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The Bard's Tale (2004)

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The Bard's Tale is a computer action-adventure game created by InXile Entertainment, and released in 2004. Marketed as a humorous spoof on fantasy computer role-playing games (of which the original The Bard's Tale was given as a prime example), it has more in common with modern console games like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance.

The Bard's Tale was released for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in October 2004. It was released for Microsoft Windows on July 28, 2005. The game was re-released on Steam in December 2009. The Steam release of this game includes the original The Bard's Tale, The Bard's Tale 2 and The Bard's Tale 3 trilogy.

Story

The plot involves "a sardonic and opportunistic musician and adventurer, driven by carnal rather than noble pursuits. The Bard (who is never identified by a specific name) is not interested in saving the world, his humble motivations are strictly 'coin and cleavage.'" His quest is narrated by a mocking, biased man who cannot stand him (Narration is provided by Tony Jay.)

The Bard (voiced by Cary Elwes), ends up being recruited by a cult to help free a princess named Caleigh. As a result of this, the Bard finds himself being attacked by an assortment of fanatics from a Druid-like cult, sent to dispatch him by a being called Fionnaoch. (Many of the names and characters are influenced by Celtic mythology and the stories of the Orkney Islands.) On the way to complete his quest, the not so valiant anti-hero will have to overcome the truly terrifying challenges of three monstrous guardians, break-dancing corpses, spontaneously melodious goblins and a giant, fire-breathing rat.

Gameplay

Completely unlike the classic Bard's Tale games, this game is in a 3D environment with the player watching his only controllable character from an overhead vantage point, and it is better described as an action-adventure game than a traditional role-playing game (i.e. there are no character classes or inventory management).

The player's character, the Bard, has magic and weaponry at his disposal to complete the task. The more the player accomplishes, the better his skills will become. The appearance and gameplay is much the same as the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance series, which shares the same graphics engine.

The game uses a "snarky or nice" system of dialog that allows the player to change the outcome of many situations by deciding how they want to respond. Some choices, such as being snarky to the dog at the beginning of the game, have game-lasting consequences. The first decision is whether to be nice or snarky to the barmaid in The Drunken Rat. Being nice to her gives her the impression the Bard's a gentleman and she leaves him alone, being snarky ensures the Bard doesn't spend the night alone. For example, near the beginning of the game you can find a dog. If you are nice to the dog he follows you for the rest of the game and gives you a few other skill options such as training it to fight. Also, you meet a farmer later in the game in order to obtain a certain quest item. He'll only give you the item, however, if you choose to be "snarky" to him. Normally "nice" answers could get you better results when not dealing with female NPCs (with the exception of some cases like the former one). "Snarky" answers, however, are often more comical and entertaining for the player.

The game also contains several song numbers, including:

  • Beer, Beer, Beer - sung by drunks in The Drunken Rat
  • Nuckelavee - sung by a band in The Aiken Drum, lamenting the unleashing of the Nuckelavee (which, unbeknownst to the band, was set loose by The Bard)
  • It's Bad Luck to Be You - a recurring song by the Trow Trio, with differing lyrics each time it's sung

Characters

The Bard

The otherwise nameless protagonist of the game, The Bard is a selfish rogue who will only undertake a quest if there is a likely profit in it for himself.

Summonable Allies

  • Brute - throws boulders at enemies, momentarily stunning them
  • Enchantress - can resurrect the Bard in the event that his Hit Points run out
  • Knight - can use his shield to stun enemies and has high defense due to his armour
  • Mercenary - swings haphazardly at enemies with an axe
  • Rogue -draws foes to her then speeds behind them and stabs with daggers
  • Crone - periodically restores the Hit Points of the Bard and his allies
  • Heroine - shoots at enemies with a rapid-fire crossbow
  • Knocker - electrocutes enemies with lightning rods
  • Light Fairy - lights up dark areas, and can stun enemies in battle with flashes of light
  • Explorer - can disable traps (at the cost of fewer Hit Points than if the Bard were to get caught in them). Can also pick up treasures and uncover secret passage ways
  • Bodyguard - draws ranged attacks to himself
  • Behemoth - charges into foes causing an explosive inferno
  • Elemental - a burning creature that hurls fire balls at enemies and can be used to melt walls of ice
  • Gouger - transfers the Hit Points of enemies to the Bard and his allies
  • (Vorpal) Rat - a rat that can be used to scare women (and a Viking in Finstown) by doing so the bard can get a small bit of coin
  • Thunder Spider - a small spider made of lightning, that discharges continuous streams of electricity into enemies stunning them

