Friday, February 4, 2011

Bard's Tale III: More Complaints, Mostly

A harmonic gem at last!

The last two days have been full of complete bull$%&*.

Yesterday I timed it. With the bard song "The Rhyme of Duotime" playing, spell points regenerate at a rate of two every 30 seconds. My characters had around 160 spell points then, so if they came out of a dungeon needing to regenerate 140 of them, that took 35 minutes. But there are other complications because "The Rhyme of Duotime" only lasts about three minutes, meaning I'd have to keep resetting it, which defeats the purpose of doing other things while I wait. That means that a real regeneration took closer to 55 minutes providing I remembered to reset the song once. However, this also doesn't take into account that spell points only regenerate during the daylight, and day and night both last about 10 minutes. This effectively doubles the amount of time it takes to recharge spells unless I stand outside the refugee camp and remember to enter and exit every once in a while (you always return to morning when you leave the camp).

The upside is that I had to wait at least 35 minutes, but practically more like 70 minutes, in between trips to the dungeon. It's hard to believe I'm not missing something, but I don't think I am. I've only found one "harmonic gem," which does indeed regenerate all spell points for a single character, but I kind of feel like I need to save that for emergencies.

I'm just putting this here because I thought this guy looked weird.

What makes this particularly unforgivable is the multiple dungeon squares that sap your magic points. There's nothing like waiting an hour to recharge your spell points only to head into the dungeon and watch half of them drain away.

While I'm complaining, here's a few other things:

  • Spellcaster leveling makes no sense. Once you've achieved the seventh spell rank (character Level 13) in your first class, there's no reason not to switch to the next class. Switching starts you back at 0 experience points, but with no detriment to your health or spell points. Leveling comes extraordinarily quickly at this point. It took my characters about 3 hours of playing to get to Level 13 in their first spell classes, then only about an hour to get to Level 13 in their second classes and less than that to get to Level 13 in their third. During the time that the two spellcasters went through 13 levels the third time around, all my other characters rose maybe 1.
  • I don't like the way the characters find items at the end of combat. The game forces you to take whatever you find, but with no way to sell the items, 90% of the time, you immediately go into the character's inventory and discard it. A better game would ask what items you wanted to keep.
  • The only way to tell if a bard song is still playing is to have the volume on, but the bard songs--the only sound the game, as far as I can tell--just loop over and over and over again every 10 seconds or so. While the sound quality isn't bad, you can't listen to it for long.
  • I don't mind random encounters in dungeons, but what annoys me is that enemies can attack when your only move is to turn. This makes mapping very frustrating. There certain squares where it seems like every move produces an encounter. You finish fighting and then take a couple of turns to remind you where you are, and suddenly you're in battle again.
  • The game doesn't seem to register a lot of my key-presses. I'll hit "8" twice to go north and map the walls assuming I've gone north twice. Then I find out it only registered one of them.

In between times in which I was standing around waiting for spell points to recharge, I finished exploring the dungeon and ultimately killed Brilhasti, the Mad God's servant. To do this, I had to first solve two more riddles on Levels 4 and 5. Both stumped me for a few minutes, although there were other clues on the levels as to the answers (select the text to see the answers):

  • "I am noting, I make nothing, but my opposite creates me even as it destroys me" (SHADOW).
  • "I have no lips, yet my kiss is deadly. I am not a razor, but those I caress need never shave again. Your best friend, I will kill you" (SWORD).

Answering them got me a message to the effect that maybe I am strong enough to defeat Brilhasti and a clear path to the stairs. Reader Eric nailed it: it's more fun if you imagine these messages were scrawled in blood by a spy as he tried to escape. That leaves the question of why he magicked up a mouth with a riddle, though.

Both levels featured plenty of spinners, anti-magic zones, silent zones, spell-point-draining squares, and invisible walls--things that seemed like novelties in the first Bard's Tale but are just tiresome now.

Level 5 was also full of clues as to "three wards" that would "try my soul" on Level 6. Well, I don't know what they were talking about. Level 6 had spinners and dark zones and such, but it was easy enough just to plow through it and make my way to Brilhasti's lair...

