A very Zwei Q&A with editor Nick!
1) I’ve got a huge backlog of games. Why should I bump Zwei to the front of the queue?
It’s been a great year in videogames – perhaps TOO great, if my own backlog stack is any indication, and I have no doubt that many (most?) of you are in the same boat. But every now and then, we’ll get our hands on a game and it sort of effortlessly floats to the front of the queue, like it bought an expensive theme park pass. I’m under no illusion that Zwei will be “that game” for everyone, but for some of you, it might be! Let’s look at a couple reasons why Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection might be just the game you’ve been looking for (but didn’t realize it)!
First, it’s got a great “medium” length. You won’t be rolling the credits in 10 hours, but it’s also not an 80+ hour bear where you just look at it and sigh and think, “I know I’ll love this, but…when will I find the time to play it?” With Zwei: II’s 30-ish hour average playtime, it offers a fulfilling action RPG experience you can sink your teeth into, but you won’t need to cancel all your plans for the next month to make time for it.
Second, Zwei represents a heretofore-unknown prong of Falcom’s action RPG legacy. Falcom is famous for Ys, an action RPG series that has spanned decades at this point, and other titles in a roughly similar vein, like Brandish and Xanadu – in fact, it’s been joked that Falcom’s “XYZ” is Xanadu, Ys, and Zwei. But unlike many of their other offerings, nothing from the Zwei series has ever been officially available outside Japan…until now. As Falcom’s last/most recent PC-exclusive title (made in 2008), it straddles a fun line between old-school charm and modern conveniences and storytelling. It’s the Falcom quality you know, but in a world distinctly different from their other games.
Third, Zwei is made to be easy to pick up and spend some time with without having to invest a ton of time in a sitting. Dungeons are generally broken up into discrete “branches,” each of which can be undertaken on its own, with save points in between and the ability to fast-travel between any save point you’ve been to at least once. If you’ve got 30 minutes, you can get something done in Zwei. If you’ve got an hour, you can do even more! The game reflects modern sensibilities regarding variances in player engagement and time commitment, and that makes it really easy to pick up whenever you feel like playing.
If any of that piques your interest, I’d invite you to consider bumping Zwei to the front of your gaming queue.
2) I love Falcom stuff like Ys and Trails, but this one seems…a little bit different. How does it compare? Will I like it?
As a Falcom action RPG, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection fits into a long legacy of storied games, and ultimately, as fans, we can’t help but draw comparisons. But I think overall, these are helpful comparisons to make, because in doing so, you can see where a game like Zwei 2 fits into Falcom’s growth as a developer over time.
The original Zwei was released in 2001. It’s more of a straight dungeon-crawler than its sequel, The Ilvard Insurrection, is, but it featured the mechanic that would go on to be the series’ calling card: two main characters, one specializing in melee attacks and one specializing in magic, who could be swapped between at any time with the tap of a button. However, Japanese fans would have to wait until 2008 to play the second game in the series.
Tom, our resident Falcom historian, slots the Zwei series into a gameplay lineage that also includes Gurumin (made in between the first and second Zwei games) and Nayuta no Kiseki (made after the second Zwei game). That separates it from the gameplay stylings of series like Ys or Xanadu, while still feeling pretty easy to get into for anyone who’s played those games before. Visually, Gurumin probably has the most “Zwei DNA” of any of Falcom’s other titles, as it features gameplay and even visuals that feel like they could easily have been part of a Zwei game.
The combat in Zwei is not as technical as in the Ys games – it takes more of a “big picture” approach, in the sense that often, your biggest advantages can be gained not in one’s mastery of controls or precise techniques, but in when you choose to swap between characters to chain their actions, and how you position yourself within spaces and relative to the enemies. Personally, I feel like this lends a bit more of an “arcade beat-em-up” feel to Zwei’s action RPG combat, so if that sounds like your kind of thing, well, get ready to grab your spoon and dig in.
3) I’ve heard Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection has an unusual leveling system. What can you tell me about macaroni gratin and the power it bestows?
Well, macaroni gratin is delicious, and anyone who says otherwise is a just lookin’ to foment some dissent at the lunch tables. BRING IT.
