Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Bard's Tale III: Swan Song

He's going to make me play Bard's Tale III...forever. (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube user girldrinkdrunk1.)

I'm departing from this game just as it admittedly started to get more tolerable. Thanks to ronaldsf's comment pointing me to the right patch, I finally had a version where I could type in spell names. This made a huge difference. I should mention that the patch brought some problems, though, including text appearing in the wrong locations.

The second dimension, Gelidia, was shaping up to be a little more interesting. Inside a ramshackle outpost, long-abandoned, I found a journal, written by someone named Alendar, that detailed the fall of the realm via some kind of invasion. The invasion apparently succeeded because their hero, Hawkslayer (my NPC from Arboria) was absent, and their god, Lanatir, was killed in the first wave of attacks. The journal mentions that Lanatir's sphere and wand (which I was sent here to find) are safe in his tomb behind a series of wards. Alendar died after using all his energies to cast a freezing spell over Gelidia to destroy the invading horde.


This isn't the first example of a expository journal entry in a CRPG, but I can't honestly remember where the first one did appear. They're a bit of a trope. The Elder Scrolls is famous for them, even when they barely make sense (e.g., a paper journal having survived 1000 years in a damp tomb). It adds a new dimension to The Bard's Tale III by actually instilling the land with a bit of lore.

Things got even better after that. The world's one dungeon, the Ice Keep, featured a series of warded doors with strange messages on them:


I wasn't sure what to do with them, so I mapped the keep, including an entire level that had not a single message or special encounter--I walked around it twice, just to be sure--before I realized the solution was in the journal:



The solution was to cast a series of spells against the warded doors. After some trial and error, I figured out that "bright light" referred to the "mage flame" spell; "loud thunder" resolved as "shock sphere" (that one took a long time); "whispered terror term" was "fear"; and "flaming guide" was "summon fire elemental." Finally, the note to "join the wall" was a hint to cast "spell bind" on it.

Unfortunately, by the time I was done with all the trial and error, my spell points were so low that I had to go outside and wait around for hours while they recharged. It literally took all day. I left the computer running while I went about my business, and when I returned about 6 hours later, the spell points were almost back to maximum. This is not a game that rewards experimentation.

With my spell point arsenal available again, I re-entered the tower, went through the opened portal, and explored four levels of a "black tower"--running away from almost every combat--before I finally encountered the dungeon's bad guys, a pack of wizards. They proved difficult enough that I had to blast away with my MAMA spell to defeat them, cast HEAL once, and turn a bunch of stoned characters back to flesh. By the time I made it out with a "black lens," my spell points were nearly exhausted again, and that's when I decided to call it a game. I honestly don't know if I'm missing something, but there doesn't seem to be any way to buy spell points, nor any faster way to recharge. The plot points in Gelidia were interesting, but only in comparison to what the game had offered so far, which was essentially nothing at all.


Like many games on my list, The Bard's Tale III might have been reasonably fun to play, map, and win when I was 15, didn't have any other responsibilities, and only bought one game every three or four months. It isn't addictive enough for modern gamers. Despite an interesting premise, the worlds are too empty, the gameplay too long, the mapping too unrewarding. I've quit a lot of games because of bad interfaces, or absurd difficulty, or inadequate documentation; this is one of the few that I've quit because I was just bored.

I admit to having some interest in the dimension where you travel to various cities on Earth, but that's the sixth world, so I wasn't willing to stick it out. Scorpia (whose review I reference below) barely makes any note of it, so I'm guessing it's not as interesting as it sounds.

Understanding that I can only rate the part of the game I played, let's see how it stacks up:

1. Game World. The premise of the series hasn't changed since the first game. In The Bard's Tale, you faced an evil wizard; in The Bard's Tale II, you faced a tougher evil wizard; in The Bard's Tale III, you face an evil god. In all three, these characters just sort-of exist; they're not explained in the context of any larger pantheon, and you don't really get anything about the history of the world or its people. In this game, you travel to different dimensions, but it's a little unclear why, how they're linked, or really how they're different from the dimension you start in (except for one case in which you visit Earth). The monsters and characters are just random names. The outdoor maps are extremely small--laughably so, given that they double back on themselves, and there isn't enough stuff in them to register any changes to your quest or progress. I was a little intrigued by some of the lore in the other dimensions, and I wanted to see what would happen with Hawkslayer, but it wasn't enough. If the game had rewarded my progress with the restoration of Roscoe's Energy Emporium, I might have stuck around a bit longer. Score: 4.
 
The only background info you get on this game.
 
2. Character Creation and Development. The creation process is no better or worse than the average CRPG of the era. You select a race, class, sex, and name. I give the game some credit for some interesting classes, and for featuring more classes, and with different strengths and weaknesses, than you have the ability to accommodate. The races and attributes are essentially the standard D&D set. My biggest problem, as I've discussed, is that leveling is unrewarding. You're expected to bring in characters from The Bard's Tale II who are already at around Level 30-40, and if you don't have them, there's a starter dungeon to get you there. At that point, you have all your abilities and spells and there's nowhere else to develop except to add a few more hit points and spell points to your pool. Like most CRPGs of the era, the encounters don't differ based on race or class, although apparently you do need a thief at some point in the game to sneak up and backstab a guy who's immune to spells and stays out of melee range.

This is a sign of a broken character-development system.

I'm going to give an extra point for something that I didn't actually experience in the game: the option to change fighters to the "geomancer" class, which doesn't come up until the fourth dimension. Doing so allows you to keep using the same weapons and armor, but you lose all your special attacks and, for bards, bard songs. The spells in this class seem almost worth the effort, including the ability to "trap zap" an entire dungeon level, an alert for anti-magic zones, and lots of mass-damage spells. I suspect I would have transferred my paladin or bard. Score: 5.

3. NPC Interaction. This hasn't changed since the previous two games. There are no true "NPCs," just occasional encounters with people in their respective squares, to whom you can say, at best, yes or no. There are a few wandering NPCs, like Hawkslayer, who join your party, but with no lore or dialogue attached to them. Score: 2.

Someone clue me in as to what he was all about.

4. Encounters and Foes. This game's downfall is its banal, featureless encounters with a slew of unmemorable monster portraits. Thank the gods for mass damage spells. In the unpatched version, at least, there are far, far too many encounters, although you can run away from a lot of them. There are inventory puzzles in the various dimensions that add a little depth to the game, but for most of it, I was cringing with every turn or step, hoping I could just finish mapping this #*&$(ing corridor already! I usually regard random encounters, opportunities for grinding, and re-spawning as good things, but this game taught me the value of moderation.

Two hobgoblins. You have to admire their spunk.

I wish the developers had learned a lesson from the Might & Magic series, in which every third or fourth square featured some kind of message or context-sensitive encounter, or Pool of Radiance, where at least four or five times per map, you got some kind of role-playing option. I mean, what kind of a world is this in which packs of 98 monsters are just roaming the countryside together? Where do they even live? How do they feed themselves? Score: 3.

5. Magic and Combat. A character who has progresses through all mage classes, including archmage, has access to 80 spells. Between these, the various combat options--including rogue sneaking/backstabbing--and the various items you can find and use, combat ought to be very tactical, and there were times at the beginning when it was. Spell points were so precious and death so imminent that I carefully studied the spell book and tried to identify the best spell for each foe. It was a joy and relief when I defeated Brilhasti. After that, when I got 20 levels all at once, the game suddenly became far too easy, and every combat was a bore, except for the boss-level fights. These left my spellcasters so drained that I had to stand around in the sunshine for hours (real hours, not game hours) to get them back again. Score: 4.

 
6. Equipment. I have to give it points for variety, but this is one of those games that doesn't tell you jack about the stuff you find. You can guess that adamantium plate is better than mithral plate based on your armor class, but there's nothing to tell you whether Kael's Axe does more damage than the Dayblade (except, I guess, to meticulously record and average your damage scores). Part of this is supposed to be fun, I guess; most of the items you find have some sort of magic property attached to them, and through trial and error you can figure out what they do. With the right items, any character can cast mage spells. In practice, I find that there's far too much stuff to keep straight and much of it was under-powered. After a certain level, damage was so overwhelmingly based on character attributes, I don't think it would have mattered if they'd all had daggers. Again, I wish the creators had looked to Might & Magic, which had the same variety of equipment but allowed you to pay people to tell you stuff about it. This game doesn't even offer a shop. Score: 5.

My chronomancer and the only two harmonic gems that I found in the entire game.

7. Economy. You collect millions of gold pieces and have nothing to spend it on beyond spells (which you buy up quite quickly) and healing. The lack of Roscoe's Energy Emporium and Garth's equipment shop did not improve this game. Would it have killed the developers to let me buy harmonic gems? In the beginning stages, coin is precious because of healing, but pretty soon you have spells that will resurrect all your characters and cure them of all conditions in one casting. Score: 3.

8. Quests. The main quest is the standard slay-the-evil-wizard type, but the sub-quests associated with each world are, if not quite "fun," at least interesting. The game would be a lot better if you were allowed to visit the seven worlds in any order, instead of marching through them in lockstep. There are no side-quests and, as far as I can tell, no opportunities for role-playing in the main quest. Score: 3.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. Most of the problems I experienced here are probably platform problems, but that's what I have to judge. The graphics are adequate enough, but the sound is horrible and I kept it turned off. The automap seems like a nice feature, but it was broken, frequently not mapping squares I'd stepped on, and it resets every level.

Most egregious is the repetitive melodies in the bard songs, which loop every 20 seconds and drive you crazy, but leaving the sound on is the only way to tell that they're still playing. The navigation and combat controls were fine, but the method of selecting spells is so awful that I can't believe no one stopped the game from being released like this. Imagine having to scroll through 80 spells, not listed in alphabetical order, every time you want to cast something. Although the patch fixed this problem, I have to grade it on the original, and I'm taking away all its interface points for that horrible design choice. Score: 3.

10. Gameplay. Linear, repetitive, non-replayable, too difficult at the beginning and too easy after that, and far, far too long. There is really nothing that I liked in this category. I can't give it a 0--the only 0 I've given was for Braminar, which featured literally no gameplay--but I really can't see offering anything more than a score of 1 here.

Final Rating: 33. This puts it 3 points lower than II and 4 points lower than I, keeping with my belief that the series got worse as it progressed. The developments the story and dimensions was offset by repetitiveness and boredom.

If it's killing you not knowing how it ended, here's the last of a nine-part YouTube series by user girldrinkdrunk1:
 



Like me, she played the DOS version. The video is an hour, with no sound (it's not a "let's play"), and it's mostly repetitive combat. Her characters, oddly, seem to be lower levels than mine; she must have used a walkthrough and avoided most of the mapping and level-grinding. But she has two archmages, which probably helped a bit with the spell point issue. The final battle with Tarjan starts at 45:45, and it clearly shows way overpowered characters fighting way overpowered monsters; her strategy (which is no doubt the correct strategy) is to use alternate mass damage and mass heal spells and slowly wear down the monsters before her spell points and harmonic gems run out. Meanwhile, she's having her thief hide in shadows and slowly sneak up on Tarjan; the titular thief does his one job at 51:44 and kills the mad god, but she's still got to contend with 25 rock demons one-by-one (they're immune to the mass-damage spells) before she wins the battle at 54:23. Her party ascends into heaven, is congratulated by some benevolent god, and is rewarded with godhood for themselves.

White text on an aqua background. Nice design choice.
 
The color choices make this section miserable to read, but it's a fairly good ending. If I'd played all the way through, I would have felt suitably rewarded. I'll reprint it here (punctuation errors and all) so you don't have to strain your eyes:

"Welcome, brave heroes. You have succeeded in destroying the threat to all reality. As you know, to do this, you slipped the bonds of time, and traveled forbidden routes through that which has forever been. You pressed your struggle forward despite danger and death, and you accomplished that which the gods themselves were unable to do."

His praise washes over you like a warm ocean wave, and you feel your strength infuse your body.

"In doing what you have done, you have proved yourself worthy of nothing less than the ultimate reward." He closes his eyes and raises his hands. "The death of the gods tore reality asunder, but you bound it up again. The gods of old are dead, therefore I accept you as my new children. You shall be gods yourselves."

His eyes open again and you look upon infinity. At once you see Skara Brae restored to its former beauty. You see beyond it and the Six Cities of the Plains. You see the whole world and each of its cultures, and you realize all of it is now your domain.

"And so it came to pass that the new stars burned in the night sky. The least of these, the Companion star, was named Hawkslayer after a hero of legend. The other seven, together known as the Company of Heroes, are each named for one of the New Gods. Each night they can be seen is betokened a good night, and adventurers know these gods smile especially upon them..." --excerpt from The Gospel of the New Gods (Chap. I, Verses 5-9).


Oddly, though, the game then sends these new "gods" back to the refugee camp in the unrestored Skara Brae.
 
Turning to Scorpia's June 1988 Computer Gaming World review, I'm surprised to see that some platforms allowed you to import characters from Ultima III, Ultima IV, or Wizardry. It's a cute feature, but how do we explain these worlds existing in the same universe? Moreover, what does importing your Ultima IV character actually do, since the classes, levels, magic systems, and hit point scales are all different?

Scorpia's assessment is fairly similar to mine, though she ranks it "better" than the previous two games, if still "too heavily oriented towards mega-combat" (p. 52). She notes how boring the dungeons are, and how pointless the spinners and dark zones are, especially given the automap function (p. 21). She says that Tarjan himself is quite easy. I was gratified to read her final assessment on the magic:

These spells make your party incredibly powerful. Except when facing opponents that are highly spell-resistant or have huge amounts of hit points, your characters can often blow away herds of monsters in a single round, with just a couple of spells. The power balance is thus very much weighted in the party's favor, making the majority of encounters fairly routine and not very exciting (p. 52).

So there you have it: a game that's eminently winnable, but would take poor time management skills to actually win. Like The Dukes of Hazzard, Lloyd Alexander novels, and the musical stylings of Duran Duran, this game is better experienced in memory than in actuality.

89 comments:

  1. Seems like a fair assessment, and an enjoyable read. It's a relief to us all to see that one crossed off the list after all this time.

    Looking forward to your next journey...

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  2. Holy crap! That issue of CGW is dated the same month of my birth almost 24 years ago.

    Not really related (except for:6. Equipment. --- This game doesn't even offer a shop. Score: 5.), but could you make a special topic posting about shops in RPGs or at least comment at: http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/good-or-bad-shops-in-rpgs.69954/

    This topic, as I say in the thread, has been bothering me lately. I want to understand more about your thoughts on the topics of RPG economy and shops. If you're interested, thanks.

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    1. Wow. Every single time I visit RPG Codex, I really really regret having done so.

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    2. Giauz: Huh, we are the same age. Also did you read the addicts post on that, way way back?

      Also, the linked PDF no longer works; I'm better we were hammering it.

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    3. Hmmm, I completely forgot he did such a thing. I'll have to go back searching.

      Also, cool! I was born on the 5th, original D-Day. How about you?

      Killias2: Yeah, I probably should stay away from that place, too. Aside from the interesting RPG discussion there (when it is interesting), very few people there are any measure of kind. Sorry I pointed anyone to there.

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    4. PetrusOctavianusMarch 7, 2012 at 1:53 PM

      Giauz, at least octavius is a nice little pussycat.

      As I've said before the RPG Codex is like a group of idiot savants suffering from Tourette's Syndrome.
      Very knowledgeable bunch, and the best place for discussing old school CRPGs, but you need to mentally filter out a lot of crap.

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  3. Nice review. Tis interesting to read about such and old school game. What's next? Ultima IV? Knights of Legend? :-)

    Gobble gobble.

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    1. I don't know about Knights of Legend, but he's definitely reviewed Ultima IV already - it's in the sidebar on the Web version of the site

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  4. PetrusOctavianusMarch 5, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    "I had to blast away with my MAMA spell"

    Does the MILF spell work?

