.
85%

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