Warrior. Thief. Paladin. Rogue. Dragoon. White mage. Black mage. Red mage….
Okay, let’s be honest: just about every “classic” class of character is given a lot of representation across the realm of gaming. They’re all amazing, each with their own perks and set backs, and each has even taken the spotlight as the main protagonist’s class over the years. I love nearly every class of every character, but my absolute favorite class is so sadly misrepresented in gaming that I couldn’t even squeak out a top 10 list. This class, of course, is the bard class.
Let’s face it—the bard is likely underrepresented because in nearly every game that has one, they steal the spotlight. It’s kind of what bards do. These characters took up the lute instead of the blade, they have charisma to burn, and they often have their ear to every crack in the wall. They’d make fantastic intelligence-gathering party members, the comedy relief, and a strong member of the party providing buffs to their allies. Even bards who are less than talented with their chosen profession provide a good chuckle and an interesting dynamic to the party. Whether their weapon of choice is a string or larynx, you have to hand it to the bard—they are unforgettable.
Before reading on, I do want to toss up a Spoiler Alert for the games given. Most games are pretty old, but I just wanted to cover my bases here. Secondly, some of the characters also appear in Manga or Anime, so I may touch on those aspects as well. Finally, I do want to say that this list is my personal opinion. I ranked the Bards in order of how I felt they effected the story, their impact as characters, their contribution to the soundtrack, and/or how memorable they are to the fan base. I did not include Bard’s Tale (spoiler alert) because I’ve not played the game and I honestly hear very little about it. I tried to grab Bards that would have left an impression as characters in games that would be recognizable.
#5: Flute Boy—The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Boy (and yes, that is the only name given to him) is a mysterious figure from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past that fans continue to speculate about. His story is short but sweet, but it left a deep impression on the fan base. As simple of a story as it is, the tiny detail about this minor NPC involved in one of Zelda‘s infamous fetch quests was a masterful stroke to the game’s epic tale.
In Kakariko Village, Link meets a man who tells Link about his young son who went off in search of the “Golden Power” and never returned. Upon further investigation, the Innkeeper of the Kakariko Village Inn gives Link another small detail regarding Flute Boy. The child’s pet bird would fly him everywhere he went and was last seen with his master flying towards Death Mountain, but neither had been seen since.
Upon passing a small forest grove, Link happens upon a young boy playing his flute for an audience of animals. As Link approaches, the animals scatter and the boy vanishes before his eyes. It isn’t until Link has access to the Dark World that the mystery unwinds itself. Flute Boy somehow entered into the Dark Wold, and as with any Light World inhabitant, he was transformed into a beast. He lingers in the grove’s Dark World location, projecting his image into the Light World. When Link speaks with him, the boy-turned-beast asks him to locate his flute for him. Link does so and returns with Flute Boy’s treasure.
Sadly, Flute Boy confesses that he is unable to play his flute any longer. He gives Link two requests: the first is to see that his flute is returned to his father, and the second is for Link to play the flute for him. As Link does so, Flute Boy turns into a petrified tree and his apparition vanishes from the Light World grove entirely. The fetch quest allows Link to use the flute to call upon Flute Boy’s pet bird to transport him across the map of the Light World. Of course, following the events of the game, Flute Boy is shown restored in the grove with his father.
It’s a small sub-quest, barely twenty minute’s worth of gameplay, but it really shows the gravity of the conflict that Link faces and the effect that the world’s conflict is having on the innocents of the world that he’s fighting to save. At the end, you only get a few seconds of the resolution surrounding Flute Boy’s story, but it’s just enough to tighten up that loose end in a positive way.
Of course, as with any good bard, Flute Boy’s Song is a charming tune that’s become one of the Zelda Franchise’s most recognizable songs.
#4: Ramin—Suikoden Tierkreis
Ramin, for all intents and purposes, is the signature comical bard. He looks the part, speaks with a silver tongue, and he carries himself like a bloated peacock. However, for whatever reason, he delights in stirring up trouble wherever he goes and thanks to a curious skill he possesses, he’s quite good at doing so with his music. Ramin’s music, true to the archetype of an RPG bard, has the ability to create special effects to the listeners. Contrary to the norm, Ramin’s music makes people irrational, angry, and exceedingly aggressive. It’s in no way implied that he lacks talent or that he’s especially malevolent, and in no way is Ramin actually a bad character, so why his music has this effect is as much a mystery as the traveling musician’s past.
