Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is a re-release of the previously named title Zwei II, originally released on the PC back in 2008. Legendary studios Nihon Falcom and Xseed Games have revived the title and brought it to Steam. It is technically a direct sequel, but no knowledge of the first game is required to enjoy this game or understand the story. Though Zwei is one of Nhon Falcom's lesser-known series, in some ways, it has similar gameplay to their flagship Y's series. Both are action RPGs with a fixed camera and fantastical story-line.
Zwei is a 3D remake that still retains the old-school JRPG charm and tosses in some very unique gameplay elements that separate it from similar series. This dungeon crawler centers around two charismatic main characters, who are interchangeable in gameplay, and a leveling system that is based on eating food and healing rather than defeating enemies in combat.
Though touched up, it still feels a lot like an RPG from the PS2 era, and it's certainly a niche title that will attract some while alienating others.
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection can be purchased on Steam for $29.99.
The plot focuses on two characters: first is Ragna, a bold pilot, and treasure hunter, who is shot down over Ilvard; the second is Alwen, a vampire, who has lost her castle and magic and is seeking to regain it. These two characters meet after Ragna's plane crashes. After recovering, Alwen semi-forces him into a "blood contract" to help her recover her castle.
Overall, the story is simplistic, and it's full of cliche tropes found in the RPG genre (summoning creatures from magic, floating islands in the sky, vampire overlords), but that doesn't mean that it isn't well done. Zwei is full of fun, addicting writing, and an insatiable cast of characters. The game rarely takes itself that seriously, and the dialogue is always whimsical and humorous, similar to a series like Disgaea. This means even the banalest moments of dialogue are often entertaining and fun to listen to or read through.
Ragna and Alwen are well developed, and it's a pleasure to watch them both mature and grow on each other throughout the game. Both characters have fully-fleshed out personalities and face their own personal dilemmas. There are moments where the game gets serious, though the humor seems to overshadow these bits; despite this, I found myself attached to the two main protagonists and even many of the side characters. The secondary cast is virile and full of quirks. For instance, the heroes from the original Zwei make many appearances and the female character, Pipiro, is always talking about getting back to the comforts and luxuries of the city, and Alwen's assistant Rue is constantly cracking jokes and harping on Ragna, warning him to not lay a finger on Alwen or give in to man's nasty urges. .
The plot itself rarely moved me, but the character interactions themselves are what drive the emotional hammer and keep the plot flowing, and it makes it well worth wading through the dialogue. It's impossible not to fall in love with Alwen and Ragna, even after the first couple hours of gameplay.
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is an action RPG that is dubbed as a dungeon crawler, but don't let that fool you: there are plenty of story-segments to offset running through the dungeons. While in a dungeon, players control Ragna and Alwen and can switch between them by pressing a single button. Alwen casts different magic spells, and Ragna uses a unique weapon that dishes out physical attacks.
While switching between characters is fun–and they share XP–the game's combat system is often lackluster, especially during the first few dungeons. There is only one attack button as well as a jump button, and since enemies have HP, I found myself smashing the attack button mindlessly to kill many of my foes. It definitely dampened my initial impression of the game. Later on, Alwen will pick up new spells, and Ragna gets some cool upgrades to his weapon, such as the ability to grab enemies and toss them, or flame infused attacks etc. This makes the gameplay a bit more diverse, making switching between your characters becomes much more strategic. Dual abilities such as freezing enemies with Alwen then smashing them to bits with Ragna definitely improved the depth of the combat, but Zwei still has a mediocre combat system that never succeeds in completely eliminating a one button mash.
Some enemies, and especially bosses, will force players to dodge attacks and employ some strategy. The bosses are a lot of fun, and the game lets you retry the battle if you die. The bosses often took me one death to figure out a good strategy, and even on the second attempt, the fight was usually exhilarating. Even with the improved combat,
The dungeons are always divided into sections that are based on three floors. You fight through three floors to reach a junction: this junction offers a path to a weapon upgrade and a path to the end of the dungeon. Later in the game, there are different layouts, but this is the basic set up for most standard dungeons. After choosing a path, it takes another three floors to reach the upgrade or the end boss. Dungeons are not all that long, and they can generally be completed between half an hour to an hour.
There is a handy feature, thanks to Alwen, where you can teleport to any city or dungeon where you have previously made it to a save point. You can teleport anytime you want, even in the middle of a dungeon. This feature is a lifesaver, and it makes backtracking and grabbing a quick upgrade before a boss fight that much simpler.