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  5. Yet another excellent review. Dragon Magazine #138 (the official D&D magazine) had a lukewarm review, giving it 3 out of 5 stars. (After rating the first Bard's Tale highly.)

    Their view of BT3 is interesting, given that Dragon focused on tabletop gaming:
    "It seems as though every time you turn around in the dungeons, some foul creature is at your heels... Just when you're trying to figure out an important trap, determine where a spinner has propelled you on the map, or produce light in perpetual darkness, the nasties pounce on you. After more than 40 hours of play, The Bard's Tale III wasn't fun anymore! No matter how hard we worked on puzzle solving and treasure hunting (the meatier aspects of the game), along came the rotters to spoil the fun.

    "Constant destruction and killing are not what fantasy role-playing games should perpetuate. Certainly combat is crucial, but your table-top adventures include all sorts of activities, such as learning ways to avoid certain combat, to communicate with various races, to proceed down dungeon corridors as a team while searching for treasure, and to maintain one's own alignment. Other computer-based fantasy role-playing games also offer a variety of options, such as Ultima V (described in Dragon issue #137). So, despite the fact that The Bard's Tale III has an updated plot and more spells and character classes, and even with material rewards offered as payment for slaughter, the fighting leaves players tired of the entire event."

    So CRPGAddict, even though you are reviewing BT3 from a modern gamer's perspective, it appears that it was received coolly by some of its contemporaries as well.

    I can't believe the spell menu and the spell regen problems made it through to the final product. These should have been stamped out during the game's design phase, let alone during playtesting. And this was a time BEFORE patches!

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    1. "Constant destruction and killing are not what fantasy role-playing games should perpetuate."

      Ah, my thoughts exactly. Too much combat and I get bored with it, I like a bit of gameplay variety in my RPGs!

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    2. Thanks for digging that up! Are those old issues archived somewhere online?

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    3. No, there's no online archive. But if you're looking for them, ahem, when there's a will there's a way. :)

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    4. The old Dragon issues are in the Dragon Archive CD TSR release some years ago. I too have a copy if needed ;-)))

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    5. I also have the Dragon Archive: It wasn't available for sale for very long, due to a lawsuit by some of the writers who claimed that their contract only covered print reproductions and that TSR/Wizards of the Coast would need to pay them royalties for electronic use. This was, as I understand it, found to be true, so you can't buy it new anymore. However, I could forward you specific articles if you need.

      http://www.aeolia.net/dragondex/reviews-computergames.html has an index of all the computer game reviews.

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  6. PetrusOctavianusMarch 5, 2012 at 1:46 AM

    BTW, personally I think you rated Encounters and Foes too high, or at least not too different from Magic and Combat. I like the basic magic and combat system of the BT games, but the problem is the insane amount of random encounters and the uninspiring names of the enemies.

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    1. It's a weird category. I should probably revise it in my forthcoming GIMLET update. Essentially, "Encounters and Foes" isn't about fighting but rather the depth of the obstacles you face, both monsters and otherwise. In this case, I gave it a point for the spell puzzles, assuming there were similar "encounters" like that throughout the game.

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  7. I am impressed that you had the patience to play this game for so long, when in the end, the gameplay value was rated 1.

    This sounds like pure torture and I hope you will quit much earlier in the future when you see where the gameplay rating will lead. I just don´t want you to be bored to death and stop blogging about the games :-)

    /Saintus from http://crpgrevisited.blogspot.com/

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  8. Awww. I still like Duran Duran.

    Another fantastic review. I had considered replaying it myself as I never finished it on my C-64. Now I think I shall leave as cherished memory instead instead of suffering as you have.

    Thanks and welcome back!

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    1. I thought people would be frothing at the mouth over my dissing Lloyd Alexander, and instead everyone's upset about Duran Duran. My apologies.

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    2. I never finished them; There is a scene in one of the early books that caused me to stop reading for some stupid reason and I never started again.

      Also Duran Duran was an annoying pop band who churned out meaningless feelgood music. Some of it was very catchy (I will admit I like Hungry Like the Wolf) and they did an excellent James Bond introduction, though to a terrible movie.

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    3. I have to say, I think most flak directed at Duran Duran is based on their image more than anything else. And granted, everything I've read about the band members makes them seem kind of tool-ish. That said, Duran Duran, Rio, and Seven and the Ragged Tiger are all damned good albums. And yes, "A View to a Kill" is great too. That is all.

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  9. "White text on an aqua background. Nice design choice."

    Hahahahaha. Wow. Did someone even look at that ending?

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    1. Reminds me of 90s websites. Dark red on black, it looks hardcore!

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  10. Oh no! I still find The Arkadians to be a wonderful read, though I admit it's been a while since I went through the Chronicles of Prydain. However, I first read them in my 20's and was still suitable charmed... ; )

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  11. Addict: In future you can probably skip time-based things in these early RPGs by turning the CPU speed in DOSBOX way up. Early games used your CPU cycle as a counter, which is why they run at warp 9 on modern computers. DOSBox tells them you have a slower computer, however there are keyboard shortcuts which let you tune this (So, for example, you can play at normal speed, then turn up the speed during loading screens to make them go faster. Or say turn up the walking speed on the overworld then turn it back down in combat)
    It is quite a useful feature, though once you get into the 90s it SHOULD go away...eventually. X-COM does this from the mid-90s, so you have a while).

