Ah, the much-maligned bard class... For some reason, when game makers want more splats, bards are the way that everyone tries to make their game "different." Bards provide an entirely new role that falls outside of those standard four roles of Fighter, Wizard, Rogue and Priest, which lets players who want to try something different have a way to support the party in a way that is (questionably) new and (possibly) unique.
The problem is that this is often handled poorly, so bards are very frequently unable to ever become anything useful. They are the butt of jokes, they are often beaten by old men with canes, and sometimes their friends use a mountain of bard corpses as convenient cover. Bards usually run into one of three major problems:
Many bards can be built to specialize in status effect abilities. This can often be a wonderful way to add a new role to the game, however, this often falls flat because the status effects in many games are actually Useless Useful Spells that take too long to cast for short mook fights, have the wrong elements for boss battles, and/or simply are not be useful enough to justify using a bard instead of another character. This is especially true if the enemies can remove your newly added status effect abilities.
Frequently for bard-type characters, the game makers simply didn't think things through when they made the class and didn't do proper balancing. Typically, when a class is "weak and worthless," especially in MMORPGs, other classes will be nerfed, or the bards will get additional beneficial gimmicks which will change the game balance and draw the ire of players even more.
The Returners Final Fantasy Roleplaying Game practically inverts this trope, especially in relation to the Trope Namer. They can endlessly throw around group affecting buffs and debuffs for free while still doing decent magical damage and they can use Hide to avoid predictable attacks, making them very valuable against both tough mobs and bosses. Their main weakness, just to further
Dungeons & Dragons has the Bard base class, of which mainly is a versatile jack of all trades, often played as a support class. In most editions, the bard was not often seen as good as other options because of their tendency to be decent at multiple roles at once instead of good at one, being called a master of none. However, 3.5 edition's Bard splatbook support really helped it grow in power into a jack of all trades, master of a few, being able to take up a few roles to extremely high power (adding huge bonuses like 10d6 damage per hit to become a very strong support, or dual wielding rapiers and then going Snowflake Wardance to be a melee monster, or a good caster with powerful battlefield control and debuff spells). Plus, at the end of the day, Bards were still spellcasters in the edition that codified Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards, so while they'd never rival an equally well played wizard, even with only the core rulebook, they can still prove far more potent than more mundane classes.
In the Dungeons & Dragons based game Baldur's Gate, bards tend to be bad fighters and bad magic users, but get more bonuses toward identifying items through the "Lore" statistic than any other class. If your party loadout includes a specialist wizard who can't cast the Identify spell on an item, having a bard can help avert spending large amounts of money identifying the magic items you frequently encounter, but their utility usually stopped there.
The sequel, Baldur's Gate II, introduced class kits that would allow bards to beef up aspects of the class. Picking a Blade, one of the DPS oriented kits, and combining it with some defensive mage spells potentially made characters which could outpace other fighters in terms of armor and damage output.
Very much an underdog, a plain Bard can actually solo the entire game from the beginning of BG1 all the way to the final fight in BG2:ToB (including Watcher's Keep) and do it more easily than most other single class characters (a min/maxed fighter with all the best equipment set up for maximum DR is a little easier, but only slightly and nowhere near as fun to play, as melee is all they do). The Blade greatly improves the melee presence but isn't at all required. The Thief xp table, ridiculous equipment versatility (and this BEFORE getting Use any item), and majority of the available mage spells (not the most game breaking ones, but the ones that matter the most), EPIC thief traps (Time stop traps, Spike traps) make for a ridiculously powerful character. Even their pickpocket (which on a non-blade Half-elf easily reaches 110 at the beginning of BG2) allows for tons of easy equipment that non-thieves would probably never see. They're almost a F/M/T in a single class, who levels up stupidly fast.
Prince Edward Chris von Muir from Final Fantasy IV is singularly useless, employing a harp as a weapon and possessing the special ability of "singing" at enemies — a skill that's supposed to inflict status ailments but which frequently does nothing at all. Edward's other special ability, unsurprisingly, is to run away and hide for a turn. As Game Informer so aptly summarized, "His special command is Hide, which allows him to run away and leave a twelve year old girl to take his lumps for him. Classy, Edward." In "hard-type" he's slightly more useful because he can also spread potions amongst the whole party. Slightly.