My most successful run at Brilhasti out of about 30. He soon killed me.

...where I promptly had my ass handed to me. Bad. I didn't even come close. He was surrounded by four "dark guards" who cast pillars of fire at me, did 80-100 points of damage in melee attacks, and basically just slaughtered me even when my spellcasters were casting REST (full party health restore) every round. I reloaded about 30 times before I finally was able to kill the dark guards through DEST (destruction) spells. But then I had to "advance" across 60 feet to Brilhasti, and he wasted me with RIME (serious frost damage) spells along the way. When I finally reached him, two of my characters were dead, and then he started summoning greater demons. I didn't stand a chance.

Discouraged, I returned to the surface--which was no picnic, by the way, walking back up four levels (the APAR teleport spell failed)--healed, and started to level grind. For an entire day, I killed easy, medium, and hard monsters throughout the Mad God's dungeon. My spellcasters finished mastering conjurer, magician, and sorcerer spells. But my regular characters only advanced a couple of levels throughout the entire day. Still, with my new spells and strength, I returned to Brilhasti's lair a second time.

It ended mostly well.

This time, I only had to reload about 15 times before I finally defeated Brilhasti and his guards, although I lost two characters in the combat. Yay! And my victory was accompanied by an automatic teleport out of the dungeon. Thank you! But this is where the final BS appeared.

Returning to the review board, I found that killing Brilhasti gave me enough experience points to advance from Level 16 to LEVEL 36! Moreover, my two spellcasters, who I hadn't even changed to wizard, let alone archmage, suddenly had all the conjurer, magician, sorcerer, wizard, and archmage spells. What the hell?! I spend an entire day level grinding only to have the game hand me 20 levels and two full classes' worth of spells for a single combat? Could it maybe have balanced that a little better? Was the entire purpose of the first dungeon to get my characters to the level they would have been if they had finished The Bard's Tale II? This is bad, bad, bad game design. Aside from the new chronomancer class, my spellcasters have no where to go. My thief has 99 in all the thief abilities. Playing with way overpowered characters is no fun even if the monsters are hard; there's nowhere for my characters to develop.

The next quest.

So the "last of the guild elders"--the guy in the review board--wants me to go to some realm accessible through some trees and to bring back a bow and arrows from another adventurer named Valarian. To do this, I have to take one of my archmages and make him or her a chronomancer, leaving me with only one archmage unless I take the time to develop another. I'm going to bed now to sleep on whether I want to even keep playing this dumb game. I'll leave it running overnight, though, so maybe my 350 spell points will be recharged by the time I wake up in the morning.

Sorry to sound so negative, but at least I know one thing now: my reviews of The Bard's Tale II were not simply because I was in a "bad mood." I was in quite a good mood two days ago, and I was eagerly anticipating this game. It's the game, not me. This series sucks. Why is it considered a classic?


  1. Wow, 20 levels at once, that's gotta be some kind of record!

    The Gamasutra interview with Burger claims that Bard's Tale III is the best of the series and that Dragon Wars features 'meticulous design', so that'll be interesting...

  2. Just reading this sounds torturous. Don't feel obligated to keep playing it for our sake.

  3. "Why is it considered a classic?"

    Perhaps because of nostalgia? I fondly remember many older games, but I tend to feel tortured when I sit down and try to play them again. (Not all of them, though - but still an increasing number)

    Looking forward to you reaching the next Might & Magic :)

  4. I agree that things seem pretty out of whack at this point. I've never actually played BT3 with a fresh party -- we had transferred over characters from BT1 when we played it as children so we ended up at about the same level as you now after Brilhasti.

    A couple of your complaints I think can be addressed by the fact that you're playing the inferior DOS version.

    Re: Spell Points
    You really were supposed to find some harmonic gems there in Skara Brae. Probably not enough to eliminate this complaint, but it at least would have been something. Additionally, anyone transferring characters in from previous games would have had mage staffs which (as you may recall) recharge SP even in dungeons. I have absolutely no recollection as to where you get them in BT3.

    Re: Bard Songs
    The C-64 & Apple ones have an music note icon on the spell status bar to indicate when a bard song is active. No idea why they didn't bring that over to the DOS version.