The Narrator

The ever-present commentator of the game, The Narrator provides sarcastic observations throughout the game, mostly about The Bard's self-interested character.

Caleigh

A beautiful, rich princess who is being held captive by Fionnaoch.

Fionnaoch

A mysterious figure who commands great warriors and is holding Caleigh captive.

The Three Tower Bosses

Once defeated, the Tower Bosses become summonable allies.

Fictional creatures

Kunal Trow

Humanoid, goblin type people, who tend to be extremely aggressive. though, unlike goblins, the kunal trow can speak fluent English.

Peerie Trow

The smaller, less violent version of the Trow, these creatures are more likely to use cunning to achieve their ends.

Bugbear

The Bugbear is a creature that's been preying on the people of Houton. When defeated, it is revealed that he is actually an old farmer in disguise.

Zombies

Undead humans, cows, and chickens unleashed by the main villain.

Finfolk

An aquatic creature that has fins, claws, sharp teeth, and tentacles.

Firbolg

Firbolgs are large, gentle creatures who are natural miners.

Parody of fantasy games

There are many references and parodies to common clichés of the fantasy RPG genre. These include:

  • The first quest involves slaying rats in the cellar of a tavern (a cliché of Baldur's Gate fame). However, in this parody, instead of defeating small, harmless rats, the vermin in question turns out to be a gargantuan, fire-breathing rodent.
  • When the Bard kills his first wolf, it drops a pile of treasure, parodying a common video game cliché of wild animals inexplicably having money and items. After that, enemies only drop items they may logically, albeit not always trivially, have. For example, a dead wolf may leave its hide, but also a red hood or picnic basket.
  • Early in the game, fun is also poked at the common looting of homes in RPG games. When the Bard takes said treasure, the Narrator accuses him of stealing. The Bard's defense is that he's providing a public service and that the chests would be cluttered if he didn't clear them out.
  • The player can have the Bard smash a barrel early in the game, which prompts the barrel-maker to come out and chastise him for smashing his barrels. He does offer a deal: smash all other barrels the Bard sees so that the barrel-maker can sell more barrels. This parodies the smashing of barrels, crates, containers that is common in most video games. In the game guide, it lists that the Bard's previous profession was as an assistant to the barrel maker, however he was fired for producing inferior barrels which "... shattered with a mere whack of a sword." And his mentor chased him out of town for such shoddy work, saying that "A key won't even be safe in these things." This is a parody of the common practice in RPGs of the players breaking containers for their goods, commonly including keys.

Connection to 1980s series

Although touted in early promotional materials as a remake of the classic Bard's Tale series, InXile Entertainment never had any rights to the trademarks of the original Bard's Tale — those rights are still owned by Electronic Arts. This meant that InXile was not legally allowed to use any of the plot, characters or locations featured in the original trilogy.

However, allusions to the original Bard's Tale do exist in the game. The city in which Fionnaoch's tower stands, Dounby, is only a few kilometers away from the ruins of real-world Skara Brae, where the original trilogy takes place. In a snarky remark made by the Bard to an NPC he mentions having had his fill of epic quests, he mentions "cities locked in eternal winter", which is a reference to the plot of the original Bard's Tale game. Finally, the PC port of The Bard's Tale comes packaged with the original Bard's Tale trilogy as a salute.

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