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    1. But that's cheating!

      --Eino

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    2. No it is not! The game isn't doing anything you couldn't normally do, it is just doing it *faster*. If there are time based random monster attacks you are still risking getting eaten alive by doing this (and not being able to slow the game down to playable speed quickly enough). You are just doing the equivalent of moving your save file from a 286 to a 486 and back, except without the floppy disks.

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    3. You're warping the laws of physics by manipulating time and space. How is that not cheating?

      I'm partially glad CRPG Addict suffered through it in order to give us a better review of the game on its own merits instead of on the merits of playing it on DOSBox with a FF button.

      (I remember we had a "turbo" button I'd use to speed up some games; especially the fights in pool of radiance.)

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    4. Overclocking on a button: I remember that. Still, SIX HOURS. I guess that is one way to get him to do work, make him wait for healing and loading!

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  12. No love for Duran Duran? :sadface:

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  13. Chet, I know that graphics aren't hugely important to you, but I just had to mention that I do not like the EGA graphics on the DOS version of this game. There's a lot of clashing colors and a lot of the graphics come off a little fugly. The patron of the bar in your previous post (Pic #2) looks like a burn victim.

    It's as if the graphic artists were designing 256-color VGA graphics, and they were told at the last minute to go back to 16-color graphics, and they decided to just put the graphics through a filter of some sort.

    The graphics in Might & Magic II, which are also 16-color EGA, are a lot prettier.

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    1. "as if the graphic artists were designing 256-color VGA graphics" is almost correct - the graphics most likely come from the Amiga (32 of 4096 colors) and Atari ST (16 of 512). While EGA has 16 colors like the Atari ST, they are out of only 64, leading to a much worse palette.

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    2. Yeah, I'm not much of a graphics man. Being color-blind is a big part of it. I had to call my wife over to tell me that the color on that final screen was "aqua."

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    3. Anonymous: At that resolution, EGA had only a fixed palette of 16 colors, the same 16 colors available in text mode. 16 out of 64 was only at the 640×350 resolution.

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  14. Excellent review. Now onward with Magic Candle!!!

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    1. ...and then 18 more games in `89 before Magic Candle. :P

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    2. Well, maybe. I'm not sure why my order for 1989 is set the way it is. I think someone tried to help me out by arranging the 1989 games in publication order rather than chronological order, but I'm not sure of the accuracy. I was going to take another look at the game order for 1989 anon.

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    3. One thing you could maybe do is look at Computer Gaming World's "Back Issues" ads near the end of their magazines. They listed all their reviews by month.

      It isn't perfect, but it beats going by alphabetical order.

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    4. Heck, if you want, I can try to do this myself. I love obsessing about these things.

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    5. I'm not sure that would work. I don't think CGW necessarily reviewed games right after they came out. Their 1988 issues review a lot of games released in 1986 or 1987, for instance.

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    6. However the reviews normally list the date the game came out, don't they?

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  15. I remember enjoying this game quite a bit back in the 80s, and I'm mildly curious as to why I did, if it's so awful. I'm not quite curious enough to go back and play it again, but I at least can spare some time for conjecture.

    1) The idea of collecting powerful artifacts helped to distinguish characters in a way that other games didn't. Too many other games (including the other BT games) ended with all fighters having identical fighter gear (a complete set of generic adamant, or whatever), and a single "best in class" weapon. This game did a decent job of making artifacts uniquely tailored to each class, and giving them a little backstory. They also remained useful for the next few worlds, rather than being instantly obsolete after obtaining the next generic-sounding upgrade in the world beyond. I don't think this would be possible if the game didn't "cap out" in the way that it does, so that monsters in world 5 are still vulnerable to the same quantities of damage as monsters in world 3.

    2)The final dungeon had a nicely climactic feel to its design, with multiple levels that had lots of stairways between them. In effect it was a 3D maze, which felt unique after so many games with 2D mazes.

    3) Every previous game like this encouraged me to dump characters along the way, with the usual "drop a fighter to gain a mage" replacement being almost obligatory. Mages just became too powerful in these kinds of Wizardry clones to justify crippling your party by only using two of them. Sometimes I ran with four out of six characters as archmages. (I think that was my winning BT1 party, four mages, a bard, and a monk.) This game, uniquely, allowed me to keep regular fighters and turn them into hybrid casters. Maybe I'm just sentimental, but I like that idea better than having to stop my exploration to go back to an easier area and grind a brand-new mage up to the level of the rest of my party.

    4) I was playing the C64 version, and the DOS version is ugly and bland by comparison. Granted, any graphics and sound from this area seem dated now, but I can't remember anything as hideous as those text background colors when I played on the C64.

    5) I never remember having trouble with mana regen. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe gems were more common in the C64 version. Maybe I found some other magic items that improved regeneration. Maybe with a double-archmage party, I never drained them down as low. Maybe I was just more patient.

    6) I remember the deep delight I felt in discovering that I could run through an entire familiar dungeon level by tapping all the correct keystrokes in advance, while the C64 was still loading off its painfully slow floppy drive. The moment the level loaded, I'd fly right through to the exit at warp speed! Did that reduce random encounters on those familiar levels, for the C64 version? Maybe, or maybe I'm just hallucinating it.

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    1. Re. mana regen, I imagine that you had equipped mage staffs by then. That should regenerate spell points within the dungeon (1 per move? I think that was the rate, but I'm not sure), although with the insane encounter rate you'd want to either have the fixed version or your bard to be playing Sir Robin's Melody.