    Re: Brilhasti being 60' feet away
    I haven't seen you talk about this, so I need to ask as it's important. You do know how the rogue works, right? Hiding in the shadows allows him to slink 10' feet away from your party every time you successfully do it. Five rounds of that followed by one critical hit, and Brilhasti would be out of your hair.

    I'm clearly a biased Bard's Tale apologist, but would it help at all to say that you've essentially cleared through the grindy prologue and are now in the real meat of the game? If you still don't like it after completing Arboria, then it's safe to say you should probably just hang it up.

  5. I read a walkthrough that said there are supposed to be 4 Harmonic Gems in that first storage/busted up house. I can't remember if you said you searched there and they weren't there, or what. But the walkthrough said it, and the walkthrough is on the internet, so it MUST be true.

  6. I was thinking of playing this game myself, but now I'm not so sure.

    The monsters that are just semi-random mixes of names and numbers is a huge turn-off. I can relate to Orcs, Beholders, Giants and so forth, but not to stuff like Goresuckers and Foul Stalkers.

    I hope you play on a bit so that we find out if the next area offers something that justifies BT 3 being considers the best in the series.

    In BT 1 the selection of monsters seemed "realistic", facing kobolds and skeletones in the first area and then progressing through the traditional moster hirearchy. Judging from the name and appearance og the monsters you had a reasonable idea of how dangerous they were.

    BT 2 has the same problem as BT 3 with each level being a new set of monster you can't "relate" to, but it offered an improved combat system, mapping challenges and the infamous "death snares". But if the random encounters are as common as in BT 1 I won't have the patience to slog through it once more.

    BT 3 doesn't sound like it offers anything new and improved. The mix of turn based and real time felt weird, monsters no longer have special attacks it seems and there are far fewer (at least in the first area) unique squares and encounters.
    Incidentally the chech-for-random-encounters-everytime-you-turn-or-move is the same method that is used in M&M 2.

  7. Wow, yeah--the more I look at those screens the more my memory clouds over and I can't recall where BTIII ends and Dragon Wars begins. I do recall quite specifically, however, being entirely non-plussed with the first but loving the latter. I suspect you'll find that Dragon Wars is pretty much the game BTIII should have been. Thanks.

  8. I was bemoaning that I had never played any of the Bard's Tales games, and what a gap that was in my gaming history. Now, though, it seems like perhaps it is a gap I am happy to have...

  9. I almost get the impression the intent was to go like Wizardry 3, and require imported characters, but they slapped the beginner dungeon in at the last minute.

    One tip guide I saw mentioned if you bring a level 1 character with you to kill Brilhasti and he survives you can get an instant archmage.

  10. When I played BTIII on the Apple //c as a kid I loved it. That is, I remember having loved it. I also remember being overpowered and maxed out (probably by some exploit I'd stumbled upon) and gleefully plowing through the game -- exploring the dungeons and seeing the variety of evil fauna was the real fun for me, I suspect, not endless grinding through brutal combat. I don't remember anything about spell points being a problem. I doubt I'd enjoy it much if I played it again today, though I have been playing a bit of Dragon Wars this week. It may not keep my interest for long, though.

  11. I played BT3 on the Apple 2. I remember giving up at the same point you have reached, for the same reasons you give. All my characters went up a huge number of levels, so there was little character development left.
    I agree that the Bard's Tale series is over rated. The first one was good, the last two are not worth playing.

  12. My recollection is hazy from when I played it many many years ago on the C-64 but the first dungeon sole purpose in the game was to get newly created parties up to the levels they needed to be able to start the game. Back then, pretty much everyone I knew transferred their parties from Bard's Tale 2 (or hexedit).

    For the SP issues, you need to be camping for Mage Staves which regenerates SP. It should be coming up in the next zone. Eventually you will get Conjurstaves which cut the amount of SP needed for a spell in half so you'll be using them interchangeably. I must admit I didn't recall many SP regen issues back then with a transferred party.