The DS version buffs him considerably, and his Bardsong becomes far more useful. You can pick the song you want, and one Edward learns actually heals your party while he isn't interrupted. And then you can give Bardsong to someone that isn't Edward....
Late in the GBA version of the game, Edward becomes one of the fastest characters in the game. Equip him with the Apollo Harp, and he can easily dish out 2000+ damage every few seconds. And woe unto any dragon-type enemies you run into, as Edward will regularly dole out anywhere from 8000+ to max damage per hit. Then he gets his ultimate weapon Loki's Lute, which does that much damage to ANY creature that has a racial flag (like dragon, demon, or giant). His only glaring weaknesses are his defense and lack of hit points, making him more of a Glass Cannon — but even then, he deals full damage from the back row, so defence is less important for him. There was also an accessory that changes his useless sing command to a Mighty Guard Spell. There was also his other much-upgraded ability, Salve: in previous versions, all it did was to take a potion and split it between the party members for a whopping 25 HP of healing. In the DS remake, it instead allows you to take any item and use it on the entire party at once with full effect, although it does use up as many of the said item as there are party members. Like the previous skill, it can also be later given to another character as well.
Seems like poor Edward just can't seem to catch a break. While he's shown to be less wimpy storywise and he still retains his Salve ability in After Years, his Bardsong is again randomized. At the very least you can still choose whether you want to target your party or enemies with it, including being able to choose from a single/all party members/enemies and the negative statuses it can cause have potential to at least be useful this time around since the game follows the DS version trend of making Useless Useful Spells less useless. While he's not the Glass Cannon he was in the GBA version anymore, his damage output isn't that far behind from the other characters, he's still decently fast, the aforementioned Salve can be even more useful than the White Mages' healing spells both because of the buyable X-Potions and Elixirs and an item that doubles the effectiveness of items in battle and his ability to hide can still be useful against enemies who telegraph their Total Party Kill attacks. And seeing how Edward is still moping over his beloved Anna 17 years after her death, such that his kingdom is without an heir, he apparently still fits the literal definition as well. That said, he's muchmore confident and assertive now, and is one of the only heroes to get the better of the villains, if temporarily, so far.
The Dancer and Bard classes in Final Fantasy Tactics. Dancers can use their weakest dance to enormously powerful effect in a properly tweaked party (three Dancers and two Mimes with strength boosted as high as possible). This is generally the second most powerful party possible in the game. Given them all the Ninja class's Vanish skill as well, and they'll turn invisible after getting hit, which normally lasts until the character takes another action...except that continuing the dance you're already performing doesn't count as a new action. Thus, your Dancers and Mimes will keep whittling away at the enemy, who will be incapable of retaliating.
Bards at the same time, also have varying issues. The HP and MP regenerating abilities are guaranteed, but can also raise the speed of your units (One Bard Raising and one Dancer Lowering could tip the scales very quickly), increase their attack and magic attack, as well as dish out random beneficial status effects. The real magikarp effect is because each class relies on the stat that gender is weaker in. Dancer uses Physical Attack to determine damage effects, and Bards used Magic Attack. Since the abilities can be passed off to other classes though, a singing Black Mage can restore many HP, and a Dancing Knight could whittle down enemies in no time flat.
Tactics also has two characters, a brother and sister named Rafa and Malak. Their unique ability hits 2-5 random squares in a 5 square, cross shaped area, making their attacks frequently do nothing at all. And while Rafa's spells does a fixed damage depending on her stats (as opposed to the usual Faith-based magic system of the game), Malak's functions better if he has a very low Faith; Rafa is almost useful if you train her as a white mage due to her high Faith, or as a move-find-item holder due to her low Brave (a must for getting the rare items in the Deep Dungeon), Malak can do excellent magic damage while being almost immune to magic himself, making him an excellent faith-based magic counter if used right.
