The Bard’s Tale – A troublesome troubadour’s treacherous trials in taming tantalizing tarts. How’s that for alliteration? Come! Sing a song about the origins of beer and curses ever-lasting whilst I spin a yarn about a young man’s drunken pursuit of whatever tickles his fancy. The Bard’s Tale is a tale not to be forgotten.
Your story begins as a scruffy English-speaking bard with the lust of a teenage boy and a lute slung over his shoulder. What’s a bard, you ask? A lonesome traveler, singer of stories, dexterous and nimble, charmer of ladies, and adept at the magical arts of charm and summoning! Not enough for you? Here, try Wikipedia.
A Voice To Be Remembered
After allocating a number of starting points to various abilities – the RPG standards like Strength, Dexterity, Charisma, Vitality, etc. – you set off on your journey. While the back-story isn’t immediately obvious in Bard’s Tale, the quality of the voice acting certainly is – a lot of work has gone into this title. Every interaction is narrated by (mostly) believable English, Scottish, and Irish accents, and the writing is top-notch. As you make your way through the bleak, grassy landscape, you’ll be guided by an omnipresent and constantly heckling narrator who makes it a point to call-out your failings and presented with various quests that net you experience, loot, and advance you through the story… which is pretty hilarious, I must say.
Songs Of Simplicity
During your travels, you’ll encounter buxom lassies with rat troubles, overweight screaming mums that run-about in circles, a blacksmith who yammers-on like a gun aficionado at a swap meet, a trio of singing goblins, and much-much more. This is a typical action-RPG in that you’ll be running quests and upgrading your items, but the focus really isn’t so much about the loot as it is about the story and characters. New items you find will replace the outdated models automatically, so won’t spend much time comparing item stats and swapping things around. There isn’t even a character model in your inventory with slots to equip helmets, chest pieces, boots, gauntlets, rings, or swords. No, the Bard’s Tale is all about simplicity and entertainment value, swapping the typical “loot management system” of most modern RPGs with quality story and quirky dialogue. Oh, and music.
As you progress through the story line, you’ll be presented with many hilarious NPC concerts where various drunken bar patrons break-out in a tale of the origins of beer, or a troupe of goblins laments your sad and gloomy future-to-come. Each song even comes complete with a bouncing-ball so you can sing along! I regularly found myself charmed by these interludes, even though I was supposed to be the one doing the charming. What’s more, you’ll collect tokens that give you minor – yet permanent and passive – buffs as you progress. After playing nearly two and a half hours, I’d barely scratched the surface in terms of unlocking my songs and tokens. Bard’s Tale is clearly a game you’ll be taking your time with.
A Friend For Every Encounter
Minions come in all styles and flavors, each contributing to your combat style in their own ways. The lightning spider, for example, will stun your enemies allowing you to finish them off up-close without risking taking damage whereas the Crone will hang-back and heal you when you take damage. There are dozens of songs to unlock in Bard’s Tale, allowing you to play whatever combat-style you’d like.
As a bard, you can focus on melee combat (dirks, swords, flails, and Claymores), ranged combat (bows), summoning, or all of the above in some watered-down fashion. As you earn xp and gain levels you’ll get more points to assign to your abilities as well as the occasional new talent, such as teaching your new puppy to bite or dual-wielding. It should be noted that the vast majority of variety when it comes to skills will be found in your “songs” – summoning magic. The higher your Rhythm skill, the more powerful your summoned minions are (and the less work you’ll have to do in combat).
How To Swing A Sword, Part I
When it comes to social interactions (i.e. dazzling bar maidens), you’ll choose your demeanor by taping an “angry face” icon for a hostile approach or a “happy face” icon for a more amicable demeanor. As for combat, however, things get a bit more complicated. You’re presented with several on-screen controls that allow you to summon creatures, heal yourself, block, and attack. For the most part you can get away with hack’n slashing your way through mobs, but the bosses will present a solid challenge. This game is no cakewalk when it comes to boss-fights, and you’ll need to time blocks and strikes lest you find yourself taking a dirt-nap and reloading.
Using your minions in conjunction with your desired combat style is key to winning battles in Bard’s Tale. Once I got the rhythm of combat down, I discovered that continually blocking a tough enemy allowed my ranger-pal to pew-pew him into oblivion. A couple poorly timed blocks, however, was game-over for my musical pansy.
One Sweaty Finger
Story, narration, and voice-acting are all top-notch in this title, and you’ll find yourself constantly entertained. However, the on-screen controls present a bit of a challenge – as they do in most phone/tablet interfaces – in that precision is a pain in the arse. It’s hard to maintain a slow walk, or to not accidentally drag your finger outside of the joystick controller zone, stopping your bard in his tracks. During fights, the on-screen joystick can become problematic once your joystick finger gets sweaty as it becomes harder to position yourself. Perhaps I should invest in one of those suction-cup joysticks… Swinging your sword also seems a bit laggy, but it helps that the game seems to auto-target whoever’s nearby. Healing yourself will pause the game to play a cinematic (which you apparently can’t skip), but summoning a new minion leaves you vulnerable to attack during the entire song… resulting in frequent death. This means that you’d better have a fully healed buddy by your side before a fight, because it’s nearly impossible to re-summon during the thick of combat.
Technically speaking, this game can be quite demanding on the highest settings – but luckily there are independent controls for things like texture resolution, particles, shadows, and alpha blending to keep things in-sync with your device. On my Nexus 7 tablet, the game ran decently on max-settings. There is a refresh rate slider that made things run smoother when set on high, but only for a short while… whereupon it started slowing down to a crawl. Strange.
The Never-Ending Forest
The major (and perhaps only) downside of this marvelous tale is the visual repetition. Initially, the maps tend to look and feel the same once your outside of town – lots of grass and trees. I’d just moved-on to Kirkwall before writing this review, which is only the second town you’ll visit, but was already growing weary of the Scottish grasslands. What’s more, combat gets a bit dreary and predictable. In the early game, I struggled to stay alive… but once I’d leveled a couple times and invested in some armor, I simply plowed into the fray swinging my sword like a mad man. Granted, I still had to heal myself regularly, but with the proper use of your minions you’ll find yourself with more than enough time to whistle a little tune while they do all the fighting for you.
The Bard’s Tale is the first RPG I’ve played on an Android device that felt like a full-fledged title, and for this I give it props. While somewhat simplistic and graphically boring at times when roaming the countryside, this title is well worth the investment. My only main grip is the lack of a typical inventory/loot management system. I miss all the trinkets that a normal RPG provides. After 2hrs of play-testing, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface…