A classic that could have stayed snarkled.
The Bard’s Tale is a series that originated on the PC in the mid-80s and has gone through several iterations over the course of the last three-and-a-half decades. As one of the original computer RPGs, Tales of the Unknown: The Bard’s Tale gained notoriety for its close relationship to the tabletop juggernaut, Dungeons & Dragons. Relaunched in the form you see now in 2004, this top-down action-RPG moved away from the serious high fantasy roots of the originals, instead moving forward with satirical commentary on the genre. Now remastered for modern consoles, The Bard’s Tale ARPG: Remastered and Resnarkled offers all of the same charm and incredible dialogue of the original release, while not really fulfilling the promise behind a “remastered” version.
The Bard is a dastardly anti-hero, who doesn’t really care about anyone other than himself. Regularly willing to demean everyone he comes across, The Bard fights for fame, money, and women—nothing else. After getting dragged into an attempted princess rescue, The Bard finds himself having to make decisions that will alter this world drastically. If it weren’t for the presence of the player themselves, The Bard probably wouldn’t have bothered with any of this, but through him, you can decide. You are given a positive dialogue option which offers up a pleasant response to whoever The Bard is speaking with, or the more entertaining snarky option. The dialogue is masterfully-written and enjoyable throughout the entire experience. Voice acting is at an all-time high in The Bard’s Tale, and it holds up very well after a 16-year hiatus. The story itself is fairly generic if you’ve ever played or watched anything even remotely resembling high fantasy, but the satirical angle allows for some out-of-left-field twists that add some spice to this otherwise bland bowl of rice.
As far as action-RPGs go, The Bard’s Tale’s combat is fairly basic. Featuring an attack and block button, this bare-bones mechanic feels more similar to a beat ‘em up than the Diablo-esque dungeon crawler it pretends to be. Summoning creatures and warriors to your side is the only interesting portion of combat, but is limited to the number of party members allowed and the dozen or so spells at your disposal. Due to this, much of your time will be spent running in circles avoiding enemies while re-summoning your friends to the battlefield to take on whatever baddie is giving you chase. Maybe it adds to the persona of The Bard, or maybe it speaks to the satire across the board, but in reality, it’s just a boring hack-n-slash fest.
Questing through each area means searching around every town and speaking with all the townsfolk in hopes of finding something interesting to do. A little more direction would have been nice, and the rudimentary mini-map doesn’t help, but some of the quests end in a truly comedic experience that I was glad to have searched out. Whenever you think you know what might be going on, get ready for some 4th-wall-breaking comment or a total reversal from the implied tropes.
Leveling up results in the ability to stack points into certain categories that influence attack strength or summoning power—much like Dungeons & Dragons—but The Bard’s Tale fails to add anything interesting beyond what you would expect from rolling a D20 or assigning points into your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. in the wasteland. It’s entirely serviceable but plain-jane and uninspiring.
Graphically, The Bard’s Tale still feels like it could be a game from the early 2000s. Some sort of upgrade had to have happened, I suppose, but it isn’t impressive in any way, shape, or form. With that being said, it does enough to not be bothersome or too wonky, even if the controls and slight graphical bugs can be annoying. Even though the game doesn’t look top-notch, the performance was fine across the board, which is better than nothing. The soundtrack feels like something you’d get in other satirical films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with that flare of medieval pageantry.
The Bard’s Tale is a low-grade action-RPG that must have spent all its skill points in voice acting and writing. Featuring Cary Elwes of The Prince Bride fame, and following a script that truly puts the snark in Resnarkled, The Bard’s Tale could talk its way out of any confrontation. Sadly, sub-par, boring combat, and a restrictive summoning system mean you’ll be rolling ability checks with a negative modifier. If only The Bard’s Tale was more proficient—should’ve chosen a wizard or a rogue.