I have a confession to make: I never played The Bard’s Tale [$6.99] when it hit consoles back in 2004 (nor did I ever play the original 1985 version on PC). So, when the game made its recent debut on the App Store, I welcomed the opportunity to check out the quirky action-RPG. As it turns out, not only does The Bard’s Tale make a smooth transition to the small screen, but the great tongue-in-cheek story still works for folks that are looking to try it out for the first time, assuming they can get past the simplistic (and somewhat stale) gameplay mechanics.

For those that haven’t played it before, The Bard’s Tale follows the story of the unnamed protagonist as he gets swept away in a story rife with RPG clichés and humor.  Even though the game hardly ever takes itself seriously, the writing and humor remain well done and are the stars of the game. The voice acting also deserves a special mention, with Cary Elwes (of Princess Bride fame) as the voice of the bard. There are some that may roll their eyes at the sarcastic humor, but I believe that it's actually a big part of the appeal as too many games take themselves way too seriously these days.

Gameplay-wise, Bard’s Tale is a top-down action RPG with a somewhat basic real time battle system. At the start, players can wield various close and long range weapons and execute simplistic combos to take down your foes. Every couple of levels, players are also given an opportunity to choose traits, which range from earning additional gold, to special ranged shots, to unlocking weapon specializations like two-handed swords and dual-wielding.

Players also earn money by picking up random treasure drops from slain baddies and random chests, which are used to purchase weapons and armor. The Bard’s Tale may not be as robust as newer games in terms of character customization, but it gets the job done as far as providing an adequate gameplay experience. Furthermore, the game is absolutely massive in terms of the main adventure as well as optional quests.

In addition, a big part of the gameplay in The Bard’s Tale is its comprehensive summoning system. The bard can summon a wide variety of companions from support-based characters to offensive warriors. You start out with a limited amount of companions, but you learn more as you complete the main story. It’s always recommended to have someone summoned to help you in battle, and a lot of the strategy in the latter part of the game will be choosing the most helpful companion for the situation.

From a controls standpoint, The Bard’s Tale offers an option of a virtual joystick and a touch-based controls scheme. The joystick works well enough, although I would have liked it placed a little further from the corner of the screen for comfort purposes. Meanwhile, I just didn’t like the touch-based controls as you seem to lose a lot of versatility with this method, especially during battles. I’d consider these concerns to be relatively minor but potentially frustrating, considering the difficulty of the game.

One area that may pose a problem for some players is the surprisingly hard difficulty (at least, compared to other iOS action-RPGs). The majority of my playtime was done on the normal difficulty and I found myself having to do quite a bit of experience and money grinding just to give myself a fighting chance while playing. In addition, the lack of a ‘save anywhere’ system makes for some frustrating scenarios if you happen to die before you make it to a checkpoint (a definite possibility when you’re dealing with random encounters on the world map).

Also, it’s important to note that despite the relatively simple battle system, you cannot expect to bowl over mobs of enemies by mashing the attack button (ok you can, but only after some serious grinding); there are too many enemies with special abilities such as knockbacks and healing spells. Instead, you’ll have to actually prioritize enemies and employ actual techniques like using your companion to divide and conquer. It seems obvious, but there aren’t a lot of action-RPGs on the App Store that actually require some organization and planning. Of course, folks can also take advantage of several IAPs ranging from extra gold to stat increases, which basically put the game on easy mode.

Whether or not you end up enjoying The Bard’s Tale depends greatly on your priority for what makes a good game. If you care more about story and overall presentation, then Bard’s humorous story, great voice acting, and decent graphics should leave you highly satisfied. The visuals are particularly well done on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, as the added effects look great on these devices. However, players looking for a robust battle and character customization system may be disappointed as these areas are definitely where the game shows its age. Either way, despite its age, The Bard’s Tale merits at least some consideration and is recommended for any fan of action-RPGs.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Jonas

    While I agree with much of the review, two things I do not see eye to eye with ;) :

    While the game does indeed partially look very good, it is also non-retinaized, with tiny, pixelated text, and pixelated in-game graphics that detract much from the potentially great graphics.

    Furthermore, while the on-screen control implementation is good, the menus are rather clumsy and unhelpful, the result of a direct console port, with the tiny, pixelated text mentioned above, which is both hard to read while a text string is selected, and sometimes a bit hard to actually select.

    So while the game itself might be good, I hesitate to call it a good port, since only parts of the game are actually iOS-optimized. Far from as clumsy as (the otherwise great) Final Fantasy Tactics, but still far from iOS-friendly.

    • Anonymous

      For better graphics, turn off "battery saver" under Options. You will get a nice Retina resolution on capable devices.

      • Jonas

        Ah, I would have stood extremely corrected, but it turns out the iPhone 4 is not supported, for some reason ;-)

      • http://openid.khron.net/ KHRoN

        Because it has slow graphics (the same that iPod Touch 3G and iPhone 3GS have), so displaying in retina resolution would make game unplayable due to low framerate...

  • Adams Immersive

    It doesn’t seem to come up in searches by name on AppShopper, so here’s the link for AppShopper devotees:

    http://appshopper.com/games/the-bards-tale

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KHRM2IZU2SMZPXYAY5B7S3CPSA Anonymous

    "There are some that may roll their eyes at the sarcastic humor, but I believe that it's actually a big part of the appeal as too many games take themselves way too seriously these days."

    Console and PC games maybe, but I think App store games tend to be "irreverent" more often than not and it's especially tough to find a non-Korean RPG that isn't full of jokes and self-parody.

    Not that I don't like humor when it's well done and actually FUNNY, like this game, but it would be nice to see more games that actually try for an immersive world instead of making tired jokes at every turn.

    • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

      I believe the world your looking for is 'corny'?

  • Matthew Chuang

    The game is okay, can't really see why it takes up over one gigabyte of storage space though.  

    • Fabian Trunz

      it's a console port. They had space to waste on that DVD

  • jon

    "(nor did I ever play the original 1985 version on PC)" 

    You'd have a hard time playing Bard's Tales on PC in 1985 seeing as it wasn't released until 1987 on that platform. More likely you'd play it on C64 or an Apple II+/e. PC (DOS) wasn't a launch platform for most games during that time period.

    • Respox

      While nowadays "PC" typically refers to a Windows (and occasionally Linux) platform, back in the '80s no one would have batted an eye if you called an Apple II a PC. "Personal Computer" was a more generic term that included Commodores, Tandys, etc. If you needed to be more specific, what people think of as a "PC" today was referred to as an "IBM PC".

  • LORE

    This is the best game on ios

The Bard's Tale Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 4