Oh, how I love retro role playing games (RPGs). These days, I miss RPGs that were actually role playing games and not “play through this story we force on you as a character we force on you”. Modern RPGs (and most Japanese RPGs, like Final Fantasy) follow this pattern, instead of being a cool little game all about exploration and making characters that are basically a blank slate that you are in control of, and while not all games really have much of a story besides “get stronger and beat the crap out of everything”, really, do you need much more than that in a game?
The Bard’s Tale (aka Tales of the Unknown: Volume 1: The Bard’s Tale) is exactly this sort of game, where you create a party full of various types of typical fantasy game characters, give them equipment, and let them set out into a mazelike set of corridors to battle various bad guys and find help wherever they can. There is a sort of Zen-like simplicity to this sort of gameplay that makes it infinitely compelling — you have to figure out where you are, where you’re going, how to survive against overwhelming odds, and slowly figure out what exactly is going on so that you can locate and defeat the game’s ultimate goal. To me, this is infinitely more enjoyable than having to press a button endlessly to page through a mountain of dialog that is ultimately not that interesting or even important to the gameplay itself in more modern RPGs.
The game itself is available on various classic 8-bit computers, many of which are easily emulatable. I played it in the in-game emulator of the newer The Bard’s Tale game, a modern OS port of a 2004 Playstation 2 and XBox game. The newer port includes the original Bard’s Tale games within an embedded Apple IIGS emulator. While I wish they offered these games separate from the main game so I could play them separately (you have to run the newer game and access these games from the main menu), it works well enough to enjoy the games.