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The Bard's Tale, a DVD-ROM in English by Ubisoft, distributed with a 20-page, English-language user's manual, requires Windows 98 and up and a 933 Mhz Pentium III PC or better, for ages 12 through adult, NIS 199 to NIS 219. - Rating: *** 1/2
Shakespeare, the "Bard of Avon," might have been upset to come across the anti-hero in this piece of software.
The unnamed Scottish bard, a swashbuckling fortune-hunter and minstrel, is no altruistic nobleman or lyric poet. He prefers bedding buxom women to saving the world from evil, and keeps himself busy crossing swords with brutes, behemoths and rogues.
Nevertheless, the old-fashioned and sometimes bawdy English dialogue in this action/role-playing game (RPG) - well-voiced by Scottish and other British actors and written out at the bottom of the screen - sometimes does sound as if it came from a Shakespearean play. Cary Elwes capably lends his voice to The Bard, and Tony Jay is the more sophisticated Narrator.
A role-playing game of the same name was created for Apple II by Brian Fargo in the late 1980s, and he's responsible for this fantasy re-make, created first for Playstation 2 and X-Box before PCs got their turn. Although Ubisoft suggests age 12 as the minimum for playing it, the game is probably not suitable for most Israeli kids of this age because the language is accented Scottish-English, the user's manual has not been translated, and the young damsels are in a state of near-undress.
Still, young Hebrew speakers could manage to aim their dirks (twisted daggers), two-handed swords, steel flails and bows at The Bard's enemies without understanding anything of the text. The battles are seen from afar from a bird's eye view or from down below, with one squirt of red and no gore. There is little variation, and the game are liable to become tiresome after only an hour's play.
At the outset, allocate The Bard's attributes by deciding how much strength, vitality, luck, dexterity, talent, charisma and rhythm he deserves. He will pick up more talents as the game progresses, using "power ups" earned by winning battles. At numerous junctions in the missions, a set of smile-and-frown masks appears on the top of the screen to indicate the Bard's progress.
The game, which would take about 20 hours to complete (if you have the patience), is offered at three levels of difficulty - easy, normal and "Olde School." It opens as a timeworn book and is played by chapter. Visiting the tavern of an old inn, the hungry bard is offered a deal by the mini-skirted barmaid: Kill the horrific rat in the cellar, and you will get a free meal, she challenges him. You take The Bard down into the dark cellar and make mincemeat of the rodent. He is rewarded for his efforts not only with food, but with a night spent with the barmaid. Shown trying to filch some goods from a wooden chest in the inn, The Bard is berated by the Narrator, who says: "I supposed it shouldn't have taken long for The Bard to get his hands on Mary's chest...." This is just one example of the indelicate, slapstick humor sprinkled through the narrative. Another is when The Bard is set on fire while managing to complete a mission. "Nicely done, or is that well done?" the barmaid asks. I admit that I laughed when a priest with an aura of holiness benevolently offers to lay his hands on The Bard for "a healing and a blessing," and then adds "if you are inclined to make a small donation."
The game saves you the headache of maintaining an inventory of loot and weapons. When you earn money for The Bard, it is automatically turned into coins; when you graduate to higher-grade arms, they substitute for primitive ones, which are also converted to cash. Among the more eye-opening weapons are thunder spiders that deliver an electrical bite that stuns and shocks enemies for a short period of time. The Bard also casts spells with his music-making lute.
While the sound quality is realistic and the bagpipe music pleasant, the graphics engine is rather old-fashioned, making some of the characters look very boxy and unnatural; nevertheless, there are some nice images such as tree leaves blowing in the wind and the clear spring waters shimmering when The Bard gets his feet wet.
Some RPG fans will like the humor and irony that this game uses to make fun of the RPG genre, they'll forgive the game for its tedious combat sequences. Others, who have less patience, will soon become bored by The Bard.