An Enjoyable Balance of Tricks AND Treats!
I’m sure that it was planned this way on purpose, but I’ll still give credit where credit is due; Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection came at an excellent time. Why’s that? Simple; because today’s Halloween! And naturally, since Zwei is all about teaming up with vampires, fighting demons, and eating delicious food (a good amount of which is candy) in order to power up, there couldn’t be a better time for it to make a debut than today.
It would be kind of weird to like a game solely based on it being released on a certain day, though. Fortunately, Zwei‘s Halloween debut isn’t the only thing to like about it. Originally released exclusively in Japan back in 2008 as Zwei II, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is yet another prime example of Nihon Falcom’s ability to produce high-quality action RPGs. Akin to what I would deem a “wackier version of Ys“, Zwei is a charming title all the way through, and different enough that it stands out amongst the rest of Nihon Falcom’s lineup of games.
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection follows the story of treasure hunter Ragna Valentine on his quest to deliver a package to a museum on the floating continent of Ilvard. While his trip has been smooth sailing (er, flying?) for the most part, things don’t stay that way. As he closes in on Ilvard, Ragna finds himself under by a mysterious hooded girl, and a cocky, loud-mouthed cat. Ragna puts up a good fight, and quickly turns the tide in his favor. Just as he’s about to shoot down his foes, however, he gets a closer look at the hooded girl and hesitates. Although his hesitation is brief, it’s all the time that this adversaries need, and Ragna soon finds himself going down in flames. Literally.
Normally, crashing at high-speed into the ground from a great height is more that enough to kill a normal human. And, since Ragna is a normal human, he dies in the plane crash. But, seeing as how this is a video game and all, that’s not the end of this story. It just so happens that, Ragna’s dastardly dogfight was witness by a lone spectator — the vampire princess Alwen du Moonbria. Using her powers, Alwen brought Ragna back to life. She didn’t do this out of the kindness of her cold, vampiric heart however. By releasing Ragna from Death’s bony grasp, she also made him her Blood Knight — a loyal soldier who, in exchange for great power, is indebted to their master — and has tasked him with helping her take back her magical abilities which were stolen from her.
Zwei‘s story may not be its strongest point, but it’s still very enjoyable thanks to its characters. Zwei features an eclectic cast containing everything from a love-struck ninja to a pun-loving, wolf-tailed adventurer. Zwei also encourages players to explore their environment by sprinkling in lots of details in places that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. By frequently talking to villagers within each of the game’s towns, and, at times, even dungeon entrances, players can gain plenty of insight on just how and why each of the characters are the way they are.
Zewi is a real-time. dungeon-crawling RPG in the most literal sense. Okay, well maybe not the most literal sense. You don’t actually crawl. But, outside of towns and the world map, you do spend all of your time in dungeons. Foregoing the more traditional exploration elements found within games like Ys, Zwei is all about putting players in the center of where the action is. And, as you’ve probably figured out, that action is inside of the game’s dungeons. Though lacking in free exploration, Zwei‘s many dungeon crawls are simple, and largely traditional.
In lieu of creating giant dungeons meant to be cleared in one go, Zwei divides each of its dungeons into separate, shorter levels. Zwei‘s top-down, isometric, action-heavy gameplay is fast, fluid, and very fun. While its level-based setup threw me off at first, it actually ended up doing wonders for the game’s replay value in the end. Levels are usually never one-and-done deals. Every level contains within it unique treasures. And, while technically optional, they aren’t worth passing up. Many of these treasures can be “donated” (in return for money!) to the museum in Artte Village — the game’s main town. A lot of dungeon treasures also come in the form of rare equipment. Since battles can get tough, it’s always in your best interest to scope out good gear when you can.
