Computer games can also begin with a Z
is an early representative of the rare breed that is platform RPG
. It seems that the genre was invented around the same time; late eighties saw an influx of games that combined jumping and action combat with statistics and leveling up. Second installments of venerable series (The Adventure of Link
and Simon's Quest
) boldly broke traditions and irritated fans by suddenly adopting that kind of gameplay. Spin-offs such as Faxanadu
also jumped on the bandwagon.
Each of the aforementioned games had certain quirks that interfered with their RPG systems: experience-stealing enemies in The Adventure of Link
; low level cap in Simon's Quest
; weird "money award" policy in Faxanadu
also has a twist in that its experience points can also be used as currency (like hearts in Simon's Quest
); also, like that game, the level cap is low and advancement is rather slow and automatized. However, of all those games Zeliard
still feels most like a "real" RPG. It has many little touches that enrich its gameplay and make it different.
You can buy weapons and armor in shops, but shields have their own "health" and can be broken. There are all sorts of powerful, but costly items that could help you enormously in a dungeon, so managing your finances is essential. Zeliard
has embraced capitalism and introduces a cool feature: banks. Since you lose your money when you die, you can store it at the bank before venturing into that dangerously-looking cave. But beware: bank owners can cheat you out of your possessions!
Much of the time in Zeliard
is spent in its dungeons, and even though they tend to be too maze-like for my taste, it can be great fun to explore complex platform areas in search of keys and treasure. Even without its RPG aspect Zeliard
would have been an entertaining game. Platform jumping is reasonably difficult, and bosses are quite ferocious; but regular enemies can be usually dispatched without too much trouble, and free healing is provided if you find a safe spot and stand there for a while. Overall, Zeliard
is not too
frustrating, and definitely more balanced than all the comparable games I mentioned above.Zeliard
emanates a unique charm that those other games lacked as well. It has splendid animated portraits for key townspeople, and pays much more attention to dialogue with NPCs. Instead of the dry, cryptic messages you would get in the other games, you actually have coherent, informative conversations in the towns of Zeliard
. The game somehow feels more distinctly Japanese, stylistically more homogeneous, and more heart-warming. In Zeliard
you can clearly see the mark of the same developer that later brought us Lunar
games. The English translation is of a surprisingly high quality as well.
Like most games of its time, Zeliard
is formulaic. Game progression can be mostly summed up in a few words and is quite predictable. You move from area to area in a linear fashion, alternating between towns and dungeons. While such simplicity removes the need for frustrating clueless wandering, I missed the open-ended roaming of Simon's Quest
or even the world map navigation of The Adventure of Link
The platforming areas themselves seem intriguing at first, but eventually get rather tiresome. The mazes steadily increase in complexity and become downright confusing during advanced stages. Zeliard
is best played in short sessions, one dungeon at a time. The difficulty level is for the most part relentless, and there aren't many tricks that you can exploit for power-leveling and alike. I also wish enemies respawned less frequently and at least stopped annoying me by leaping at the hero every time he attempts to jump onto a higher platform.
And of course, you can only save in the town, which means that if you die at the hands of a brutal boss at the end of an excruciating dungeon, you'll have to start over again. Thankfully, you can at least store your money in banks.
The Bottom Line
In retrospect, Zeliard
is probably the most complete and balanced platform RPG of its time. Even though the mazes can get grating and the old-school difficulty level requires patience and investment, the game is consistently enjoyable thanks to is playability and charming presentation. While very few comparable games have made it to Western PCs, their owners should be proud of the fact they got one of the best ones.