The Bard's Tale

The song I sing will tell the tale of a cold and wintery day...

Sorry Omar...

I believe I've only ever known of The Bard's Tale as a 3D action RPG, and being faaaiirly certain that the Bard's Tale I know wasn't released as early as 1985, that meant having to track down the original Bard's Tale.

Luckily, it and its two sequels come bundled with the PC release of The Bard's Tale that I am familiar with, so let's dive right in.

Fun Times

The Bard's Tale is a role playing game where you gather your party and adventure through the city of Skara Brae in an effort to defeat Mangar the Dark. You'll need to juggle equipment, attack as a group, cast the right spells and sing the right songs as you work your way through the city looking for dungeon after dungeon.

You'll explore the city, its sewers, catacombs and more on your quest to rid Skara Brae of the darkness that has enveloped it. Your parties main stats are always in view, with an image of either your view or your opponents taking up one side of the screen, and a text description taking up the other. It's simple, and it's straightforward, allowing you to get into the game very quickly.


Whereupon you'll get lost, not knowing what to do or where to go, perhaps even accidentally attacking my own party members and eventually dying to some orcs.

The game is very easy to get into, but at the same time is very easy to get overwhelmed by. Players should keep a whole load of scrap paper nearby to scribble down the map, and if that's a challenge then either go for the NES port, which includes an on-screen map, or avoid The Bard's Tale entirely.

How am I able to say that after such a brief look at the game? After what amounts to utter failure? Because YouTube. Watching a run of the NES port was so grindy - even with editing to cut much of it out - that I'm still wondering what the pay-off is.

Do we have a good game on our hands if those who know how to play it first spend their time grinding out a few levels and buying equipment for all of their party members? Sure, levelling up and grinding is part of many RPGs, but to require it so early on, or ask of it so often? Maybe I'm just out of touch with RPGs - it's been a while since I played an old-school RPG, for want of a better phrase.

Final Word

I don't think I can comment too much on The Bard's Tale. There's a lot to it, by the looks of it, but it's a lot of the same. It looks pretty good and can keep your attention, but if your in-game spatial awareness is off and you've no guide at hand, how long will that attention last? Humorously, there was a hint at where to begin written in the manual, but this hint was omitted from the manual of the Commodore 64 version.

It spawned two sequels, it was obviously popular. In my youth I might have spent a whole lot longer with it, trying to figure it out. These days - sadly - I find myself having to do some kind of assessment beforehand as to whether or not playing a game is worth my time. How have I come to that? Adulthood?

To put it simply, I haven't given this game a proper chance, and all games deserve a chance. I'll have to mark this down as unplayed and come back to it in another frame of mind. One where I don't hit my own party members in the face. Sorry guys...

Fun Facts

In some versions of The Bard's Tale, players could import characters from games like Ultima III. The games not their respective developers had nothing to do with each other, and were competing for a similar audience.

The Bard's Tale, developed by Interplay Productions, first released in 1985.
Version played (very briefly): DOS, 1985 (via The Bard's Tale (2004) extras)
Version watched: NES, 1991 (Jaytheclassicgamer)