The FFT remake for the PSP has been more forgiving for the siblings, as it made their spells more reliable, upping the number of times it can theoretically hit to nine, and raising the chance it can hit the center tile target, so that one can center the spell on an enemy and expect it to hit at least once.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has an actual bard as a unique character ... but unlike Final Fantasy Tactics unique characters, FFTA2 has absolutely terrible stat growth in unique classes. His bard songs aren't of much help, since only his MP boosting power offers something another class can't already do with a better range of alternate actions, and dedicating a unit to boosting MP would only be of use if you had multiple mages trading out Halve MP or Blood Price for Geomancy or Magic UP while staying in formation. Fortunately, he can learn from other classes, like Juggler or Time Mage, but depending on what level you were when you recruited him, his low stats will ensure he never can quite compete with a generic specifically leveled for certain stats.
In Final Fantasy XI the Bard is an example of the Gamebreaker side, it is so popular (due to its completely free buffs) that most people say that you can get offers for Level Grinding parties without raising your invite flag (to signify that you are looking for a party); this gets to the point to which some people have to go into anonymous mode (which hides what job and level your character is) to avoid getting invites. Though this has happened with other jobs, bards are pretty much the only one that has always been like this. Summoners, traditionally the most powerful job in Final Fantasy games, fits this trope on the other side due to being able to do useful things less frequently than any other job.
Final Fantasy III has a nice variety of classes, but there are several that are either only useful once in the game or are so useless that they can be totally overlooked. Its version of the Bard class is even worse than FFIV's Edward, with little attack power or defense and only one command ("Cheer") that has any use whatsoever. The Scholar, similarly, has little attack or defensive power, but has the "Scan" command which is vital in exactly one battle in the game, against Hyne. The DS remake, however, did make the Bard at least marginally useful. If you got Bard's Job levels high enough and equipped them with correct harp, they could restore at least 1000 HP to everyone instantly.
A number of the more useless jobs in III had their status almost completely reversed in the DS remake, turning into Lethal Joke Characters if you get enough job levels in them. Particular notes are the aforementioned Scholar (on top of the weapon effectiveness boost gets a lot of charges for low-levelled spells, and when dual-wielding the higher-leveled books can output insane damage given they're a support class) and the Geomancer (stick with the class for long enough and you'll start cursing when you get the rare high-damage single-target Shadowflare, because you hit the damage cap anyway).
In the first Baldur's Gate, the bard class was pretty much tragically underpowered compared to the others — there was no good reason to choose a bard over a rogue. Things got better with the sequel and with Icewind Dale.
Bards are actually one of the easier classes to solo the first game with, thanks to the ability to use wands, better weapon choices then non-fighters, and leveling up on the thief table allowing them to quickly gain enough HP to get out of one shot territory. Their high minimums can make it a pain to get good stats but that is really their only downside.
Any of the Bards of the Romancing SaGa trilogy. The first was actually the Crystal Dragon Jesusin disguise as the bard. The second one retold the tales of your empire at the start of the game, and had 5 important instruments needed to acquire a character class, and the last was recruitable and was pretty decent in all stats, only problem was that you could only ditch him after clearing one of the Abyss Lords.
Final Fantasy X-2 has the Songstress dressphere (class), which, despite being plot-important, is almost completely useless. There are some redeeming features to the Songstress, such as the MP Mambo (which causes all spells to have 0 MP cost) and Magical Masque (which causes all magical attacks to your party to be 0). Though, both dances can only be gotten late in the game, and neither one can come even close to touching the Cat Nip.
Averted in the remake of Tales of Destiny. Players will probably tell you not to simply disregard Johnny, due to being able to buff and heal the party very effectively with his songs, and being able to combo enemies into oblivion with ease using his various musical attacks. His Maware Rondo, in particular, can be spammed for an easy infinite combo, and is so good that the developers actually gave the true final boss a deadly counterattack designed solelyto keep himself from getting murdered by it.
The Bard/Clown/Minstrel (for Males) and Dancer/Gypsy/Wanderer (for Females) Classes from Ragnarok Online. While they come from the Archer Class tree and can use bows and all their Archer Skills, they're more often equipped with a Musical Instrument or Whip (depending on the character's gender) in order to allow them to preform songs or dances to buff allies or debuff enemies. They also work best when paired with the opposite gender equivalent as this allows them to preform Duets with improved abilities. Their songs/dances are near useless without a party to protect them as well.
