Nihon Falcom games age well. Which is great for us, because a lot of them did not originally get a worldwide release! It is only later that these RPGs found their way to other countries. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is one such game. While it is a little simplistic, it is brimming with character and charm.
Ragna is a courier and treasure hunter. After fixing up his beloved aeroplane, Tristan, he is heading to the town of Artte, on Ilvard, to deliver a package to its museum. Except as he’s flying in, two women on dragons try to scare him off. For some reason, people from the outside world must be kept from the place. Though, to their credit, one specifically says they want to scare him away and not hurt him. Except, in the ensuing dogfight, his aircraft is damaged and plummets to the island below.
Before we start getting into all the things that Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection does right, there are some minor issues that do dull its otherwise shiny exterior.
According to the doctor in town, Ragna should have died. However, a Trueblood vampire princess named Alwen saw him fighting with the other women in the sky and, when he fell, entered into a Blood Contract with him to save his life. He is now a half-breed Blood Knight, a being whose health restores faster, but is bound to a master until an objective has been completed. Alwen has been removed from her castle, deposed from her position and had her powers scattered across Ilvard by whoever is in charge of the people who attacked Ragna. After coming to an agreement to revise the Blood Contract in a way that makes them equal partners, the two head out to go reclaim Alwen’s position and teach those bad guys not to steal that which does not belong to them.
Before we start getting into all the things that Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection does right, there are some minor issues that do dull its otherwise shiny exterior. While the translation is mostly good, Mei is a rather stereotypical take on the Chinese waitress, complete with speech patterns that may offend players. While the localization is good, the font can also feel difficult to read, which is also a pressing issue. Elongated letters (like “g,” “j” and “y”) can have the bottom chopped off when they appear on the only or bottom-most line in a text box. It also has a soundtrack that is just average, something that makes it an outlier in a world of Nihon Falcom games with often amazing music. However, the English voice acting is well done and captures both goofy and serious moments well.
Of all the things that may prove problematic for players, the biggest is the battle system; it is not exactly bad, but it is very simple. In Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, Ragna and Alwen become equal partners. This means that players are controlling both heroes as they go through Ilvard’s areas. You can swap to take advantage of their abilities. Ragna is a close combat character, using an extending anchor and series of combos that basically involves continually mashing a single button. Alwen is a ranged magic user which requires you to… mash a single button to blast enemies. This means most fights can get a little repetitive, though occasionally you might have to actually jump and dodge! How exciting! Granted, both do get some upgrades, with Ragna’s combo extending and Alwen getting more spells. But it’s mostly simplistic.
This simplicity extends to Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection’s dungeons, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Ragna and Alwen will go to an area to complete objectives, beat baddies and search for food, items or money. You will probably spend about 10 or 15 minutes there, then head back. I would call efficient and a product of its times, rather than lazy, and enough happens in each areas that making things longer for the sake of extending the length would work against the game. Besides, the game has cleaned up well, despite its age, and there’s an awareness of whether you have been to an area before you were “supposed” to be there, thanks to clever character dialogue.
Nihon Falcom has shown how good it is at providing a sense of atmosphere and worldbuilding with games like Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is no different.
Characters are a major highlight in the game. Nihon Falcom has shown how good it is at providing a sense of atmosphere and worldbuilding with games like Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is no different. While most NPCs here do not have extensive backstories, they do have more personality that you would expect from this kind of action-RPG. They warm up to Ragna and Alwen as they get to know them. As you progress through the story, they will tell you more about themselves and their world. Some of it helps with your adventuring, but a lot of it is flavor text that is very much endearing. As for the general atmosphere, the lore surrounding the world’s supernatural characters is quite well thought out, which makes the enemies faced and the conflict Alwen is wrapped up in more interesting.
Another delightful element in the game is the food system. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection handles leveling in a rather ingenious way, one which can let people determine how difficult the game is or the way they approach situations. You use food to dole out experience to characters and level them up. But, you can also exchange lower level food for better food that grants even more experience. As a bonus, food also heals you! It is an interesting way of allowing people to set the balance in their own games by determining their own priorities via meal plans.
But I think what I like most about Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is how generally fun it is. For a game about a deposed princess, a man forced into a blood contract to stay alive and the world in the balance, it is incredibly bright, happy and lighthearted. It is very much like Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure, with its energetic heroes and vibrant world. There are the same sorts of goofy costumes to collect. Even though things can be dire and serious, it never feels dark or depressing. It is a callback to a different era, a time when saving the world didn’t also mean dealing with all sorts of apocalyptic incidents.
Yes, there are moments when Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection shows its age. The dungeons are never too large or trying and the combat is never too involved. Neither of these things take away from how genuinely enjoyable the game can be. It is bright and often joyful, with a world where even the NPCs have some depth to them. It is a delightful reminder of the way action-RPGs used to be and is still fun to play.