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    2. I don't know if it was the DOS version or just my bad luck, but I couldn't find a damned mage's staff or harmonic gem anywhere.

      Anonymous, thanks for your recollections. It adds a lot to my reviews to hear from players of yore.

      Delete
  16. 7) Again, maybe this is a C64 version thing, but I actually found combat to be faster in this game than in most other games of its era. This was probably a subjective impression since load times were long for dungeon levels, but short for combat. This is in contrast with the Gold Box games, where combat screens took forever to load but level loading went faster. I can remember being annoyed with the Gold Box games that they couldn't have "quick combat" like BT3, as weird as that sounds today. I can say that, when you played on the C64, load times were so slow that they probably made everything else (even mana regen!) feel speedy by comparison. It's like the fact that I couldn't pick up an old-fashioned rotary phone now without it feeling "slow", despite the fact that they never felt slow when I was young.

    8) Names for monsters and areas seemed unique and evocative. I think part of what I remember isn't the graphics themselves, but just my own imagination of what it ought to look like, with my party fighting fish, or mechanoids, or Nazis. Each dungeon was very strongly themed and so felt less generic than other fantasy games of that era where you find wood dryads rubbing shoulders with fire elementals in some randomized dungeon ecosystem.

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  17. I vaguely remember the Lloyd Alexander books being enjoyable, but I read them in middle school, if I remember correctly. Why didn't they age well?

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    1. I actually don't know that they didn't. I can remember reading them when I was 10 or something, and I just assume they seem trite and childish now, but mostly I was trolling by putting that reference in. Nobody bit. Instead they got upset about Duran Duran.

      Delete
    2. Well, getting upset about Duran Duran is understandable. Some of us had to listen to Hungry Like the Wolf just one too many times.

      Delete
    3. Some of my favorite books. The charm of Prydain is its Welsh heritage. Most high fantasy is derived from Norse/Germanic tales (Lord of the Rings, etc.)

      You have the rather overdone trope of the farmboy who makes good, but he does it by making mistakes through most of his life, with the occasional flash of brilliance or luck to get him out of tight spots, which produces in him the necessary wisdom and vision to heal the land after the Dark Lord is finally slain.

      I like that a vision of a successful anarcho-capitalist society is presented (the Free Commots), and that Taran's initial beliefs concerning what makes someone "great" is contrasted and subverted over the series; Taran becomes something of the great warrior he dreamed of becoming as a child, but he would have much rather been a humble potter, turning out beautiful wine bowls and such.

      The maps at the beginning of each book were cool.

      Perhaps the "childish" aspect of the books is that Taran is too "pure at heart" for modern sensibilities. He doesn't bargain with bad guys to gain time, or sneak up and murder them in their sleep, or abuse his friends, all because he never relinquished certain boyhood ideals about honor and glory as he aged.

      The only other books by Alexander that I've read are "Time Cat" (which I didn't enjoy as much) and "The Westmark" Trilogy, which I liked. Sort of a French Revolution setting.

      Delete
    4. "Perhaps the "childish" aspect of the books is that Taran is too "pure at heart" for modern sensibilities. He doesn't bargain with bad guys to gain time, or sneak up and murder them in their sleep, or abuse his friends, all because he never relinquished certain boyhood ideals about honor and glory as he aged."

      There's a difference, though, between a CHARACTER who doesn't have to struggle with moral complexity and an author who assumes his READERS are too young to engage in that kind of juxtaposition.

      Now, I'm not saying the latter is true of the Prydain chronicles, but I find it's true of a lot of young adult fiction, which is why it often doesn't translate to later life. I uncharitably assumed it was true of Alexander (mostly to see if I'd get a reaction, which makes me a bit of a dick), and if it's not, I apologize.

      The Star Wars films are probably a good example of an ethos that doesn't age with its viewers. You have a "light side" and a "dark side" starkly presented as good and evil, with no moral complexity about it. I had hoped that in the second trilogy, Anakin would make a gradual and sympathetic descent into the "dark side" with understandable motives, but Lucas couldn't be trusted with anything so subtle. Oddly, the games do a far, far better job of illustrating why the "dark side" isn't necessarily "evil."

      Just an aside, my understanding is that "Prydain" is actually the same word as "Britain," just using different letters that sound the same in Welsh pronunciation.

      Delete
    5. You know what else probably didn't age well?

      Airwolf.

      Delete
  18. Addict: if you want an easy way to compare damage just goto the excel sheet you use to map and enter how much damage you deal for 10 rounds or so. Then run =AVERAGE(A1:A10) or whatever on it. Should let you know which it better. Make sure to enter misses as 0 so it includes accuracy.

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    1. Oh and on the same type of monster.

      Lack of info on what items do is a long-standing pet peeve of mine, doubly so if there are trick items in the dame (ie there is a gun that does 100 damages but you really want the one that does 90 as it fires faster, as a trick to catch people that don't plot out everything)

      Delete
    2. It's funny that you have to school me on this, because I use Excel every day for my work and I've written a book on using Excel for my profession. You'd think if anyone would be a maverick for logging damage values in Excel to compare various weapons, it would be me. I guess i just figured too much work for too little reward.