The Bard Class in EverQuest is stated as a "Jack of All Trades, Master To None" in that it's sort of like multiple classes combined together. Unlike normal buff spells, the bard had to constantly keep "singing" almost non-stop and keep refreshing the songs over and over again every few SECONDS. Most players can successfully juggle 4 song buffs up at once. They can also wear Plate armor, and dual wield weapons (but not Double Attack.) Among the song types they have, they can increase run speed to being the fastest in the game (faster than the most powerful mounts), charm enemies, stun them, deal damage over time, and heal over time.
Bards have been changed in EverQuest. They no longer have to press the singing keys every few seconds (this led to wrist problems for some players). They also have some pretty awesome abilities. A well played bard can be one of the most powerful classes, they can solo many mobs at once and in groups they can boost damage output by a huge amount. They also can single mobs from a pack of them with ease.
The Bard classes in Ever Quest 2 are broken down into "Orderly" and "Chaotic" versions. The Troubadour and Dirge, respectively. Each class has different types of buffs. The Troubador focuses more on defensive buffs such as raising defense and health, while the Dirge class is more offensive, who's buffs enhance attack speed and double attack damage, among others. Due to the game's Archetype system, both bards are classified as Scout classes, who are restricted to wearing Chain armor (unlike plate in the first game), but are designed to deal significant damage when facing behind an opponent. Literally backstabbing them. Also unlike the first game, however, they don't need to constantly "sing" their buffs for the group. Once you activate them, they stay that way until canceled.
Dirges are considered especially useful, as their ability to increase melee attack speed and power, which half the classes in the game and all of the pets benefit from, guarantees them a slot on almost any raid or group. When there are 24 different classes in the game and the largest raids in the game have 24 people with typically a few repeating classes, being pretty much guaranteed a slot is a big deal.
Among the 6 scout classes (Ranger, Assassin, Swashbuckler, Brigand, Troubadour, Dirge), the two bard classes are supposedly the "weakest" of the 6 in terms of sheer damage output, but when comparing the bards to classes outside the Scout archetype, that's not saying much. They still do more damage than most fighter, priest, and a couple of mage classes.
The Lord of the Rings Online has the Captain, a heavily armoured class with access to powerful buffing and healing abilities as well as the ability to tank effectively. Needless to say, this trope is averted.
Accordion Thieves are probably the weakest class in Kingdom of Loathing. They have the least number of combat skills, meaning you mostly just hit them with music, where a muscle class does a better job of basic weapon attacks. They mainly rely on buffing themselves with some marginally useful songs. As a plus, they can sneak into the League of Chef-Magi and the Brotherhood of the Smackdown, letting you shop at all 3 guild shops and, if you have permed the skill, let you use the Wok of Ages and Malus of Forethought.
Ironically, once you've permanently learned most of the other classes' skills, Accordion Thieves become the best class for speed-ascending. They're the only class that can use all the guild shops and special guild tools, many of which are extremely useful, on top of being able to pickpocket and having other handy advantages associated with Moxie classes.
Dungeon Explorer has a bard class which is considered one of the most useless classes in the game.
Many, many, many Pokémon fall into this category, having gimmicks that showcase unique game mechanics. Because any player can choose from all of them, many tend to get ignored completely. This tends to lead to Magikarp Power when you realize that damn near any Pokémon can be used effectively if you raise them right and throw on some TMs...Okay, ASIDE from Magikarp.
Ditto is the other major one from the original game, as its only move was to turn into a copy of the opponent. Once breeding was introduced in Gold and Silver, it also had a non-battle use in being able to breed with anything. Black and White eventually made it a viable battle choice by giving it the Imposter ability, letting it copy the opponent immediately without having to use a turn.
In Gold and Silver, Unown is particularly noted for its gimmickry. They mimic letters, and there's one for each from A to Z (plus ? and ! in later games) for you to collect - but in battle they only have one move, Hidden Power, and its stats are different for each individual user but none of them are good.
Wobbuffet learns no offensive moves of its own, it can only cause damage by counterattacking. In the hands of the right trainer, it could be Difficult but Awesome.
Smeargle only learns one move, Sketch, over and over - but Sketch lets it copy any one move used against it permanently, allowing Smeargle to potentially know any move in the game. Of course, to counter this ability, Smeargle's stats aren't that great.
Delibird also has only one move called Present, and the amount of damage it does is random - it can even go negative and heal the target.
Ruby and Sapphire introduced several of these Pokémon, as it gave them passive effects called Abilites thereby opening up a new way to add quirks:
Slaking has the Truant ability, meaning it is extremely lazy and only attacks every other turn, but to make up for that its stats are through the roof for the times when it does act. Savvy players can figure out ways to nullify the ability and get a real powerhouse.
Shedinja is a One-Hit-Point Wonder, able to go down with a single hit but its Wonder Guard ability blocks all direct damage from non-super-effective attacks. Too bad it has so many weaknesses. And there are ways abilities can be nullified. And indirect damage (like from poison or confusion) also works. The way to get one is pretty quirky, too, as you need an open slot when Nincada evolves because it becomes two Pokémon; Shedinja being the cast-off shell of its other evolution, Ninjask.
Plusle and Minun were used to highlight the new Double Battles. They have an ability that increases their special attack when they battle together... but their movepool sucks, their stats suck, no sane man would ever use them both in one team. In short, they are a bit less useless in double battles. A bit.
Not related to abilities, Spinda's claim to fame is that each one has a unique spot pattern on their in-game sprite. That's it, and their stats aren't that great either.
Feebas is like Magikarp in that it's a useless little fish that evolves into something much more formidable. The thing is that Feebas is insanely hard to find, and that evolving it involved raising a stat for Contests that was completely unrelated to battling. Black and White stripped the quirks from it, making it more common (still rare but not ridiculously so) and providing a much easier way to evolve it.
Castform would change it's typing and the typing of its Weather Ball attack depending on the newly introduced weather conditions. The problem is that, no matter what type Castform currently is, it's type and move arsenal are pretty much useless.
Kecleon is a Hollywood Chameleon whose type changes to that of whatever attack hit it last. Its stats are respectable, but its ability is a bit too easily abused by clever opponents.
Finally for Gen III, Deoxys has multiple forms and movesets that depend on which game version it's currently played on (for instance Attack Forme in FireRed and Defense Forme in LeafGreen). Later games gave players access to meteorites so they could change its forms manually.
Diamond and Pearl has almost as many:
Burmy can take different forms based on where it battled last (grassy, rocky, or urban), but this doesn't have a gameplay effect until it evolves into Wormadam, where the form is locked and affects its secondary typing and moveset - unless it's male; then it evolves into Mothim instead with its own typing and moveset.
Cherrim changes form and gives it's entire team a stat boost when it's in strong sunlight. This ability is only good for Double Battles, but it learns several other moves that are boosted by sunlight as well.
Chatot basically exists for its one unique move, Chatter, which is a recorded message that has a chance to confuse which is higher the louder the message. It's also only catchable near the end of the games it debuted in, never evolves, and is generally useless. (Unless the player is into using RNG for catching/breeding, where it's practically a requirement to use Chatot pitches to find the right stuff.)
Spiritomb has a particularly weird condition to catch it; requiring players to interact with 32 other players over local wireless first. The reward is a fairly strong Pokémon with no elemental weaknesses (until the Fairy type was added in X and Y).
Rotom is based around Haunted Technology and can possess appliances, with each one providing a unique move and, as of Black and White, also affecting its type.
Regigigas, like Slaking, has massive stats offset by a bad ability; in this case those stats are halved for its first five turns. Again, if you can manage to nullify the ability, you're golden.
And Arceus is Normal-type by default, but it and its Signature Move Judgment can be changed to any other type by equipping it with a "Plate" item.
Unlike the last few generations, Black and White only introduces a couple quirky Pokémon. The first is Darmanitan, as certain ones (not all of them) have an ability called Zen Mode where they turn from a Glass Cannon into a Mighty Glacier at half health. Awesome, but Impractical, as preparing it for one form leaves it underequipped for the other, and Zen Mode's defenses don't help so much when Darmanitan has to be badly hurt to begin with.
Black and White's other major one is Zorua and Zoroark, who are Masters of Illusion and enter battle disguised as another Pokémon in your party. A lot of factors go into determining how long other players will be fooled, as Zoroark's type and attacks don't change and an opponent behaving oddly could tip players off to the ruse.