    For the boss you faced, the design was that your thief sneaks out and backstabs him while your party stays at range. You will wind up employing that tactic on several fights. The game is about the "Thief of Fate" afterall :)

  13. @CRPG: BT3 seems to be punishing you for (understandably) abandoning BT2.

  14. Where did you get your copy of the game? If you have it on disk, the harmonic gems should indeed be there. However, I've found downloadable copies of the game where the house had already been looted by the original owner, and thus were no longer available to new players.

    It is weird that many people consider BTIII to be the best of the series, imho. I always liked the first game the best - probably just because it was Wizardry with more bells & whistles (and no permadeath). But I think you'll really like Dragon Wars - if that's truly considered part of the series, then I'd say that's the one I like best. I would have LOVED to see a sequel to that one.

  15. You should have found some harmonic gems by now, and you need to better use your thief and the critical hit ability.. dont grind so much before killing brilhasti, since as you found the review will boost you to the predetermined level. And dont think your uber powerful right now because you are not ;) and you need the geomancer and class changing up everyone else too...

    The rest of the game is still very grindy but a lot more interesting.

    My fav items were stone blades, dayblades, mage staff and heartseekers... and make good use of the figurines you find that summon monsters

  16. It's a long time since I played the C64 version but I don't remember going up 20 levels after killing Brilhasti nor do I remember any particular issues with spell points. I remember thinking the C64 automap was not much use.

    I still like the first BT1 and think it's fairly well balanced but I can't say the same about the other two games.

    When I saw this was coming up I was sorely tempted to give it another try but you've confirmed my negative memories were fairly accurate.

  17. Frankly, I was done with this series the moment I discovered that I couldn't even quit the game except in a certain building (in BT1). There's plenty of classic CRPGs worth playing today, but I'm not convinced very many of them date from the 80s.

  18. DON'T QUIT. It gets much more fun.
    Things to keep in mind:
    Each mage should have 1 mage staff (regen sp) and one conjur staff (.5 sp cost all spells).
    One archmage is enough.
    You get to buy more unique spells / bard songs later in the game, so 'growth' continues, in a way.

  19. I'm sorry to hear that you're not having much fun with BT3. My interest in replaying BT3 stems purely from nostalgia... though the mana regeneration issue doesn't really add to my enthusiasm about it and I think map spinners are... silly (to be polite).

    It's a shame that this one may not have aged as well as some of the other RPGs I played around the same time (Ultima IV, Might & Magic I, Phantasie, Pool of Radiance). I think they all had their quirks, though. I really love the playstyle of the old gold box games but when I need to start dropping money (which is worthless by this point anyway) in order to keep my characters able to move, it makes me roll my eyes.

    Here's hoping that the upcoming games scratch the itch a bit better for you.

  20. Again, BTIII was designed to be played with a veteran party imported in from BTII. It is a design flaw, and the reason I've never considered the game near as good as the others.

    You have a long way to go to get the next casting class, Geomancer, and there are a few spells and bard songs you pick up along the way, but you are right in that character development is now basically more hp/sp.

    I've always considered BTII to be the best in the series, as it retained much of the charm and strengths of the original, while allowing you to save, and having improved some of the core mechanics and giving a bit more advancement to casters.

    Try hiding with your Thief, and letting him/her sneak attack strong bosses, and dangerous casters. Charging headlong into heavy enemy fire didn't work out all that well for the various armies in World War I, and you don't have more characters than the enemy has spells, so Douglas Haig tactics don't cut it.

  21. If there was ever a reason to live in the 1980's, The Bard's Tale would definitely be a reason to...If you are having doubt's on whether or not to continue playing the bard's tale series, well please have a lobotomy, and then after that is completed, play the bard's tale games in order 1-3, and then after that, play them again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and...well you can guess where I am going here.

  22. Hey, everyone. Seems like opinions are split on the qualities of the game. As per my post today, I will continue playing, but not until I return home next weekend where I left my saved game.

