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Friday, December 3, 2021

Tales of the Unknown Volume 1: The Bard's Tale

 One of many dungeon crawler style games released in the '80s, Bard's Tale is considered one of the finest from the era.  It had some quite good graphics for its time, with animated corridors as you moved through towns and dungeons and some pretty detailed (and often grotesque) portraits when you encountered enemies and NPCs.  Mechanically it had some pretty interesting additions too - there were a wide variety of races to play as and four different magic-user classes, and one could swap between them to diversify their repertoire of spells as the game progressed.  The titular Bard class plays a major role too, able to sing various songs to aid the party both in and out of combat as an ongoing effect - boosting chance to hit, restoring HP, decreasing Armor Class, and so forth, and you actually get to hear the music in-game as it plays - pretty nifty.  They were necessary in other ways too - many dungeon puzzles were impassable without one, and in a clever twist, they actually had to drink wine or ale to restore their singing abilities between battles.  As the adventure progressed, one could even recruit certain monsters into their party to give themselves a pretty significant edge; only one could be recruited at a time, though.  Bard's Tale is also quite infamous for its ruthless difficulty - reviving allies is ridiculously expensive even at the lowest levels, stat gains from leveling up are totally random, enemies attack you almost constantly, often in enormous groups, and as the dungeons go on they start pulling some extremely dirty tricks.  Not just in the form of damaging traps, but all manner of scripted nastiness from level drains to permanent charms that can absolutely devastate your party; sometimes irreversibly.  Basically, be prepared to either go through a lot of characters until you get your footing and considerably more even once you do, and even then you'll have to savescum an awful lot.  But if you're into these sadistic old dungeon crawls and want to see one with quite a bit of imagination behind its design, Bard's Tale is right up your alley.

(The remastered versions on the Bard's Tale Trilogy compilation are considerably more forgiving than the original releases, although if you're so inclined you can enable a "Legacy Mode" that restores the original version's difficulty and some/all of its irritating quirks)

Developer: Interplay Productions, Krome Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts, Ariolasoft
Released: 1985, 1986, 1987, 2019
Platform: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Apple IIGS, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Macintosh, MS-DOS, NES, PC-98, ZX Spectrum, XBox One, Windows