X and Y don't have as many as the others, probably due to not having as many Pokemon to begin with, but it does have:
Vivillon is an early-game bug that acts like most early-game bugs; useful for the first few gyms but falls off in usefulness later on. However, they have one of 20 different wing patterns; 18 depending on the physical geographical location of the player when caught and 2 promotional. This coincides with the introduction of Wonder Trade, enabling players to trade Pokémon with a random person without knowing what you will get in return. Vivillon collecting has become quite a thing among players.
Furfrou is a decent pokemon with an ability that reduces all incoming physical damage by half, but its base stats are fairly low otherwise. Its main gimmick is that the player can bring them to a grooming salon and give them one of 10 haircuts to change its appearance.
Aegislash is the Glass Cannon to end all Glass Cannons, with massive Attack stats but very poor defenses. Its signature attack, King's Shield, reverses this, causing it to sheath its sword and become a Stone Wall.
Amaura and its evolution Aurorus have Freeze Dry as their signature attack; an Ice-type move which does Super Effective damage to Water-types, which normally resist it.
Hawlucha is a Masked Luchador bird whose signature attack, Flying Press, is the only attack in the game with two types: it counts as both Flying and Fighting, enabling it to do double damage to pokemon weak to either type.
Pumpkaboo and its evolution Gourgeist come in four different sizes, with the larger ones having larger Health and Attack stats but lower Speed.
As far as types go, for a while, the Grass and Poison types shared this niche. Neither type has many Pokémon designed to score huge amounts of direct damage the way types like Fighting and Normal would, nor do they have a lot of moves for such a purpose. Instead, the Grass-type is more designed to inflict a variety of status effects, and the Poison-type is meant to erode away the opponents' HP, at the expense of the Grass-type having a lot of types that can deal super-effective damage against it and the Poison-type not having many options to deal super-effective damage itself. This was undermined by how Grass Pokémon, being based on plants, tend to have low Speed and would often get knocked out by said super-effective attacks before they can do much, as well as the inability to stack most conditions; and Pokémon battling progressing too quickly for the Poison Pokémon to effectively use their strategy. The Grass-type situation has been slowly getting remedied with each generation, however, with fast Pokémon like Shaymin-S, pairing it with types that negate its super-effective weaknesses like with Ferrothorn, and increased accuracy for status moves, most notably Spore, a guaranteed Sleep move. The Poison-type, on the other hand, climbed out of the pit all at once in Generation 6 when another type weak to Poison attacks was introduced.
Averted in Puzzle Quest where the Bard's Inspire spell allows them to gain a boost to ALL stats, stacks with itself and lasts all fight. This is not considered a spell effect for the purpose of cleansing and cannot be removed once used, giving the Bard the potential for all their stats to reach over a hundred, even at level one!
Averted in Mardek: Chapter 3 whose 'Siren' Elwyen has powerful party buffs that stack with all other buff abilities (and are better than most of them), a decent group heal, the strongest anti-undead spell in the game, and a couple weird abilities that no other character can duplicate. Her songs also cost no MP, and the offensive ones never miss...which is very useful against fairy-type enemies, who with high magic resistance and insane physical evasion are usually considered the Demonic Spiders of this game.
Averted in Dragon Age: Origins where Leliana is a highly competent addition to the party, bringing deadly rogue skills to the table. If you follow her dialogue trees, you learn that the bards of Orlais are in fact spies and assassins, masters of intrigue and deception.
The Bard specialization, which Leliana starts with and any Rogue can take after you get her approval high enough, offers several buff and debuff skills to the normally DPS class. It also helps that multiple bard songs of the same type stack, and that their effectiveness is based on the cunning stat, which with the right talent is also largely responsible for damage potential. In short, bards are effective because they don't need to sacrifice their damage potential to be good bards—their buffs actually complement their damage output rather then trading in for it.
'Enemy' bards manage to be incredibly dangerous. High-leveled ones can set up Captivating Song, stunlocking anyone within a fair-sized radius of themselves. They're immobilized while doing this, but so is everyone else. It's telling that bard is among the rarest enemy classes.
Also averted in Dragon Age II, as all of Varric's music-themed skills (he hums to his weapon) are either permanent upgrades or direct damage dealers.