    A few replies to some common themes:

    1. The entire Bard's Tale series seems not to have aged very well. It's easy to compare it to the Might & Magic and Wizardry series because they're all first-person multi-character RPGs, but the dungeons in the latter two games seem to have more of a raison d'etre. You encounter more stuff. They make more sense. The dungeons in BT2 and BT3, in particular, seem to exist solely to make you fight random monsters. If you knew where all the important things were, you could just APAR to them and level-grind by standing in one place. I like mapping, but only when it has a real purpose. Also, the ability to save anywhere means it lacks the tactical challenge of M&M or Wizardry.

    2. For the last #$*&* time, there were no harmonic gems in the house in Skara Brae. I don't care if I was "supposed" to find them there. Maybe it's a problem with this DOS version like rattmice said; I don't know. But the problem is not that I just didn't look. If I'd had mage staffs from BTII, I agree they would have helped, but I don't and I haven't found any yet.

    3. Thanks to Brian varglesnarg for cluing me in about the way the rogue works. I feel like a bit of an idiot now. I didn't realize you could KEEP having him hide and thus make his way to someone a distance away.

    4. Jason, given the columns of fire that Brilhasti's guards shot at me, I can't imagine a Level 1 character surviving. I think I'll try with just one archmage for now.

    5. Figurines that summon monsters: have a million of them. These summoned guys seem to last forever.

  23. I imported my characters from BT2 and skipped the starter dungeon. I thought this might be the reason I couldn't find anything in the Skara Brae house, but it looks like this might be another of the many joys unique to the DOS version. Magic regeneration is another, I had the following conversation with my BT3-fan friend early on.

    "I'm avoiding using magic at all because it takes so long to regenerate. What am I doing wrong?"
    "Just use some of your gems."
    "My what?"

    I think I'd found a total of one gem by the time I reached the third world. After that I started finding them but still not very often. I was very thankful to have brought speedboots from the previous game so I could run from any battle that looked magic-heavy.

    One thing I did that might be useful is to ignore the summoned monster slot altogether and just add another archmage to the party. I just discarded any figurines I found and I think there wasn't anyone I HAD to have in the party for quest reasons like in the first two games. Your mystery guy from the next post offers to join but there's no penalty for not taking him.

  24. I remember the first Bard's Tale rather well... it has to be one of the most abusively, hatefully hard games ever conceived. As a kid I hammered away at it endlessly thinking I must have been doing something wrong to end up slaughtered time and time again, but as an adult I realize it was just really... not very good. That was back in the day before game makers understood the delicate balance of difficulty.

  25. Wow, I used to play BT III almost 20 years ago, and then the friend who owned the game and system and I had a falling-out, and I always wondered what the answer to the shadow riddle was for the past 20 years or so, and I was never able to find out what it was until now. Thank you so much for posting this answer.

  26. I played BT3 on the C64 so many years ago and it still brings good memories to mind. I'm guessing the DOS version is highly inferior from your description. I do recall the starter dungeon being a tough grind and after that the gameplay seemed more balanced.

    I suggest any others wanting to play through it, find a C64 emulator and play BT3 that way. GL & HF!

  27. Sorry for this really late reply. I found my way here after a search for "harmonic gem" because I ran into the same problem. I honestly ended up returning to the C64 version played on an emulator because the programming for the loot drops and monster encounters on the PC version are greatly inferior. I had so many harmonic gems in the C64 version that I was throwing them away. On the PC version they're so rare I never have any. Also the monster encounters are ludicrously hard in the starter dungeons, and even outside in the very beginning. There are packs of as many as five "Bloodfiends" in the topside starting world in the PC version. Those didn't show up until UnterBrae on the C64 as they can one-shot newer characters. Save yourself the pain and download an emulator (I like VICE for the C64) and play the old version.

  28. That's good stuff to know, but if I break my rules and use a different emulator, it won't be for this game.

  29. Was the entire purpose of the first dungeon to get my characters to the level they would have been if they had finished The Bard's Tale II?

    In a word: Yes.

    You can finish Brilli quite easily if two of your casters have different dexterity.
    One casts the "pull to 10'" on him and the other one does DEST. Plus, a stoneblade or two for the guards is handy. A hunter can also get to 99% crit hit, so with stone blades and crit hit, you can remove a single enemy each round with each character.

  30. Oh, and as for the harmonic gems in the house in skara brae.
    they only show up the first time a party plays. after that, they are gone.
    At least that is what it was on the good ole C64.