He’s first encountered in Salsabil whipping a crowd up into a frenzy. The game’s protagonist happens upon the musician several times through the course of the adventure, each time unlocking a comical situation. The bard angers townspeople and escapes personal physical harm only because the town guards arrive on the scene. He attempts to play for the dolphin-like Porpros-kin some time later and is shocked to find that his music’s odd power has no effect on them. Unfortunately, the Porpros-kin find his music to be exceedingly annoying. He moves on once again and is encountered trying to entertain the beast-like Furious Roar tribe, yielding the same result as he had with the Porpros-kin.
The protagonist eventually begins to worry after the bard’s personal wellbeing, and attempts to drag him to safety away from Cragbark only to encounter an enraged group of monsters. Ramin, panicked, does the one and only thing he knows how to do: he begins to play. Oddly enough, the protagonist is positively affected by the music in battle and manages to defeat the monster thanks to the strength that Ramin’s music lends him. At this point, Ramin is recruited into the military.
As far as characters go, Ramin is just another one of the 108 characters that are required to complete the game with a perfect ending. Every Suikoden game has a musician within them and while Tierkries is not my favorite in the game mostly because it’s an offshoot of the game’s canon, Ramin is the most memorable of the Suikoden bards. He stands out as a character because so little is known about him. The fandom is left to speculate about his past, the source of his strange musical magic, and just why he is the way he is. He’s a fun twist on the bard archetype and despite his ego, he’s a character that the player can almost pity. He has a gift that either irritates or infuriates people. But hey, life gave him lemons and he enjoys his lemonade. If you’re going to be laughably bad at what you love to do, you might as well have a little fun with it.
While Ramin isn’t the singer of his “featured song,” he’s credited with the game’s main theme, “Door of Hope with Ramin.” Fans speculate that he’s either the strings in the background or the song’s composer. Maybe he turned a leaf after the events of the game? Here’s hoping.
Of aristocratic men and lineage, Inuart is known for his captivating singing voice and skill with the harp. He grew up feeling inferior to Caim; his sincerity and honesty masked his inherent cowardice. His world crumbled when his fiancé, Furiae was chosen as the new goddess. His many weaknesses became ever more apparent, his love for Furiae an all-encompassing obsession.
- — Official Website Description
Drakengard is a dark freaking game. One of the first characters that you meet is Inuart, a close friend of the protagonist, Caim, and the prospective lover of Caim’s sister, Furiae. Inuart grew up beside Caim, learning the art of the sword alongside him but always falling just short of Caim’s level. It seemed at every turn, Caim was just a few steps ahead of Inuart. The one and only thing that Inuart had over his friend was his music.
Well, very long story short, Inuart loses his ability to sing when he forges a pact with a black dragon. So what happens when a bard loses his ability to bard? He goes absolutely loopy. And so Inuart proceeds to do just that. I’ve spoiled this one a little, but the events leading up to Inuart’s decision are absolutely heart breaking and should be experienced via gameplay or (for you cheaters) or viewed via a Let’s Play on YouTube. Inuart’s role within the game shifts dramatically from friend and potential brother-in-law to dangerous adversary. Inuart is so crushed that he is willing to give up the one thing that defined him over his childhood rival. He gives up his very identity, and in becoming a villain he also becomes a very memorable, sympathetic one.
Unfortunately, Inuart only has one short cutscene where his musical abilities are displayed. He…didn’t have the best timing for a song either. I personally would have waited to leave the room filled with my enemy’s bodies but hey, different strokes.
#2: Gieve—Arslan: Warriors of Legend
Since Gieve is featured in a very recent game release and he’s an amazing character, he deserves a spot on this list. Gieve is everything a bard should be. He’s a smooth talker, he’s confident, he’s talented, he’s handsome, and he doesn’t limit himself to his passion for music. After all, any artist will tell you that their gift doesn’t always put food on the table or keep them out of harm’s way. Along with his skill as a musician, he is a deadly swordsman, an expert marksman with a bow, a trickster, and an apparently very successful lady’s man.
He’s first introduced into the series when the enemy army marches to the gates of the defending capital with one of their generals bound to a post. As an example to those within the city walls, the general is slowly tortured. The general cries out for someone to kill him so the enemy isn’t given the satisfaction of seeing him suffer. None of the guards along the wall are able to reach the general with their arrows. Gieve appears as a lone, cloaked figure and fires a single arrow into the forehead of the general. He’s brought before the queen and rewarded for his deed. Unfortunately one of the queen’s ladies in waiting recognizes Gieve as the “runaway prince” that she gave herself to the night before. Gieve admits to this but attests that he was just a performer playing the part. He gets himself out of what could have been a nasty situation by playing for the queen, impressing her enough to waive his crime.
So yeah, Gieve isn’t exactly introduced as endearing. In fact, the only reason he gets wrapped up in the conflict of the game (and the anime) is because one of the soldiers, a lovely woman by the name of Farangis, catches his eye and ignores his advances. How dare she!
Over the course of the game, Gieve’s interests in Farangis fade as the core of his involvement and he begins to grow into a very dedicated soldier under Prince Arlsan. He’s moved by the prince’s kindness and willingness to do the right thing regardless of what it may cost him. Several times Arslan calls him a friend, destroying the social boundaries that Gieve grew up under. While the game doesn’t go as far as the anime does, Gieve takes a massive hit for the team in order to ensure that the military’s internal morale is intact. He’s instrumental (see what I did there?) in many victories and proves himself to be a dedicated friend. His transformation not only as a soldier but as a person is powerful.
Of all the characters on this list, Gieve is the only one that the player can choose to play as. He’s a blast to control as he has a massive variety of skills at his disposal. I’m personally a fan of beating people around with his instrument then blowing them away with the power of MUSIC!ART. If tunes can hit you in the feels, why can’t they hit an army in the face? Multiple times? Multiple faces? Yeah. It’s fun. Because he’s a bard.
#1: Edward Chris von Muir—Final Fantasy IV
…also known as the “spoony bard.” Ah yes, everyone knew he would appear on this list. Honestly, he gets the number one spot not only because of my personal experience with him, but because he’s the bard that everyone thinks of when the topic of RPG bards is brought to the table. For one, what a crying shame that Final Fantasy has not given us a memorable bard ever since. The franchise has gone through ten, TEN, canon installments since we had Edward and there hasn’t been even one bard that’s left an impression.
Secondly, Edward is awesome. He’s remembered for good reason. As the crown prince of Damcyan, Edward is well educated, cultured, and has the world on his shoulders. Understandably (and perhaps irresponsibility), he embraces his inner Disney Princess, often slipping away from his castle disguised as a bard simply to see the world. He has more interest in music than politics and he’s apparently quite good at it. However, Edward is introverted and painfully shy which doesn’t really help his presentation as a bard. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out that he wasn’t all that he seemed to be.
During his travels, he falls in love with a girl named Anna who just happens to be the daughter of a powerful mage by the name of Tellah. Tellah, unfortunately, is not thrilled about his daughter’s relationship and is furious when Edward and Anna run off to be together. Of course, ever the protective father, Tellah follows after his daughter in hopes of bringing her home. Shortly after Anna and Edward return to Damcyan, the city is raided and Anna is mortally wounded in the conflict. Tellah fully blames Edward for the tragedy and lashes out against him. Anna begs her father to spare her lover, professing her undying love for him before slipping away. At this point, Edward has just lost his kingdom, his parents, and his love. After a good slap from Cecil, he picks himself up and resolves to press forward.
Despite his tragic beginnings, Edward really grows as a character through the game and finds the courage to stand with his friends as things grow dim. In the lesser known sequel to Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy: The After Years, Edward serves as the crown king of Damcyan.
Edward may not be a bard in career, but it’s made very clear that his passion is in his music. He’s far too shy to play to a grand hall or strut around demanding attention, instead he plays for the love of the art. He feels alive when he’s creating music, and in a way his songs are a connection to those he’s loved and lost, those he’s had to part ways from, and to a deeper part of himself. He eventually learns that the real world demands that he assumes a responsibility that’s heavy and complicated, but he finds a place of peace in his gift.
For artists, this is the heart of what we do. We know we can’t get by on our talent alone. Our gift is just that—a gift. God gives different talents to different people, and the desire to create, be it artwork, writing, poetry, or music, is a whisper of the creative energy that brought the universe into being. After all, the word “universe” quite literally means a single spoken line. Art in all its forms speaks to a part of every human that we all share—our souls. It brings about beauty and awakens parts of us that nothing else can. While we can’t all be artists, singers, writers, or poets, we can all agree that these things are a big part of what makes life worth living, even in the hard times.