After being released a few years back for the PC, PS4 and PS Vita (really), the cheeky game with a mouthful of a title, The Bard’s Tale ARPG: Remastered and Resnarkled, has finally been released for the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Frankly, it’s about time. The original game was the first one ever released by the recently-acquired Xbox Game Studio, InXile Entertainment. However, was this title’s homecoming worth the wait, or is it better off stuck in the past?
In The Bard’s Tale ARPG: Remastered and Resnarkled (henceforth referred to as The Bard’s Tale), you play as the titular Bard in his journey for coin and cleavage. Oh, and there is a princess locked away in a tower too, but for the ever-heroic bard she represents those aforementioned two qualities to a tee. Along the way, the Bard meets a ton of quirky characters and learns spells that summon army members to fight alongside him. The game, as the name implies, is an action RPG (or ARPG), played out from a top-down perspective, with plenty of choices for weaponry, summons and more. You have the choice between two dialogue options, snarky and nice, although in reality it often amounts to mean or meaner. With all of this out of the way, lets jump into the meat of the game.
Beginning with the characters, The Bard’s Tale has an incredibly memorable cast of villains, heroes and victims. Starting with the Bard himself, veteran character actor Cary Elwes (who you might know from his work in The Princess Bride and Stranger Things) is pitch-perfect as the lewd, insufferable, snarky Bard. Elwes’ performance nails just how annoying the Bard is, as well as the underlying heart of gold buried (quite) deep within. The late Tony Jay plays the role of a narrator who often butts heads with the Bard to humorous results. Many of the game’s biggest laughs come from him. The rest of the cast is rounded out by other memorable characters, such as the mysterious and beautiful Princess Caleigh, a troupe of “Trow” (Goblin) singers, and the many warriors the Bard calls upon in battle.
Moving on to the writing, and as mentioned before The Bard’s Tale is absolutely hysterical. The main character himself is almost always ready with a mean quip or a snarky slight. However, the rest of the world is no slouch either and is more than ready to take him to task. The quests in the game are also hysterical. Take, for example, one early in the game wherein the hapless Bard is being forced to seek out a man named Bobd, just to find out that there are 8 other men all called Bobd who all look virtually identical. However, arguably the funniest part about the game – and in many regards the best – are the original songs. The “Tiddly Beer” song that kicks off the game is destined to get stuck in your head for days to com… (beer, beer beer. Tiddly beer, beer, beer). Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the “Tiddly Beer” song is destined to get stuck in your head for days to come, as are the many variations of the Trow singers’ signature song “Bad Luck to Be You” which spurs memories of the Oompa Loompa songs from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
The game is also incredibly self-aware and subversive. Players can expect fourth-wall breaks aplenty from almost every character in the game, as they shine light on some of the more absurd aspects of the medium. For example, why exactly do enemies eat treasure troves? However, the game manages to effortlessly walk the tightrope between subversion and condescension; as at no point does it come across as the game feeling itself as superior to others. It is well-aware of the RPG genre’s trappings, but it loves them all the same.
Yes, this game is unabashedly an RPG. Throughout, the Bard will be able to improve his skills in several key areas such as strength, vitality and luck. Each level up earns an additional two points to be applied as you wish, and every odd now and then you will earn a brand new ability. Summons are found as enemy drops and in chests, as are tokens which up your stats. Inventory management has been highly simplified, with all loot weaker than your current items, as well as all treasure and junk. sold off. The only items kept are crystals which are used to summon guardians with special effects, such as full party-healing and screen-clearing attacks, summons and better weapons and armour. While the lack of control over inventory may disappoint some, I feel it is used to great effect here.
Moving on to combat, it does the trick rather well but is not Dark Souls deep or anything. Attacking and blocking is easy, and there are times where you are going to want to jump into the action and times when you want your army to do your bidding as you sit back and make ranged attacks with your bow. The games I would most compare the combat to are the old 2D Zelda games, and the Rune Factory series, so if you are familiar with either you should feel right at home. The save system is also similar to those games as it is limited to certain areas, so save often!
Finally, I’d like to touch upon the visuals and performance, and whilst the former definitely show their age (the original game is 16 years old) they have certainly been cleaned up. It looks similar to the Xbox One Enhanced OG Xbox games, albeit redesigned to fit widescreen televisions instead of kept in the original aspect ratio. It is not a remaster on the level of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, but it gets the job done. As for the performance, for the most part the game runs well at 60fps, but it crashed twice during my playthrough, and in some instances cutscenes would not load. In these cases, a quick restart was all it took, but it was disappointing nonetheless. On the plus side, loading screens are virtually non-existent, having been limited to a couple of seconds in most cases.
To conclude, The Bard’s Tale ARPG: Remastered and Resnarkled on Xbox One is a rather delightful experience. The dialogue is hysterical, the characters memorable, the RPG mechanics solid as a rock and the combat decent. There are definite performance issues, and it is not as Remastered as it could have been, but when the core game has held up this well does that really matter? The game can be beaten in about 11 hours, so it is definitely worth the recommendation, and at the very least you can get a feel for InXile and their work before they make the next big Xbox RPG. It’s available on Game Pass and is a pretty small download, so I feel there is no reason not to at least try it.