Let me tell you the story of a bard. Or, The Bard, I suppose. Brought back to life on Android and iOS systems, The Bard’s Tale is a parody-filled action RPG with an emphasis on humour and music. It’s an enjoyable, often hilarious, adventure, but not suited at all to the smaller screens of mobile devices.
The Bard, as the game’s hero is known, is not your traditional role-playing protagonist. He couldn’t care less about the fate of the world or the ethics of the virtuous. Instead, he’s driven by two desires: woman and money. After a slow start, the story kicks off a few hours into the game when The Bard is recruited by a bizarre cult to rescue an attractive princess named Caleigh.
The tale is slow to progress, and I found that it lagged on multiple occasions. Fortunately, the humorous writing helps to keep things interesting. Infrequent (and fourth-wall breaking) narration from a man who dislikes The Bard is consistently funny. Fantasy parody jokes pad out the entire quest, keeping an otherwise potentially dark story generally light in tone. There are a number of songs during dialogue, too, which are fully voiced by an appropriately dopey-sounding cast.
Music is a prominent part of both story and gameplay. At certain points in the game, The Bard acquires improved musical instruments that allow him to summon an increasing number of allies in battle. These range from tank-like warriors and skilled archers to spiders that shoot lightning and fragile healers. If any of these friends fall in battle they can simply be re-summoned. There’s a good number of summoning songs to learn, and different combinations allow for interesting tactical changes.
Aside from his music, The Bard has a range of weapons at his disposal. These include swords and bows, among others. Upon levelling up, The Bard gains new stat points plus a new feat that grants a special skill such as improved critical hits or one that makes your canine companion useful in combat. There’s an excellent variety of customisation, and combat can be approached in a number of ways as a result. It’s a pity the HUD icons are so small that tapping the correct one can be tricky.
Unfortunately, the controls hinder the otherwise involving action-focused combat. I found it difficult to keep my thumb on the virtual D-Pad, and slipping off it would sometimes bring The Bard to an awkward halt. Combined with the small screen of my phone, it made navigating certain areas more difficult than it should have been. On a larger phone or tablet, this should be less of an issue.
Across the game, The Bard visits a number of different areas, from forests to snowy mountains, all connected via a world map complete with enemy encounters. But the game’s greatest problem is a lack of direction: there’s too many areas. About halfway through the game my interested started to peter out and was never really rekindled. The Bard’s Tale doesn’t fail in any category, but it doesn’t excel in too many either.
The graphics are solid for a mobile game, and look much the same as the game’s original release on Xbox and PlayStation 2 back in 2004. Character models are detailed, and backgrounds look good, if a little rough compared to more modern titles. There are some optional higher-resolution textures you can download and install if your device can handle it, though, which is an appreciated addition.
If you’re a fan of 90s-style western RPGs and love a good parody-filled adventure, then The Bard’s Tale is likely to be a game you’d enjoy. It’s not the most original, and isn’t always riveting, but its good humour continues to shine through. Just make sure you have a device with a decent-sized screen.