These types of characters have appeared in various Dragon Quest games.
Dragon Quest III featured the Gadabout/Goof-off/Jester, who is either a clown (male) or a bunnygirl (female). An NPC will outright tell you that they're useless. Their stats are below average all across the board (except luck), and they will often waste a turn doing something silly rather than attacking. On the other hand, Gadabouts are the only class that could become a Sage without the use of a special item. The SNES and GBC remake made them a little better, giving them the Whistle ability that calls a random battle, saving some time when level grinding.
Dragon Quest IV had Torneko. Once you got him in Chapter 5, he started goofing off just like the Gadabouts in III. He's something of a subversion, though, because while he's an underwhelming fighter, he isn't useless, and unlike the Gadabouts of III, his goofing off will almost always result in something useful. He's still more useful for what he can do outside your party rather than in, though.
Gadabouts made a return in Dragon Quest VI, and are given a few more abilities to make them more useful, but remain below average. There are also Dancers, who can use a variety of dances to do bad things to the enemy for no MP, up to and including instant death, although you don't get the good abilities until you've mastered the class. Both of these classes, however, must be mastered in order to get the much more useful Luminary class which does not follow this trope, as it gains very useful abilities, including Hustle Dance which can heal the entire party for no MP!
In addition to Gadabouts and Dancers, Dragon Quest VII includes an actual Minstrel/Bard class that, while not totally useless, deals mostly in status and curing songs, and is an underwhelming fighter. As before, you need to master this class (as well as the Gadabout and Dancer classes) in order to get the Luminary/TeenIdol class.
Averted in Dragon Quest IX, as the Minstrel plays more along the lines of the Jack of All Stats and is a decent fighter and spellcaster all around, which is a good thing, because you start out as one! And then played straight with the Luminary (Dancer). Not only is it a pain to unlock (the quest requires finding a random dungeon with a specific Mook in it, which is a pain if you do not even know what type and what level dungeons they're even found in), which can take hours or even days if you're particularly unlucky with the random dungeons. Upon finally unlocking the Luminary, you are treated to a class with terrible stats(baring speed and charm, they're among the worst of all the available classes in the game), useless abilities, and awful equip options. And if that weren't enough, you don't even get to unlock the class until you beat the main story and start doing postgame content; making the effort put into getting the class that much more obnoxious.
The MMO Eden Eternal has an interesting take on Bards. They are a support class with powerful but short lived multi-target buffs and heals, as well as an AoE damage-over-time debuff. Bards hunt by using their speed buff on themselves, splashing a group of enemies with the DoT and running until everything drops. Thematically this fits the stereotype of Bards as untalented hacks that no one wants to hear and who have to flee when their impromptu audience starts throwing produce but functionally the trope is fully averted, at least for most of the game.
Averted in Heroes of Might and Magic 4, more notably, the Gathering Storm expansion pack. The bard has maximum positive morale and top speed, that allows her to act before everyone else in battle, and possesses the mass fervor spell that provides maximum positive morale to every allied hero and creature. This becomes vital towards the end of the game when all the player has at their disposal are five heroes, each of a different alignment, meaning that they have maximum negative morale by default - a critical disadvantage.
Averted in The Sims Medieval, where the Hero Sims' professions are mostly equal in how awesome they can be (though different players might like different professions better.) The Bard is useful to the kingdom and has several good quests, including one territory conquest. No Bard who helps his king conquer territory (territory owned by pirates at that) is problematic.
The Bard follower Sven in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim isn't very useful, mostly being good for being a meat shield. However, it's actually justifiable - he's a Bard. He makes his money by standing in an inn and entertaining people, what combat proficiency does he have?
The Bard's College is also rather odd compared to the other factions you can join, like the Companions, the College of Winterhold, or the Thieves Guild. They only have one trainer (for Speech) and three quests other than the initial quest to join up. In exchange, however, each quest gives you a substantial increase in skill points, so it's not entirely pointless to join up.
Ricardo in Shadow Hearts: From The New World is a bard but not only does he have ballistics inside his guitar, but he is one of the best mages in the game and plays a great support since he plays songs that buff allies. (Sadly, he is near-useless against the Final Boss due to its ability to instantly dispel any buffs and get a free turn when it does so.)
