VN Game Den was provided with a review copy of Bard Harder!
Bard Harder! puts you in the shoes of Robin, a new tabletop gamer who has joined her friends in a Wizards & Wyverns campaign. Your character is the party’s bard, and the latest adventure winds up with everyone besides you captured by the evil skeleton Vulcuzar. With no way of fighting back, you resort to the only plan you have left: playing some romantic music and wooing the skeleton into leaving your friends alone.
Once you begin flirting, a romance meter appears on the screen to show your current progress. Each time you successfully charm Vulcuzar, you’ll move a little further along on the meter, while your unsuccessful attempts give him an opening to deal damage to you. How well you do determines the outcome of the campaign, as well as the ending you receive in the game. Taking too much damage will result in your defeat and the game’s worst ending, while successfully flirting with Vulcuzar will lead to the better outcomes.
The basic idea behind flirting with him is that you’ll need to gather information about Vulcuzar and then use that to your advantage. You have an opportunity to read about his life and then remember those details later to correctly choose the responses that will mean the most to him. It isn’t too complex, and (despite characters saying you only have a limited amount of time to learn about him) you can read everything in one playthrough, so it really comes down to learning Vulcuzar’s story and remembering the specific details.
Now, this is all set in the context of a tabletop game, so there are a few points when you’ll leave the fantasy setting for a real-world scene between Robin and her friends. Going into the game, I expected the romance aspect to extend to the real world and have these other characters as potential romance options. However, that isn’t the case. While you do get a chance partway through the game to pick someone to hang out with, this is for the purpose of learning details that can help both with the campaign against Vulcuzar and with Robin’s actual romantic interest.
The conversations are cute, but since it only happens once and most of the game takes place within the context of the tabletop campaign, I never felt like I really got to know the other characters. Replaying the game to spend time with all of them has a benefit because it provides you with information you’ll need for the game’s best ending, but it would have been nice to have a few more chances to get to know the characters in a single playthrough.
Bard Harder! is a very short game. It takes about 30 minutes for a single playthrough, and subsequent playthroughs should be much shorter since you can skip text you’ve already seen and the questions from Vulcuzar stay mostly the same. You should be able to see all of the endings within an hour. It’s cute and it has some funny dialogue, but it feels like it could have been fleshed out more for a greater impact.
You can buy Bard Harder! from itch.io.