After releasing Nihon Falcom’s action JRPG Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection to the western audience late last year, XSEED is back with another iteration of Zwei. The funny thing is, Zwei: The Arges Adventure is actually the first game in the two-part series and dates way back to 2001 in Japan for home computers. Sony PS2 and PSP conversion were released a few years later, but again only in Japan. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection was unbelievably funny and smart, so I had high hopes for the senior game of the series. After all, its framework and gameplay are pretty similar to the sequel.
14-year old step-siblings Pokkle and Pipiro spend their trivial live in a small village. The boy, Pokkle, is somewhat numbskull, with his awkward puns never quite hitting the target. The girl, Pipiro, is completely shallow and rude, with foul mouth and unhinged attitude. The promise of an adventure presents itself when a mysterious masked man steals six idols from the local shrine. Pokkle is in to retrieve them for fame and glory, and Pipiro for a fat reward to buy more and more fashionable clothes. Together they venture out of the village and start their journey through the floating continent of Arges.
Zwei: The Arges Adventure plays out as a top-down dungeon crawler. The bulk of the game is spent in various caverns and forest mazes, solving light puzzles and fighting monsters. The player can switch freely between the characters, with Pokkle doing melee attacks and Pipiro casting ranged spells. Like in the sequel, experience is not gained by besting enemies but eating food instead. Various flavors of nourishment replenish lost health and give experience points for leveling up. Different branches of dungeons have level requirements etched to their entrances giving an indication which areas should be avoided in a case of being under-leveled.
The Arges Adventure resembles much its sequel, but unlike The Ilvard Insurrection, it’s just not that fun to play. The biggest problem is the cramped view. Sprites for Pokkle and Pipiro take up a lot of space and the top-down camera is zoomed too close to them, leaving very little room to see surroundings and events around. Wobbling character movement and choppy scrolling make things worse, and you’re often bound to run into enemies without actually realizing them being there. The fighting feels awkward. There’s no proper feedback when you hit enemies or when they hit you. Weak sound effects and occasional speech bubbles seem almost random. Pokkle’s melee attack is a sloppy hop forward and back and it doesn’t seem to connect with anything. It’s actually better to run circles with Pipiro and spam spells all over the place, as you wouldn’t see too much of the enemies anyway. Considering that the game is dungeon crawler, it fails in its main function.
The game’s narrative is sparse and doesn’t bother telling where to go next. While it’s quite refreshing in this day and age when the games tend to guide their players by hand, it can also be frustrating. In the lack of more structured narrative, you’re often left with a doubtful feeling. Am I just wasting my time in certain places or am I really supposed to be there? The game makes a bad job at hinting what items are needed and where to use them. Just hope you’ve bumped into them during your odyssey when the need for them arises. There are also optional abilities and items you can entirely miss if you’re not throughout enough. There were times I had to resort to an old FAQ of the original release of the game to get my bearings.
The humor in Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection was rooted in the clever chemistry between its dual protagonists. Some scenes even made me laugh out loud. But playing Zwei: The Arges Adventure, which is also supposed to be a humorous game, I felt like watching a washed-up stand-up comedian trying to force laughter out of his audience. Only no one is laughing, apart from a few awkward chuckles. Pipiro and Pokkle aren’t as interesting and likable characters as Ragna and Alwen in the sequel were. I don’t know if the underlying problem is in the original script or in the translation – or in both, but the game tries too hard to be funny.
Presentation is pretty lovely, though. There were no high-resolution assets to use, as everything in the game is actually illustrated, originally to then-standard 480 pixels height. Still, the graphics are scaled nicely to fit widescreens (there are actually no screen resolutions to choose from, just windowed or full screen). As a result, the looks have this soft feel, like watching an old DVD of animation movie on a HD screen. The music can be chosen as either original tracks or re-arranged versions of them, first heard in the PSP conversion. Also, all mini-games, which were separate desktop applications at the time, are now incorporated into the game.
Pleasing aesthetics aside, Zwei hasn’t aged all that well in parts that matter the most. The game lacks the wit and charm of its sequel, the gameplay is unwieldy and the progress amounts often to guesswork. Everything The Arges Adventure does, the superior sequel The Ilvard Insurrection refines further - and beyond, as any good sequel should. There’s no guesswork in which one of the Zwei games I recommend to fill the need for a funny and smooth Japanese action RPG. In the end, The Arges Adventure is not a bad show, it just has passed its shelf life.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.