His spiritual predecessor, Lucia in Shadow Hearts: Covenant is the same, substituting songs for aromatherapy. However she also has a tarot card system as she's a fortune teller.
Though her aromatherapy requires a lot of experimentation to find which mixes have any effect, let alone a useful one.
The Bard-like class in Guild Wars may not play music so much, but they shout and support allies (or debuff enemies) while putting pressure on enemies with their ranged weaponry. They have about as much armour as a warrior (And by default use shields) so they can certainly take several hits.
They tend to be...different when it comes to PvP though. People often ignore paragons and save them for last in Random Arenas, but in different PvP modes (such as alliance battles) Paragons are much better.
Fire Emblem has Bards, Dancers and, in the Tellius games the Heron Tribe, whose main purpose is to refresh units that have already taken their turns and have no offensive capabilities. However, the SNES and DS games subvert this; Bards are capable of using magic in the SNES games and are often among the best in their game, at the cost of being unable to refresh others (they don't even exist in the DS games).
Even in the games where they can't defend themselves, it's still averted. Their ability to allow units to move again is invaluable, as they are the only means of getting a unit to move twice per turn. In turn, the refreshed unit could defend in their stead if it came to it.
Awakening's dancer, Olivia, can fight like any other unit, but she's an extremelyFragile Speedster, so having her fight on the frontlines is still generally a bad idea.
Averted in the Ultima games, in which the bard is a fairly solid class with good combat and magic skills, and is also good at picking locks. However, this may be in part due to the fact that, gameplay wise, they don't do a lot of singing - Richard Garriot wanted a Fighter, Mage, Thief dynamic, but didn't want to use a thief class in a game about being The Messiah, so he just called them bards.
Averted in League of Legends as Sona's status effects can be very effective, particularly in the hands of experienced players. This is not entirely surprising however, as the game characters (Champions) are frequently tweaked so that they are as balanced as possible.
In Final Fantasy Dimensions, the Bard and Dancer classes initially fit this. However, Bard and Dancer skills are needed to learn some of the more powerful Fusion Abilities, and both classes can learn unique abilities in optional events that make them more effective. A Mastered Bard can learn a powerful song that grants multiple buffs at once, and the Dancer can learn two optional dances, one that grants Image to everyone in the party at once and another that is a powerful attack.
Elan from The Order of the Stick is as Cloud Cuckoo Lander as they come. His bard songs are pretty much useless, his motivational speeches have a tendency to horribly backfire, and the only weapons he can use can be Sundered by someone cursing too loud. However, his real talent is a result of his bardic training: he's as Genre Savvy as they come, and sees damn near everything coming. Whenever he works close enough with the smart leader Roy, he becomes Dangerously Genre Savvy. And that training perfectly synergizes with the Dashing Swordsman Prestige Class he literally took a level in — which turns entertaining quips and drama into Bad Assery. His leveling up hasn't drowned out the endearing aspects of his character: optimism, extraordinary loyalty to his friends, and a certain bumbling charm that makes him what he is. Elan's progression from a simple Bard to Dashing Swordsman isn't just about getting more/useful class powers, but him developing the chops to be a genuine hero. As part of this growth he also is slowly shown to be learning how to properly use his regular bardic spells. It's also worth nothing that Elan is the only member of the party who has a smart class build. Everyone else in the party made some of the worst possible character class choices.
Gamzee of Homestuck subverts this. Despite being a StonerLove Freak and having the title of Bard of... Something (exactly what it is, he forgot), he takes down the Black King of the Trolls' session with frightening efficiency and brutality. Subverted even more when we find out that he's actually the Bard of Rage.
Turns out that all Sburb Bards are a subversion of this. The Bard class is described as one that allows others to destroy their Aspect or one who invites destruction through their Aspect, as if by the will of the Aspect. (e.g. Rage) Seems unintuitive from the name, but useful.
However, this makes the Bard class a Wild Card who often single-handedly causes improbable victory or spectacular downfall (or both), so it's played straight in that the person who tells us all of this is of the opinion that the kids are probably better off without a Bard.
Prince Sid of FeyWinds gets double classed after revealing this to the gang.