…Er, what I mean to say is, the Zwei series’ leveling system is one of its most unique aspects. Instead of getting EXP from killing monsters, you gain EXP from eating food. This same food serves double duty as the main consumable items you use to heal yourself when you take damage, and you’ll get plenty of it as you go through the game. It might sound weird, but it works surprisingly well, and sets up some interesting scenarios. If you want to strongarm your way through dungeons, you can be more proactive about eating food to gain EXP and keep on par with or a little above each dungeon’s recommended level (as displayed by a metal plate on the floor before every dungeon branch). If you want to give yourself more of a challenge, you can use food only when you need to heal, and treat the EXP you gain as a residual bonus.
You can even just decide to enforce minimal food-usage (or not at all) and see how low of a level you can go through the game with, if you want to give yourself a real challenge. The game doesn’t have standard difficulty levels, but the way in which you use food sort of lets you scale the game’s difficulty as you see fit.
In addition, the game’s foods fit into four different “tiers,” and you can trade in ten of any one type of food for one of the “evolution” of that food in the next tier, with the higher-tier food giving 150% more EXP than 10 of the food that came before. It might sound confusing, but it’s really not. Here’s a quick example. I’ve got ten plates of Pasta Carbonara. Each one heals 28 HP and gives 2250 EXP when consumed. But, if I take those ten plates of Pasta Carbonara and trade ‘em in at the restaurant counter, I’ll get one plate of delicious Macaroni Gratin, which heals 38 HP (not a huge upgrade there), but gives a whopping 33,750 EXP when consumed. As you go further in the game, upgrading is more about maximizing your EXP gain versus raw healing amounts. If more raw healing is what you want, though, it may be worth NOT trading food up, because those ten plates of Pasta Carbonara can heal 280 HP – somewhere between two and three full life bars of health at high levels!
4) Got any advice for players? Must see or do stuff?
My best advice for players is to really think about the different types of magic Alwen has and what they’re good for. Some magic, like fire, is all about just blasting enemies and puttin’ the hurt on them. Other types of magic are, on their face, a bit weaker: ice launches only single shots that have a more limited range, wind whips up a small tornado that sweeps forward – but when you think about all the tools at your disposal, and especially how you can position or lock down enemies (known colloquially as “crowd control”), options that aren’t just MAXIMUM DAMAGE BAM RIGHT IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD WITH A FOLDING CHAIR really shine. In fact, if you decide to spelunk through the optional dungeon, you’ll need these strategies, because brute forcing your way will only take you so far.
Another piece of advice is to take the time to actually talk to NPCs. I admit, it’s a common thing to hear from a localization editor (“Please read this dialogue that I edited!”), but Zwei is a game with a very clear through-line, and if you want to, you can stay on that track, never really go places when it’s not necessary to, and finish the game with little trouble. But to do so would be denying yourself the chance to learn more about the amusing people who populate the game’s world. Taking a page from the Trails series, Zwei has NPCs who often change up what they say after both major and minor game events, and the NPCs have their own individual stories that develop as the game goes on. It’s worth your while to poke around and visit people, because there are many unique conversation snippets in the game that only play when you talk to someone at a particular phase of the game, and often there will even be differences in the dialogue depending on whether Ragna or Alwen is active as your lead character.
5) Since you’re known for your puns, give us your best shot. Which ones are you most proud of?
Surprisingly, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection isn’t particularly full of puns! Zwei: II’s style of humor leans much more toward pithy commentary and snarky asides, often made from one partner to the other in the middle of a conversation, or just “thought aloud.” Cheekiness seems to be a popular personality trait in the land of Ilvard, as the townsfolk and even the animals (…if you can talk with the animals) get in on the action. Pokkle, one half of the first Zwei game’s protagonist duo, is an inveterate punster, and while he does appear in this game in a cameo role, he’s not firing off puns left and right here. However…you can choose him as an opponent in the game’s battle arena, and if you select Ragna to fight him and win, upon being beaten, Pokkle will moan, “I just got Ragna-rocked!” It’s voiced, too, so enjoy that!
Service Penguin says thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the official Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection site at: http://visitilvard.com/!
Zwei on STEAM!
Zwei on GOG!