Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection Review
The developers at Nihon Falcom have gained quite a following in the west in recent years, thanks to multiple localizations for the 'Trails of' series of games as well as the presence of the Ys franchise. While those series stand as Falcom's tentpoles brands, the developer has a couple of smaller titles which offer something outside of the usual. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is one such a project, finally getting an English release nearly a decade after it originally released in Japan.
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection actually released in Japan back in 2008 as 'Zwei II'. Fret not, this title is largely stand-alone from the original Zwei, although some characters do make a reappearance. The game follows the story of two main heroes: the treasure hunter Ragna Valentine and the trueblood vampire Alwen du Moonbria. One day while out on his aeroplane, Ragna is attacked by mysterious foes as he crash-lands onto the floating continent of Ilvard. He would have surely lost his life had Alwen not shown up to use her vampiric powers to revitalize him.
Alwen saves Ragna because she needs some help in order to reclaim her magic as well as her castle, and she puts Ragna in her debt to coerce him to team up. The two form a pact and then head out to help Alwen take back her stolen possessions.
Zwei is an action RPG and - true to the name of the game (Zwei meaning 'two' in German) - the player controls both Ragna and Alwen simultaneously. An attack button allows Ragna to unleash basic attack combos while a dedicated magic button will swap Alwen to the front for ranged magic spells. Zwei keeps things pretty simple, so don't expect especially involved or complex mechanics. Zwei is probably most similar to another Falcom title - Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure - although Zwei leans more RPG and less platformer.
Battles in Zwei don't evolve too much over the course of the game. Whether you are just starting in the first dungeon or nearing the final boss, you mash the attack button to perform the same combo or the magic button to attack from range. Alwen does gain a few various spells with different attack spreads, and Ragna does eventually gain a small combo extension, but for the most part, battles don't change much from start to finish.
That's not to say Zwei's combat isn't engaging at all, it just keeps a lighter more cozy feel throughout. It's an easy-to-play title that's you'll get the hang of in a matter of moments.
The structure of the game is divided into levels, each roughly about 10 minutes long. Ragna and Alwen trek through dungeons killing baddies to gain money, find treasures, and to get food - which is actually the most important commodity in Zwei. Food is much more than just an HP restorative item this time around. Eating food is actually how you gain EXP and power up your team (the two share an EXP bar).
There are a couple interesting wrinkles in gaining EXP this way. Firstly, food does also restore HP, so you don't want to just eat all the food you can right away in case you need it later. Additionally, back in town, you can trade excess food items for a better food item which offers more EXP, so sometimes it is actually best to hold onto piles of food for a while so that you can trade it in.
While you are navigating these levels, you'll be keeping an eye out for treasure chests, some of which contain items you can sell for money, and others which have equipment or food. Getting to a chest isn't always just as simple as finding it, though. Oftentimes you'll have to clear a miniboss or solve a puzzle in order to access them.
Much like the combat, Zwei's puzzles and dungeons also never get too overwrought or complex. There's enough there to keep players on the lookout, but it mostly keeps the comfortable feel that is found throughout the game.
While Zwei has always been a PC title, it's worth noting that the configuration options here are just a tad more involved than XSEED's Ys Seven port. You have options for v-sync, reflections, blur, and the like. On a modern PC card you should have no issues running the game at high resolutions and most options on.
Additionally, Zwei's controller support feels natural and intuitive. It only takes a little getting used to holding a shoulder button to access one of the quick menus to change equipment or to use an item.
The localization done by XSEED Games is well done, with plenty of charming and colorful dialogue to match the stylish visual tone of the game. XSEED also added newly voiced lines to the English localization, and most of the voice acting is also adeptly performed, especially Ragna's. Some other voices are pretty silly but they match the cartoony vibes.
Despite the colorful and simple gameplay presentation, Zwei's narrative is pretty well realized and does manage to even get serious at times. It's not going to be especially intricate or overbearing, but it certainly has more going on than, say, the light-hearted romp of Gurumin. Ragna and Alwen, among a few side characters, are given plenty of character building and development, and the plotline is very character driven.
Zwei tends to balance a line between a sillier, cartoony vibe and a more to-be-taken-seriously plotline. While this setup works more often than not, I felt that occasionally this balancing act worked against Zwei at times. Sometimes a key moment with a dramatic scene can be interrupted by corny dialogue, and sometimes a heartfelt moment immediately follows wacky shenanigans. These flubs are only a minor spec on a charming storyline, but I still let out an exasperated sigh here and there.
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is a comfortable and light Action RPG with charm. While it doesn't offer then strongest narrative or the most interesting combat mechanics, it's still an enjoyable romp through a colorful world that's worth a look.