Of course, there’s also Zwei‘s lovely ranking system. I’ll be honest with you about something. Normally, I can’t stand RPGs with ranking systems. I like taking my time, and being able to make mistakes. Naturally, I was apprehensive about this one. But, much to my surprise, it actually ended up being integrated really well. Players are able ranked from Bronze to Platinum in every level based on things like clear time, amount of damage taken, and if you smashed every single pot in that dungeon. No, that last part wasn’t a joke. Though challenging at first, it doesn’t take long to get a feel for each level. Because of that, Gold and, more importantly, Platinum rankings are very attainable. They also aren’t necessary, if you really don’t care about them. So, although high ranks do score you some sweet loot, you can still comfortably ignore them.
It Takes Two
Like its dungeon-crawling, Zwei‘s combat is also very straightforward. Interestingly enough, however, it’s disguised as something more complicated than it actually is. Since Zwei‘s story centers around the pact made between Ragna and Alwen, and their resulting adventure together, the player is able to use both characters throughout the game. It works differently than you would expect it to, though. Zwei doesn’t treat its brain & brawn duo as two separate characters. Rather, they’re treated as a single entity. For starters, Ragna and Alwen share the same stats. So, regardless of which character is in front, you’ll be hitting and hurting the same (in terms of base stats, at least).
The player also controls both characters simultaneously. That might sound difficult, but it isn’t. Ragna and Alwen both have assigned attack buttons on the controller. To switch, all you need to do is push the corresponding button. By doing so, that character will automatically take the lead. Like I said earlier, while this looks like a two-player adventure, Zwei essentially fuses both of its heroes together when it comes to combat. Truthfully, I find this a little disappointing. Having an AI partner usually isn’t a bad thing. I’ll admit that this style works well with Zwei, however. The creepy-crawlies dwelling within each dungeon are all quite diverse, and require varying approaches. The ability to instantaneously switch between characters with the amount of fluidity that this game offers is nice. It also lets those skilled enough to execute some absolutely killer combos.
You Are What You Eat
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurection feels familiar in many ways. You can’t say the same thing about its leveling system, however! You can kill monsters all day and, while you may net plenty of cash, you won’t gain a single Experience Point. So, how does one level in Ilvard? By stuffing your face, obviously. That’s right, folks; the key to power in Zwei is carbo-loading! While you’re out spelunking, you’ll inevitably come across a lot of food. Dropped my monsters and found within chests, these dungeoneering delicacies are of vital importance on your journey. That doesn’t mean that you should just dig in every time you swipe some new snacks, though.
Much like in real life, you shouldn’t eat every piece of food that you obtain as soon as you get it. There are two main reasons for this. First, food, like in many other games, heals your HP. In fact, it’s the only source of recovery inside of dungeons. By devouring any and all mysterious morsels sight-on-scene, you’re depriving yourself of some valuable life-saving items in the future. There’s also the fact that you can “trade up”. Every piece of food can be separated in to one of 11 categories. Within each category there are four “food ranks”. Zwei allows players to trade 10 of a single food item for a single higher-ranking food item within that group. I know what some of you might be thinking, but yes, this 10-for-1 trade is definitely a deal in your favor.
There’s no denying that this culinary EXP system is fun and unique. I will argue, however, that it’s a bit stressful for players like me. That is, players that like hoarding. I tend to accumulate tons of items in the game I play, refusing to use many of them unless I can either easily get more, or absolutely have to use them. Because I’m picky about how to use food, I tended to be under-leveled. In the grand scheme of things, I know that what I’m complaining about isn’t that big of a deal. I know that it’s more my fault then the game’s. It ultimately didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game, either. Still, if you plan on playing this game then I advise you to get better at saying goodbye to large portions of your inventory at once.
I’ve never played a Nihon Falcom RPG that I didn’t like. I’m more than happy to say that that hasn’t at all changed after playing Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection. While it may be a little quirkier than what fans of games like Ys and Xanadu are used to, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection still excellently exemplifies the kinds of high-quality RPGs that we’ve come to expect from Nihon Falcom. Halloween is definitely a day to play games containing both delightful tricks and enjoyable treats. Zwei won’t let you down on either front.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA, Inc. ; Developer: Nihon Falcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 31, 2017 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher