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The Bard's Tale
Platform:  Playstation 2
# of Players:  1
Developer:  InXile Entertainment
Publisher:  Unknown
Features:  RPG
Release Date:  November 01, 2004
I am so sick of the classic RPG formula, and that is saying something, seeing as my favorite games are almost all role-playing games. The genre has moved so far from original it has become clichéd, then a parody of itself and finally so bad that fans expect the same garbage in all their games. If it doesn’t look, sound and feel like Final Fantasy then it will not sell as well as it should. Bioware has broken down those standards, and has raised the bar for game developers everywhere.

Many games have not kept up with the new world order of RPG’s and have paid the price in the form of obsoleteness. Some game makers, however, have risen to the challenge. Welcome to the first chapter in a new series of articles that will highlight role-playing games as they should be, original and entertaining. Today we will highlight a game that was created to challenge the notion of what a RPG should be.

The Bard’s Tale is a contradiction. The original Bard’s Tale debuted way back in 1985 and spawned two sequels that garnered quite a large following. Flash forward to 2004 and most of the elements from one of the first role-playing games ever put to software have been forgotten. Simple gameplay, and humor have been eradicated for cumbersome menus and angst-ridden plotlines. Brian Fargo, co-creator of the original Commodore 64 games, has decided that it was time for the Bard to make a return. So while the game is indeed a remake, the source material has been so long forgotten that the new game seems entirely original.

The first thing you need to know about The Bard’s Tale is that fact that there is nothing held sacred, no cliché that will survive the wit of the hero. Fargo has made in abundantly clear that the main purpose in creating this game was to help rid the video game world of clichés. For example, you know how in every single RPG you’ve ever played; you play the role of The Chosen One? That kind of thing gets annoying, especially since the hero in question is never old enough to have experienced the wonders of puberty, much less be able to fight effectively with any weapon.

Thankfully that sort of thing is non-existent in this game. In fact NPC’s will call the Bard the Chosen, and without fail, get smacked upside the head. The hero in question does what he does only for money, and the attention of the ladies. Finally a hero that mirrors the heart of every male on the face of the planet. The fact that he is an adult makes the game full of possibilities for all sorts of humor that you won’t find in a Tales game. Hell, the official website has the full lyrics to the beer song, with a full chorus of drunks singing right along. Any game with that much love for alcohol is bound to be great.

Many developers have attempted to make their games fun but have rarely pulled off the balance between humor and gameplay. There is no conflict of interest with InXile. The Bard’s Tale centers around the humor, and they’ve made sure that everybody will love to play this game. In order to focus on the dialog and plot they’ve hijacked the Champions of Norrath game engine to power their game. Not that this is a bad thing, as Norrath has some of the smoothest frame rates with multiple characters on screen I’ve seen. The person who decided to make the games humor vocal should be thanked, but the person who decided to enlist the aid of Cary Elwes should get a promotion. The Man In Black himself is recording all the dialog for the titular character, which has become the deciding factor in purchasing this game for me.

The gameplay is somewhat like the recent rash of hack-and-slash games, but with some important differences. As clever people might have already realized, the game is centered on a bard who is not exactly the greatest fighter in the world. What he can do, however, is summon creatures with his music to do his bidding. Over sixteen different summons are available to use. Once summoned they will fight for you until they are no longer alive, or you dismiss them. The great part about this is the way that the summons will be used in battle. Instead of a magical shield spell, the Bard will summon a golem to take blows for him. No more “reveal trap’ spells. Instead you’ll summon an old explorer to find the traps for you. Perhaps he’ll even try to lead you into them. Each summon has its own personality, and allows for more of the trademark humor to come through.

Other parts of the gameplay will streamlined as well. For instance, once you pick up a duplicate item or animal pelt, the item is automatically turned into gold. Going back to return 87 bear hides get annoying real quick, so this is a feature that I’m sure will be ripped off as soon as the next generation of dungeon crawlers roll around.
With a dose of humor and a classic gameplay enhancement or two, The Bard’s Tale is certainly not trying to reinvent the genre. Rather, they seem to be turning it into something that gamers who are tired of all the doom and gloom can pick up an enjoy. It may not sell a million copies, but look for this game to influence a new movement among the industry, one that uses humor to sell a story instead of death and destruction. Look for The Bard’s Tale from InXile Entertainment this November.