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Zwei: The Arges Adventure (PC) artwork

Zwei: The Arges Adventure (PC) review

"Praise The Pun!"

Zwei: The Arges Adventure is very much a product of its time, and that time was 2001. There are pros and cons attached to that, but thereís also a rather confusing port history, because while this game was the first in its series, its sequel, released seven years later, was the first game released in the West. Only last year, in fact; despite being born in 2008, Zwei II (obvious joke is obvious) had to wait a little under a decade before it left the orient all touched up and pimped out under the shiny new title Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection. It did pretty well for itself, so Falcom buckled down and released the original the year after.

Aside from rampant confusion, the problem with this haphazard release history is that people who have played The Ilvard Insurrection first and have been impressed enough to give The Arges Adventure a go will notice it takes several steps back. This makes perfect sense in the context of the original release schedule, but not a lot in the current one. Itís all a bit of a mess and Iím really looking forward to the bit of the review where I can stop trying to explain it.

Which starts about now, because, happily for me, the games are almost completely self-contained (Argesí dual protagonists make a cameo in Ilvard, and the connection ends there). Instead, it buries itself in fantasy RPG tropes that weren't quite so saccharine seventeen years ago. Itís the story of a brother and sister duo who -- and try not to groan here -- live in a peaceful, isolated village that is unexpectedly visited by a random evil and they find themselves the only ones capable of tackling it. Except thatís not entirely true; though the brother, Pokkle, embraces the hell out of the clichť, burning to fight for goodness and justice, his twin sister, Pipiro, could not be any less interested. Until a large cash sum is thrown into the mix, and she starts envisioning a life of materialism and leisure.

It would be easy for me to write this up as a simple game from simpler times (and I might kick myself for not doing just that) if it wasnít for a couple of facts. 2001 might very well be almost twenty years ago, but it had still already seen several digital milestones that proved that vapid storylines didnít have to go hand in hand with video gaming. This could be an interesting angle to explore further, but itís made obsolete by just how hard Zwei commits to its simplistic roots.

It doubles down on the clichť nature of its cast, but it also ensures theyíre more than just one note charactertures. Pookleís absolutely the farmboy hero-in-training, but heís also obsessed with making puns, finding an excuse to force his choice of wordplay into everything. People actively avoid talking to him in an attempt not to groan themselves to death. Pipiro is unashamedly the greedy, shallow opportunist, but sheís also ridiculously blunt, yelling people down in an effort to ensure her opinions are heard first. It all works because itís tied together with an exemplary localisation job by XSEED, who have embraced the spirit of the characters and ran hard with it. Itís a little meme-y at points, and it certainly pokes at the fourth wall from time to time, but it does so in complete accordance to the foundations of the game.

Zweiís also adorable, building its world in a relaxing collection of pastel hues. The town the siblings hail from is beautifully hand drawn, while the dungeons they explore are pre-rendered. Itís a weird dungeon set-up; Zwei only really features half a dozen dungeons, but theyíre all split up into different sections and youíre left to try and bundle through the order youíre supposed to tackle them all unsupervised and unaided. The only helping hand youíre offered is that each dungeon slice is prefaced by a slab proclaiming the suggested character level needed to tackle it. Itís not quite sadistic enough to allow you to stroll into overpowered monster lairs underleveled, though; most higher tier dungeons are locked behind an item you need to discover or a quest you need to clear before you progress.

In this, itís pretty easy to lose your way if you donít pay attention. Early on, you find your path blocked by an unmovable slab of rock, and itís very easy to miss the offered hint that it can only be moved by purchasing a special bit of equipment from your townís weapon store. Other items hide behind obscure fetch quests you may not initially realise even exist. In order to obtain a hookshot required in crossing various chasms throughout, you need to find a lost lure in an obscure corner of a dungeon and return it to its owner. Except youíve no way of knowing its been lost in the first place; the erstwhile fishermen only appears in the spot youíll find him in after youíve stumbled across the lure.

Still, I won't pretend that I didn't enjoy the lack of handholding, leaving you with as little clue where to start as the two teenagers leave their village for the first time. You stumble along from place to place, trying to remember where you saw that pesky level 8 slab you assume is the next location you can safely explore.

Gaining levels is as important here as in any RPG, but itís governed very uniquely; instead of gaining slivers of experience from slaughtered enemies, you can only do this by eating any of the food you discover among the dungeon, which also double as the means to top up flagging HP. This brings in an interesting dynamic; you could just gobble food up as you find it and ensure a healthy HP bar throughout your travels, or you can run the risk of hoarding it. Finding ten of any food group means you can trade it in at the local cafť for a significantly higher leveled item.

For the most part, you collect food from beaten enemies, who you battle in a slightly more advanced version of the early Ys bump-and-hurt titles. While controlling Pookle, you can command him to issue a short charge forward, wherein heíll stab anything in his path. Or, you can tag out to Pipiro any time you fancy, who instead commands a handful of magic spells. You can add to her arsenal of attacks at the game goes on. You could probably bludgeon your way through the game with button mashing so long as youíre not opposed to grinding out food supply to keep you above the level grade, but the simplistic combat isnít without its subtle quirks. Thereís a meter that asks you to time your attacks to a rhythm bar that can regulate critical strikes, or even the chance to stun or juggle your foes.

In fact, for a game that goes out of its way to look so simple, Zwei holds a lot of surprises. Early on, you can rescue a pet who you can bring along on your dungeon crawls to pick up stray items or offer occasional attacks, or you can leave him at home where heíll go off on an adventure of his own that you can either leave him free to blunder through, or offer rudimentary directions when a choice presents itself. Thereís hidden bosses, optional dungeons, secret armour, and a collection of games within the game that include a familiar red-headed swordsman on an adventure you assist by completing elementary typing tutorials. Itís called Typing of the Ys, and it will threaten to devour your evenings.

Iím not really sure what I was expecting when I dove into a re-release of a forgotten action RPG from back in 2001. But what I found is a game developed with love and ported with respect. Seventeen years might have been a long time to wait, but Iím grateful that it made its way over eventually.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 27, 2018)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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honestgamer posted March 27, 2018:

This game totally sounds like my kind of jam. I hope someone thinks to bring it to Switch, since that's the kind of thing I can see happening. It seems like it would be great for that platform. But it might not happen, so I might have to break down and get it on Steam. Anyway, in case it's not clear, you've sold me on it!
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EmP posted March 28, 2018:

Considering the kind of stuff that's found it's way onto the Switch as of late (I saw you add screens for NO THING, a game I bought to review a year or so back, but found it didn't contain enough of anything to write about, making the name particularly apt), I'd be surprised if this didn't eventually make its way across. I hope it does; it deserves to get more people playing it. I've really enjoyed my time with it.
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Masters posted April 05, 2018:

Nice review, Gary. I think there's probably a sentence that should read "if it weren't for" rather than, "if it wasn't for" but I can't be bothered looking for that again. The review is a bit longer than other stuff you've written lately, but still manages to hold our interest with the usual snide conversational tone. Kudos on getting through the intro too -- that's always a difficult proposition to open a review, explaining a complicated, boring bit of backstory that probably does deserve an explanation.
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EmP posted April 05, 2018:

Thanks, Marc. Good eye, too; I spent a ridiculous amount of time writing, deleting and rewriting that intro because it strikes me as information worth knowing but, Christ, it too me a few attempts to do so under four paragraphs in a way I was happy with.

But review is done; onto the next one. Thanks for reading.

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