      I disagree about entering 0 for misses, though. You'd want to be able to answer two separate questions: how often you hit, and how much damage you do when you hit. 0s in the damage column would screw up that average. I'd rather leave them blank but then use the hit percentage as a multiplier against the average damage value to come up with the final rating.

      Delete
    3. Why do you care about the difference? Suppose I have 2 weapons: An axe that does 10 damage and hits 50% of the time, and a knife that does 8 damage but hits 100% of the time. I take the average of the two and I'll get the axe showing 5 average damage, and the knife showing 8 average damage. This isn't wrong; It is showing how much damage output you can expect each weapon to do. If I fight for 100 rounds over the course of the dungeon I expect the axe to do 500 damage and the knife to do 800 damage. Do I care how many of those are misses and how many are hits? Not really, I just care what the damage over time is.

      Now this is dependent on two things;
      1) That you are not going to try and use different weapons on different monsters. So you could want to swap to a higher-weapon to a hard to hit monster, in which case you would want to track total hits vs total attacks.

      2) A simplistic combat system: When you reach more complex combat systems this type of analysis will break down, as weapons gain accuracy ratings, monsters gain the ability to resist damage, etc.
      This makes all of the above tricky, as if you have a monster that ignores the first 10 points of damage from each swing then you may well want the high-damage, low-accuracy weapon. You could figure out if this is a common occurrence by comparing the damage-average over time against different foes. As in, in your spreadsheet you have a column 'skeletons' 'orcs' 'bats' and track damage for each one. This is starting to get to be more of a pain though; I just meant for one combat track your damage with one weapon, get yourself into a fight with the same enemy and track it with the other.

      You could also find the accuracy by using an 'IF(A1=0,1,0)' then a 'AVERAGE' statement on a second column, if you record the damage as a 0.

      Delete
    4. A couple reasons:

      1)You couldn't tell the difference between a miss and 0 damage.

      2)A weapon that did 100 damage with 1% hit rate would look the same as a weapon that did 1 damage with 100% hit rate.

      It isn't always about damage per second (turn) averages; sometimes consistency matters, and other times you want to do a lot of damage. Also, tracking the data (average damage per hit and hit rate) separately would still allow you to get a total average damage.

      Delete
    5. True, I was trying to think up the easiest way to do it, thinking that if the addict wanted a hard system he would have done it already.

      Delete
  19. Also that note above reminds me of a rather bad D&D adventure I played. You find a note, written in the writers own blood as he lies dying.

    It is 3 pages long. Three *typed* pages.

    There were many jokes about how he died of exaganation, or if he had bandaged the wound how he would have lived, etc.

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    Replies
    1. If Pool of Radiance taught me anything, it's that you can't bandage yourself.

      Delete
  20. However, you can write or speak an incredibly long and rambling message to someone else as you lie dying, and will not die until it is finished. Why they don't just refuse to shut up until someone throws a heal spell on them...

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  21. I think the DOS version somehow got shortchanged on the mana regeneration gems. They ought to be plentiful. I even remember one review complaining they were TOO plentiful.

    @ronaldsf: The graphics in BT1 are better than BT3. Not sure how that happened but just do some side-by-side comparisons.

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  22. Indeed BT1 EGa art looks better than in BT3, strange.

    Seems this is a bad port all in all.

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  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  24. I loved this game back in the day because it was definitely the first CRPG I ever played, but it may have been the first game I ever got for a home computer (C64). My brother and I were very young and we would take turns beating this game. We ended up getting the cluebook,though, which helped with some of the tedious parts of dungeon exploring.

    In the end, while I never loved the starter dungeon to get new PCs up to speed, I spent a ton of time there making sure each spell caster raised enough levels to have every spell available as an archmage. Later on, I think I made most fighters into geomancers as long as my hunter had an instant kill weapon to replace his critical hit. I think in the end I had an archmage, a chronomancer, a few geomancers, a thief, and a bard.

    Most of the time, you mop up in fights, so after the initial starting dungeon, the rest of the game goes pretty quickly when you have a cluebook to get you around spinning squares or darkness zones. I tended to play the bard songs that helped with spell point regeneration, so that made waiting outside go a little faster, but I also had plenty of harmonic gems to refuel my spell points in a pinch.

    All in all, I still remember Bard's Tale 3 fondly. The levels got more interesting to me as they went along, but I can guess they probably got more irritating to map. The atmosphere of the third bard's tale was my favorite, fighting to save a pretty ruined world... an idea I most recently encountered in Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. Something about that appealed to me then, and I guess still appeals to me now.

    I've tried to go back and replay this for nostalgia's sake, but without the cluebook, I usually bow out relatively fast.

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  25. One thing that was introduced in BT2 and dropped again in BT3 was someone you could give money and get weapon info in return.
    I never understood why that was dropped.
    After all, healing got moved to a lower conjurer level in BT2 and this was kept.
    By the way QUFI, quick fix, heals 1-8 points of damage.
    Heck, I am able to remember this after twenty years ...

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  26. Two things I remembered about BT3 from reading the comments: 1) My final party was the same as the one posted by "Average Joe" above: Archmage, Chronomancer, 2 Geomancers, Bard (solely for Sir Robin's Song), and Thief (solely for sneaking up to backstab summoners and the final boss); 2) There are spaces in the dungeon (completely unmarked in most cases) where Spell Points regenerate very quickly.

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    1. Haha I remember a lot of the four-letter spell names as well. MIBL, for instance, will be ingrained forever in my memory.

      I actually spent a second trying to remember what the MILF spell did circa last post, until I realized what the commenter meant, heh.

      Delete
  27. What is the point of being very powerful if the enemies that you face are overpowered? It makes no diference of fighting low level enemies. Looks like this game failed to give an impression of power, along other problems.

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  28. " I can say that, when you played on the C64, load times were so slow that they probably made everything else (even mana regen!) feel speedy by comparison."

    You had it easy! I played BT1 on a Sinclair Spectrum. To enter a dungeon you had to find where it started on the cassette tape, and load from there. Multiple levels, multiple loads. By BT3 I had an Amiga, admittedly. I may even have already had that massive 20 MB Hard Drive that cost me over £100.

    Also, 'Save a Prayer' is a great track.

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  29. Dear CRPG Addict,

    Congratulations on making Bard's Tale III "hors de combat". It is good to see you back. I always enjoy reading your posts. Bard's Tale III appears to be an example of "the movement is everything; the goal nothing".

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  30. Reminds me of Borderlands, just grinding for overpowered weapons, so that you can kill overpowered enemies. At least you can play Borderlands with friends :p

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  31. At least Borderlands had some interesting bosses and presentation. BT3 was just an exercise in adding zeroes to the amount of damage you could take and dish out. No tactics necessary.

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  32. I do think that the current portable version works a little better than the old desktop. Just park your crew in recharge-y space (or with a Mage Staff) and put it down while you do something else. I like it as a game to play on-and-off while waiting in multiplayer lobbies.

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  33. Ever found an item called 'Speedboots'? This lets you evade encounters (almost 100% success). I played the game on C64 so not sure if you can find it in the PC version though. Congrats on finishing the game without it!

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    Replies
    1. I don't think so. I honestly wasn't invested enough in the game to note all of the different bits of equipment that I was finding.

      As for finishing...you need to read it the entry a little more carefully.

      Delete
  34. I remember playing this game (and all the other Bard's Tale games) on my Commodore 64C. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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  35. Being born in '72, all three Bard's Tales (and many others mentioned here) hit me and my C64/Amiga at the right time.

    I enjoyed BT1 very much but remember not being sure if I'd won or not since the game didn't "end".

    BT2 was my least favorite...one of the few RPGs I never even got close to finishing. I got stuck around snare 3 or 4 and couldn't figure out how to proceed no matter how many times I tried. It was probably dozens. Willpower was not enough.

    I recall really loving BT3. Along with the atmosphere of the museum in Legacy of the Ancients and the 9-hour slog at the end of Ultima IV which I had to repeat way too many times, BT3 was my most vivid RPG experience. I suspect I would agree it's tedious now, but as a 15-year-old with nothing better to do, it gave me 2 geeky weeks of 12-hour days in the summer of '88. Couldn't leave it alone. And though the ending was kind of out there (literally), I appreciated knowing I had actually won :)

    The patience and stubbornness that so many of these games required of us. Amazing.

    All the best.

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    Replies
    1. I always appreciate recollections from the old days.

      I agree: playing the game when you're young, have lots of time, and only buy 3 or 4 games a year is very different from playing games when you're an adult and have 1000 games on a list.

      Delete
  36. Interesting, I re-read the Lloyd Alexander books as an adult (for all I know I was reading the SAME physical copies I had checked out of the library as a kid since I borrowed them from the same library) and found that they lived up to my childhood memories.

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    1. The Chronicles of Prydain were the first novels I read. I loved them. When I re-read them as an adult they felt like kid's books, not bad per se, but fairly trope-y and simple.

      Delete
  37. The enthroned figure pulls out a sword...

    I always wonder why on earth the pics are not aligned to text. Happens so often. Why does he have to pull out a sword but be depicted with a staff?

    *sigh*

    McTrinsic

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  38. I am a little surprised at the spell point and harmonic gem issues. On my Apple II playthrough, I found large numbers of harmonic gems. However, if you had too many characters with full inventory - you did not get any loot, even if you would have otherwise (!). So you constantly had to make sure that you had 3-4 available slots amongst your party. I wonder if you filled up with loot too often to find the gems or if it was really a DOS problem. I never had to wait for SP regen.

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    Replies
    1. I'm guessing it was a platform issue. There were supposed to be some stored harmonic gems in an early area, and I didn't find those either.

      Delete
  39. how do we explain these worlds existing in the same universe?

    I don't know about Wizardry, but Skara Brae coexists with both Ultima and our own world. Somewhere someone has probably woven together a Wold Newton tapestry of easter eggs and cameo appearances placing all video game settings in the same canonical universe.

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    Replies
    1. I think it's just a name. I don't think the Skara Brae in Ultima is supposed to be literally the same one off Scotland and/or in The Bard's Tale.

      Delete
  40. BT3 was the best of the lot. They were all difficult but BT1 had the hardest mapping as all dungeons/castles were 25x25 sq with every square used. Unlike Legacy of the Ancients (the first gamee ever mapped) the BT games were much harder because of this requirement. If you hit a teleport you never knew where you were, mapping was essential. Thankfully a little easier in BT3, as map size varied, some much smaller. BT3 story was better, better weapons, classes, spells, and superior graphics. In its day the BT series were where it was at but going back now would be hard pressed. Im pretty sure there was a bards song which replenished spell points. One of my fave series of RPG (although BT2 bored me, walking through forrests wore me down, when 3 came out was bigger, better and just more fun)

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