A few years back, when I liked certain games I tended to go mildly berserk and buy a few versions of it (if it made it to multiple platforms). Hey, don’t look at me like that! I’m far from the only one who dis/does this (although I’ve cut down on that significantly over time thanks to me not exactly rolling in dough these days). Anyway, InXile Entertainment‘s The Bard’s Tale from 2004 was one of those games I snapped up on anything it appeared on thanks to its use of Snowblind Studios’ wonderful game engine and often hilarious parodying of RPG tropes including subtle nods to the original game.
Flash forward to late last month when The Bard’s Tale: Remastered and Resnarkled appeared without fanfare as a digital-only release on PSN. Ten bucks for a cross-platform HD remaster (PS4 and Vita) with a cross-buy/cross-play feature that allowed players to take the game on the road and use cloud saves to continue at home? SOLD. I didn’t hesitate at all or bother to even bug InXile about a review code. This was certainly going to be the best version of the game to date and yep, the ability to play anywhere and go home to continue was going to keep me grinning long into the wee hours. What could possibly go wrong?
Well… a few things folks. Thankfully, cross-play and cloud saves are flawless, but in terms of other things on the technical front, this version of the game (done by Square 1 Games) needs patching. Badly. I was initially going to write up a full review, but have decided to wait a few days to see if the problems can be fixed as the older console versions were great overall and this remaster needs to be as good or better in terms of consistent performance. Right now, it’s not.
First, the good news: The story is just as hilarious as ever, mixing RPG cliches galore, plenty of dark comedy and excellent voice acting from the likes of Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), Tony Jay and many others. Not counting the muddy lower resolution opening cinematic, the game also looks great on both PS4 and Vita… for the most part. I’d gather the PC version was used as the starting point because it happens to have a few of the problems that version brought to the table such as slowdown on the overworld map and other optimization issues.
As for the bad? For starters, both the PS4 and Vita versions have frame rate issues that can render the experience almost unplayable at times. While 60fps is the target and the game seems to hit it in certain areas, as maps get more complex or in cases where water is onscreen, small to large hits are taken to the point that the game slows to a crawl, turning its hero into a pincushion for enemy attacks. It’s pretty persistent on PS4 in the Mountain area’s ice floe combat sections and worse in the Underground River maps with those Finfolk coming at you from all sides as the frame rate dips erratically and makes combat harder than it needs to be.
Worse, the Vita version omits water entirely in town maps (making them look like a drought hit a few places like Houton and Kirkwall) or has water in areas where the frame rate crumbles into digital dust as you get closer to it. That underground river section that’s now a chore to play on both PS4 and Vita now has NO water at all on the handheld, making it look as if you’re floating on a raft in outer space or over a bottomless pit as enemies fall deep into the inky black non-river you’re supposed to be sailing on. On a whim, I popped the PS2 version into my PS3 and despite the longer load times (about 9 seconds per screen transition!), the performance was a lot smoother overall even with the lower resolution.
Controls are another issue to wrestle with, but it’s a double-edged sword here. On PS4, things are fine except you can’t reconfigure the right analog stick to alter the camera’s turning to a more comfortable (for a lot of us used to it) reverse style. The Vita’s lack of double shoulder buttons means that dreaded rear touchpad is utilized meaning guys or gals with bigger hands will need to adjust lest they fat-finger themselves into frustration. I got used to holding my Vita differently after fumbling along for about 25 minutes because I thought the game wasn’t working properly. It was, but I kept accidentally touching the rear pad area until I realized my monster paws were the culprit. After that, it still happened, but a lot less frequently.
While I managed to complete both versions of the game (It took about 35 hours of back and forth on PS4 and Vita using cloud saves and a bit of replaying an area because I missed out on a dungeon I wanted to get to before the endgame), there’s a nasty glitch that won’t allow the four hidden dungeon Trophies to drop. Also, some random bugs and glitches such as cutscene triggers not activating or occasional freezes/crashes on the PS4 really ruin the fun. Boo. In better news, I also discovered that donating to the wandering priest counts as a visit to a kirk, as the trophy for making 20K in donations dropped after I found out about it and spent time seeking out that holy man when he got to his wandering.
After all that complaining above (there was more, but I chopped it out), I’m still going to recommend the game with the hope Square 1 can patch it up to be as good as it was on those older consoles. For a number of players, this will be their first go-round on the game and some won’t notice a few of the problems, I’m betting enough will and harp on both InXile and Square 1 for dropping the ball on this port. Me, I’m just wanting to see the game playing a lot better than it currently does.
Eh, I think that’s it. If anything, this “non-review” is kind of like the remaster job done on this game. I guess I can fix it up and tack on an appropriate score after I get wind of a patch at some point, right? Yeah, I thought so.