  31. Just started this game the other day... and I have all the same complaints. Slow spell regen, unresponsive keyboard and encounters every 2 steps (or less). WTF. I'm playing on my old 386, so I have no idea why they keyboard isn't responsive. It's not even an emulator, I'm playing off the original 3 1/2" disks. I have NEVER had to fight this many encounters. You load the game and BOOM, encounter. Turn in a dungeon, BOOM, ecounter. Just makes ZERO sense.

    Also, I agree - there is so much CRAP in this game they make you pick up after battle. Why would I want a dagger!?!?!?

    Having just finished Dragon Wars (Bards Tale IV?), I can only say it was 1,000,000 times better than this piece of crap. I am a huge fan of Bard's tale 1 (perhaps it's just nostalgia). I have all the games boxed and the clue books etc etc etc. I beat BT1 in Jan 1994 (huge snow storm, full week off school) and BT1 for the NES. They were fun, as I recall.

    I remember at some point picking up BT2 and playing it for a bit. Looking back I now know why I didn't get far. It's stupid. It's just plain stupid. I've put about 8 hours into the game at this point and I'm done. Total Crap. I can't handle an encounter every 2 squares and slow to NO spell point regen.

    CRPG ADDICT: I know you're in recovery, but if you get a chance check out Dragon Wars. It is AMAZING. Everything that sucked about a lot of these old CRPGS has been fixed by this game. It still has it's flaws, but it's the most fun game I've played since I discovered Demon's Winter.

    Dragon Wars: A pure gem! Would I steer you wrong? :)

    Remember your 12 steps! (I'm in AA myself)

  32. Funny thing about Dragon Wars, I din't particularly like it when I first played it, but I loved BT 1 and 2. Now 20 years later I completed Dragon Wars, but Bard's Tale really turns me off (bacause of the random encounters every five seconds).

  33. I think this has come up in other entries, but I imagine Bard's Tale III was still in the period when CRPGs were typically caught in the classic-Gygaxian-D&D model of "gamemaster as impartial judge" -- seemingly a euphemism (even if unintended) for "wanting to kill as many characters as possible." Somehow the idea that it requires zero effort for someone running (or programming) a game to kill the characters of the person playing it never quite filtered into the public consciousness until the 1990s--perhaps when the children of the original gamers were like "you know what would be cool, is if this were fun, rather than just hard."

  34. 1. Bards Tale 3 has ticks. Every time your party walks a square, a tick passes. If you stand still, ticks are only triggered maybe once every 30 seconds or so. Conclusion: If you want to greatly reduce the time of healing/spell points regeneration, run around with your party ! Bard songs are still measured in minutes, not ticks :-)
    2. Brilhasti was implemented to prepare new partys for the following game (much tougher !) content. So it is not a design flaw, it is indeed good design. Try to play the second dimension with a chronomancer and some level 20-25 chars and you experience that your party is slaughtered by EVERY monster.
    3. The Bards Tale series has this approach: You try to defeat a boss monster and fail. Then you must judge your party if this was just loss by chance or loss by underpowered party. Most times, it was the second reason which means you must go grind some lower monsters, go up 2-5 levels and retry it. Fighting Brilhasti 16 times in a row and not recognizing that your party is underpowered is, well, dumb.
    4. Bards Tale 2 and 3 have a combat system with range !!! When facing a single boss monster that cast certain combat spells, just step back. The higher the distance, the less damage you receive ! If the distance exceeds the maximum casting distance of a spell, you will not receive any damage at all.
    5. Bards Tale 3 allows you to use 7 user created chars. Do not use NPCs in your party. You cant control their combat actions and after defeating Brilhasti, NPCs are much weaker than user created chars.
    6. Some rare monsters in the game do summon more monsters, e.g. Rock Demons. Let the Rock Demons summon more and more monsters while your party steps out of their attack distance. When the Rock Demons have reached their max amount, kill them with magic (3 NUKE spells should do the trick). You will receive a huge amount of XP from this single battle. Do this sometimes in a row, and you have some easily earned level ups. ;-)


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