Zeliard was made by Game Arts in 1987 for the Japanese market. Make a note of that year, please. 1987 means that this game came out just after the first Zelda game on the NES system, and alongside that game Zeliard was one of the defining games for the RPG genre. However, by our criteria, this game is more fitting as an Arcade game. Later, in 1990, Sierra imported the game to the American market.
This story begins 2000 years ago, when Jashiin, The Emperor of Chaos, wrecked havoc and destruction on the land of Zeliard. The King of Felishika sought the help of the spirit of the land, and together they managed to seal the demon deep below the earth using the powers of the nine Holy Crystals; the Tears of Esmesanti. Now, 2000 years later, Jashiin has managed to get free from his prison, and he is not happy. Seeking his revenge on the royal family, he turned the fair Princess Felicia of Felishika into stone, and summoned a rain of sand over the land. For 108 days it poured down turning the once green and furtile land into a brown and lifeless desert. The King's sorrow awakens the spirit of the land anew, who promise to send a valiant and powerful knight to the King's aid; Duke Garland.
And thus a truly magnificent game begins. Zeliard is a standard 2D side scrolling game, where you will need to upgrade your weapons and armament in order to tackle increasingly more powerful enemies. However, you need to constantly remind yourself that this game was made in 1987, as this game is years ahead of its time in every aspect of gameplay. All in all the game features 6 different swords and shields, 7 powerful spells and 8 magical items, in addition to a ton of other items like different kind of boots (for walking on ice, walking on fire, and so on) a cape that offer you special protection, crests, keys and not to forget; Almas.
Almas are aquired by killing monsters, and there are 3 different kinds in total that have different value. These Almas can be changed at your local Bank for gold. The Banks also have another very important function; they allow you to deposit your savings free of charge. These savings can then be withdrawn from any Bank in the entire game, at any time. At least, that is the idea. Be very careful around the Bank Cashier, though, he is known to be a double-crossing bastard. There are times when he will embezzle your money, and claim that your account is empty. However, as you start the game, you are likely to not last long in the caverns, and saving your money (and hoping for the best), can often be the best solution. At least until you have managed to buy both a good shield and a weapon upgrade at the Weaponsmith. This is very crucial, as you loose all the gold and half the amount of Almas you are carrying if you die, making 1500 gold a high amount to reach initially. However, if you walk into the palace, the King will award you with 1000 gold from the treasury to help you on your way. Also note that you heal over time, so if you are low on health, you can try to locate a safe place and heal up. You can also get your life replenished by visiting the town church, or using healing items.
In addition, you will always be respawned back at the temple in the very first village. This isn't as bad as it sounds, as you won't have any difficulties getting back to where you were, granted that you have gained some special equipment like shoes that allow you to walk up slopes. Remember to always talk to the people you meet, as they are carrying some of these special items, but also because they offer good advice about the caverns and secrets within.
The graphics, especially the mountains in the far background of the starting village, is really nice to look at and uses a very limited palette, and combined with animations that are surprisingly smooth, it makes the visuals come together really nice. The sounds and music are the standard beeping sounds that we all have come to love to hate, but the tunes are actually surprisingly catchy and I haven't turned down the volume yet. Maybe because there are different music scores for the different places in the game, so it's always refreshing and new.
The game is controlled mostly using the directional keys and the Space Bar, which is the Action Key. You use Space Bar to attack with your sword and talk to townsfolk. Later on you will gain different spells, and these are all cast with the Alt key. To gain access to your inventory, simply press Enter. Esc pauses the game, and F7 allows you to load one of your multiple saves. That's right, this game allows you to save several different games on your hard disk, which is a really great feature. To save a game you will need to visit a town-mystic (or die, and get resurrected by the first town-mystic). To quit the game, you use the Ctrl+Q solution wellknown for old games.
If you want to try a game that, even by today's standards, is a great 2D scrolling RPG Adventure, then look no further. Zeliard is the game for you. An amazing game that is hard to think of as a 1987 release. A highly recommended download!
While the game is playable in VDMSound, it is not recommended. It makes the music sound very distorted and annoying.
And for those who decide to play this game in DOSBox, turn down the Cycles a lot (Ctrl+F11) before fighting the bosses. This is not to make those fights stupidly simple, but rather in order to make them actually playable. While the rest of the game doesn't seem to mind what the Cycles speed is, the bosses will be flying all over the place and kill you before you can say: "Oh, look. It's a crab-monster on speed."