Sunday, January 30, 2011

Game 46: Zeliard (1987)

A very pretty opening screen using EGA graphics.

As you might have seen in the comments on Sorcerian, Zeliard nearly didn't make it. Commenter Sean questioned whether it was really a CRPG, and I took a look at both MobyGames's and Wikipedia's lists (I thought), concluded that no one said it was, and chucked it. But then Arcanum pointed out that it was, in fact, on the Wikipedia list, so I re-added it, gnashing my teeth a bit because I wanted to get to The Bard's Tale III.

Well, I'm not sorry I re-added it. It's fun. It won't become a part of my soul or anything, but it's a good play. And since you gain experience and levels and such, I'm happy to grant it at least quasi-CRPG status.

The story of the game is told in an interminable but well-animated sequence at the beginning: in days of yore, the kings of Zeliard imprisoned a demon named Jashiin deep within the earth. Thousands of years later, he has awakened.

Bad kitty!

Calling himself "The Emperor of Chaos," he lays waste to Zeliard with a storm of sand, and he turns the beautiful princess Felicia into stone ("a lovely and terrifying symbol of my awakening").

Really not all that terrifying.

The Guardian Spirit of Zeliard visits the king and tells him that a brave warrior must venture into the labyrinths beneath the kingdom and recover the nine Tears of the Esmesanti, holy crystals that can reverse the damage, and slay Jashiin.

The king despairs about where such a hero will come from, but it turns out that I, Duke Garland, have been following the holy spirit's summons, and I show up in Zeliard at just the right time.

As I visit the king, Jashiin appears and taunts us both, but I give some back good. The king gives me 1,000 gold pieces, I purchase some weapons, armor, and potions, and soon I'm hacking through vermin (yes, the first creature I slew was a rat) in the underground.

Or you could just give me the absolute best equipment in your kingdom, instead of making me buy it.

Gameplay is of the side-scrolling platform variety, and in between slashing at creatures, I have to navigate mazes and jumping puzzles. Combat is fairly basic action-oriented hacking, lent some extra tactical dimensions by the multi-layered nature of the dungeon. Sometimes you have to jump to reach your foes, and you always have to watch to make sure they're not about to fall on you and knock you off a ledge or a rope. In this, the game is a hybrid between an action CRPG and a platformer.

From the starting town, I fought my way through the caverns of Malicia and found myself in an underground town called Satono, where I was welcomed as the first visitor in a long time (no word on how they manage to survive without plants and sunlight). From there, I cut through the caves of Peligro to the forest town of Bosque.

All towns have the same shops: weapons, magic, an inn, a bank, and a sage. There are also selections of NPCs who give you hints as to what you're facing in the next dungeon.

NPCs give hints as to the upcoming dungeons.

As you kill creatures, you collect little balls of their essence called "alma," which banks happily buy from you for 4-8 gold pieces. NPCs suggest that the towns use this energy to create magic items and improve their defenses. Sages serve the triple purpose of giving you spells (you get a new one at each sage), leveling you up, and saving the game.

Leveling up at the sage.

Equipment is confined to swords and shields, and every town had one slightly better model. Shields get progressively damaged as you fight, and eventually they break. You can repair them at weapon shops or with a special potion.

You pick up keys, potions, and treasures throughout the dungeons.

As I said, the dungeons so far have been full primarily of vermin: slugs, bats, rats, and toads. It appears that at the end of each dungeon is a different boss creature guarding one of the Tears. So far I've defeated two: a giant crab and a giant land squid.

This is going to make a lot of bisque. Yes, I am aware that not all of my captions are home runs.
Duke Garland has no attributes except health and a fixed number of castings for each spell. This is partly what puts the game in "quasi-CRPG" territory, but he does collect experience (hidden) for each kill, and gain levels that affect his maximum hit points.

Here's a brief video showing the game play from the town of Santoro to the caverns of Peligro.

