This is the game that started it all for me with regards to RPGs and the fantasy gaming genre. I believe I acquired this game in the 5th grade but lent it out to a friend for a short period. However, he did not give me the manual back, which made the game a billion times harder. Yet even without the manual, I had loads of fun in the grinding style that made this game a huge trend setter.
I didn’t get Bard’s Tale I for a while mostly because I was so focused on this game. I really had little to no clue what I was doing because I was missing the manual. But I mastered my C64 keyboard just going from location to location in trying to grind out XP. The game is shown through first person perspective for movement and combat is handled through actions/commands you provide before starting a round. Combat proceeds with a scrolling log of the results from each round all determined by your level, stats, gear and the enemies’ setup.
Much of the game play is just grinding out XP by prototypical hack-n-slash. However, the stand out feature of this game was the dungeon puzzles. Each dungeon had a specific puzzle you had to solve within a time limit or you’d die. Furthermore, the puzzle areas didn’t allow for magic, increasing encounter difficulty up quite a bit. Some puzzles would force you to drop off members of your party, which meant that you had flee the vast majority of combat and reduce your XP gains.
Despite being combat heavy for the most part, your two only real needs for battle were XP and item grinding. However, I found out a few tricks that really boosted me up. One was swapping out the game disk whenever I entered the Emporium. That would bring up all items in the game. When you want to purchase something, you’d just swap back since the game would write that data to your disk. You could even purchase the Destiny Wand and segments if you had the gold!
The second trick was fighting illusionists with players bearing high intelligence. There were a few dungeons such as the Maze of Dread where you just needed to find these sorcerers and disbelieve whenever they summoned an illusion. XP was calculated based on the monster difficulty and illusions in this version of the game would provide a similar amount of experience. Using this method, you could max out the XP you can gain from a single combat to 65535. With a few fights, you easily would gain a couple of levels.
Despite this, the dungeons themselves were pretty annoying. I had a clue book and even then the dungeons were frustrating. After casting heavy hitting spells, you would be completely drained of spell power and either would be forced to find a magic regeneration square or return to town to buy regeneration. The dungeons had traps, some which you could disarm with a spell, but a few that required a special item to avoid or not be avoidable at all.
The puzzle dungeons that provided the segments for the Wand of Destiny weren’t great for those who just wanted to mindlessly kill. You really needed to explore the entire dungeon, be meticulous about jotting down every clue and hope that the writing wasn’t too obscure when it came time to solve a puzzle.
For myself I think I hit this oddball wall where I always would hit last and never could hit an enemy in melee, even with maxed out characters. The last few dungeons were virtually impossible to hit enemies unless you had something like an Aram’s Knife that you could toss. Pretty much Mangar’s Mallet and ZZGO (the dream spell) were the only things worth casting towards the end since every enemy had far more hit points than most damaging abilities.
Despite my nostalgia, I think in retrospect I feel this game was really lacking polish. Cheats aside, the puzzle dungeons and overpowered monsters made the game almost unplayable and beyond frustrating. I’m sure that without the equipment disk “bug,” there would have been no way I could have finished this game. The puzzle dungeons weren’t even good puzzles but just obscure ideas that really required you to have the clue book to solve.
I think Bard’s Tale 3 was my favorite of the series and felt better balanced overall. The first two games just had a nasty beginning curve that pretty much forced you to cheat to a small degree to beat the inefficiencies. That said, this series as a whole is what I tend to expect from a grinding style RPG.