I found Zwei to have very accessible gameplay, and each bit of gameplay is neatly segmented (the magic number is 3) into bite-sized bits. Playing Zwei for even as little as thirty minutes can be very rewarding, and the game lies somewhere around the twenty-five-hour mark to complete, depending on how much extra stuff you want to do (there is a Colosseum and some optional upgrades and minigames throughout the game).
The experience system is one of the defining differences between Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection and other RPG's. Defeating enemies offers no experience, but enemies will still drop money and food. The food you acquire is what's used to gain both experience and recover health.
There is a food trading system that allows you to trade ten of any one kind of food for one upgraded food that offers more experience than the ten previous foods combined. For example, you may get ten pieces of cheese that offer ten experience each but get to trade them for one pizza that offers 500 experience.
Surprisingly, the system does work to a certain degree, but with that said, there isn't really a reason for it. Food doesn't play a huge role in the game's plot, and a traditional leveling system would have arguably worked better. I crushed enough baddies, just to find food to try to level up, that there were definitely moments of frustration as I backtracked through dungeons just to seek out ten pieces of food.
I also disliked having the choice of needlessly consuming my healing items for quick experience or saving them for moments where my health dipped too low. I generally ate the upgraded foods immediately and brought the lesser foods into the dungeons to heal. Nevertheless, this caused me to be a lower level than if I could have just beat up enemies to gain experience. However, remaining at the suggested level, or even one level behind doesn't make the game all that much harder. The game's difficulty is well-scaled, and anytime I died, I felt it was my fault for overstretching my healing items for a boss or consuming them too fast for the experience points.
graphics and gameplay
A lot of people tend to complain about the graphics in the 5th and 6th generation (PlayStation and PS2), and while some of the textures in Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection can look bland, the colors, charming landscapes, and the varying atmospheres were all captivating. In a world where the major game developers usually strive for realism, playing a game like this not only cast waves of nostalgia but reminded me that I was in an astral universe and brought back my sense of childlike wonder: the land of Ilvard rests on floating islands in the sky, and the cities are filled with unique features, lively townsfolk, natural elements like rainbows and floating clouds, and endearing Asian/European style architecture. Stuff like seeing the windmills and tidy homes with smoke-filled chimneys definitely allowed me to feel fully immersed.
The graphics are touched up and polished, and everything looks pleasantly crisp. The world map is relatively small but it's a detailed journey through grassy forests, idyllic towns, all the way to snowy peaks. The dungeons were not as vibrant as the towns, but they were still filled with small details and themes that completely set them apart from the other dungeons.
In short, these are really beautiful retro-graphics: don't expect anything to look overly modern, but if you enjoy PS2 era graphics that are nicely touched up for modern gamers, you will love the visuals and details found throughout Zwei.
The soundtrack is much the same: it definitely doesn't stand out as much aa certain retro-RPG's, but the music in this game is emotional and grabbing, and Nihon Falcom spared no expenses with the compositions. Each area has its own theme, and poignant tracks return during key plot moments to pull in the player's emotions. It's often perky and catchy, and some of it hearkens to games like Chrono Trigger (the world map theme really reminded me of the Chrono Trigger sound). The soundtrack is consistently catchy and compelling, even in the heart of any of its dungeons.
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection does have some flaws such as the limited combat system and awkward food for experience mechanic. They turn what could have been a great action RPG into a pretty good one. The game tries to delicately balance action and traditional RPG mechanics, and I found myself bored of the combat at times.
Even with the flaws, the combat does improve as you gain new abilities, and the story, graphics, and music all shine. The story isn't anything out of the ordinary, but the strong dialogue, humor, and great character development make it an endearing and light-hearted tale. The soundtrack is beautiful, and the world and its inhabitants are simply too full of detail and mystical zest to not fall in love with.
This game had me addicted, and I enjoyed that the game had a lot of depth yet kept gameplay segments organized into manageable increments. Save points are fairly common and the ability to instantly travel anywhere gets rid of a lot of potential tedium. This game has a lot of content and hits a happy medium between casual and hardcore action RPGs. I wish I could give this game a higher rating because I truly fell in love with it, and it's a hidden gem in 2017, but the highs in Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection don't come without some hindrances and low points.
|+ Great characters and dialogue||– Combat can be bland|
|+ Beautiful soundtrack and world||– Leveling up system is strange|
|+ Plenty of content|