Miscellaneous things:

  • In the opening cut scenes, Duke Garland just looks like a regular guy, but during gameplay it looks a lot like he has furry, pointy ears (look as he climbs the ropes in the video).
  • Though the game is of Japanese origin, most of the object and place names in the English version are Spanish. "Alma," the valuable energy you collect from slain foes, means "soul." The caverns are called "Malicia" (malice), "Peligro" (danger), and "Madera" (wood). One of the towns is "Bosque" (forest), and a spell is "Espada" (sword).
  • Shopkeepers, if you ask them, will give a description of the items they sell. This isn't quite the detail of the write-ups we get in Might & Magic VI-VIII or the Baldur's Gate/Icewind Dale series, but it's a nice start--a first, I believe.

was developed by Game Arts for Japanese PCs and adapted to DOS by Sierra in 1990. (Sierra also adapted Sorcerian; I guess porting JRPGs was a bit of forte of theirs.) Because this version is a few years later than the original, the graphics and sound take full advantage of the hardware of the time. The images are rather lovely, and the sound and music edge just north of "tolerable" (which is actually quote good for this era). Like Falcom, Game Arts specialized primarily in console games; I believe the only other offering of theirs on my list is Grandia II in 2000.

I'm not sure whether I'll play this to the end, but I'll probably at least give it a second posting. Although my addiction is primarily to CRPGs, the occasional jumping-on-moving-platforms-over-a-pit-of-spikes puzzle is fun.

Briefly fun.

Wow, this is an image-heavy posting, isn't it? I don't know why some days I'm so enamored of screen shots.


  1. I thought the music in Zeliard was pretty good, but I guess it is very console-like and sounds best on a Roland MT-32 MIDI synth:

  2. You know, I'd actually forgotten that the game featured XPs and character levels - I only really recalled the other gameplay elements. I suppose I should know better than to trust my memory 20+ years later.

    It's nice to see the progression into EGA colours. I find it difficult to enjoy much that's purely CGA these days - even when I was a kid, it was hard to like CGA though not having other options on the PC helped.

  3. HunterZ, I'm not a huge game music fan to begin with--I generally turn the music off--so I'm probably not the best judge. It's also likely that the DOS version is inferior.

    Sean, I agree about the graphics. I have low graphics demands in a CRPG, but it's still nice to see a game that looks good.

    1. I usually turn the music down low when there are separate volume controls for music and sound fx/voices. I find the total silence punctuated by the occasional sound effect in the video you posted to be kind of eerie. I think it's disconcerting in a way other games from this era aren't simply because it looks so much like a console game, which my brain is hardwired to expect to have musical accompaniment.

  4. "This is going to make a lot of bisque. Yes, I am aware that not all of my captions are home runs."

    I appreciate the ubisqueitous captions, humorous or not. :)

  5. This is the first game in the series that I played, so it's great to feel the thrill of recognition. I remember realizing that if your best shield ran out, you were probably dead, as your next best shield would be pitifully under-leveled for the area you were in.

  6. When looking far enough back into computer gaming history, I actually start differentiating between the images displayed and the colour palette they're displayed in. Up until VGA becomes the standard and common place - games may look radically different depending on what sort of hardware you have for colour display. So on the one hand, I don't mind ascii art too much or Ultima-style stickmen but at the same time, I loathe the CGA 4 colour palettes and actually prefer monochrome displays.

    I bring this up because it strikes me that being colour blind may actually be something of a benefit for playing some of the games you've blogged about in the past. Le Maitre des Ames in particular actually starts to make me nauseous (yes, literally) trying to look at all the cyan and magenta in its display.

    As a side note, when I played Zeliard, it was in CGA - so all these oranges, yellows and reds were cyan and magenta...

  7. Robyrt, I didn't even realize you could have more than one shield. Thanks for the note. Sean, you may be on to something. My inability to distinguish many colors might have a lot to do with why I haven't been bothered by the "inferior" DOS versions of many of these games. To the extent that I care about graphics at all, I am more moved by good graphics DETAIL than by good color, and most of the detail varies little between platforms in this era.

  8. I swear the Armorer used to yell at you "GET OUT, If you are going to waste my time"

  9. Zeliard's music struck me as good enough, particularly the tune that plays when you first start the game/are in above-ground towns, that I occasionally load the game up just to hear the song for a while. Though perhaps someone on YouTube has finally recorded the track for this purpose.

    I have another comment to make but I see you are talking about mapping the game in the next posting so it will go there.

  10. I remember the music of Zeliard being the first game music i'd heard on my PC that wasn't an intro/outro tune. Playing for hours on end i'd never get sick of those tunes even on PC speaker, though my parents didn't feel the same way, its too bad PC speaker didn't have volume control.

    I think Duke Garland's 'Ears' are just a 'Cutesy/Anime' rendition of the horned helm that he wears, as you can see from the Box Art.

    1. Yes, i found he thinking they where ears pretty silly since they look like wings you see in some character's helmets.


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