Gasoline, uranium and friendship might all be powerful sources of energy that are essential to fueling our daily lives, but when it comes to the games industry, it’s hard to find a power source more efficient than nostalgia. Nostalgia alone powers the vast majority of the indie game scene, for instance! It’s impressive; it’s also certainly not a bad thing, as we see with Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, a nostalgia-laden action-RPG that could have come straight from the PlayStation.
Treasure hunting is a dangerous business! Lara Croft knows all about this, given how poorly she tends to fare if you fail at quick time events in her more recent titles, and Ragna Valentine is sure to come to the same conclusion when his plane is shot down after an unfortunate encounter with some baddies. He’s brought back from the brink of death thanks to the aid of vampire noble Alwen du Moonbria. Alwen’s not just being generous – her castle and magical powers have been taken from her and she needs help to get them back. The two end up connected, with Ragna receiving a power boost and continued life thanks to becoming a Blood Knight, and head off for adventure.
In the interests of full disclosure, Nihon Falcom is one of my favorite developers. They somehow manage to nail the perfect balance of story and gameplay nearly every time, and even their less impressive offerings (Tokyo Xanadu) still manage to be playable and enjoyable despite themselves. Zwei effectively nails that balance yet again, playing out somewhat like the classic Squaresoft action-RPG Threads of Fate; you control both Ragna and Alwen, with each having their own specialties that you’ll need to use effectively to proceed.
Ragna excels at short to mid range thanks to his chain-like Anchor Gear (Tokyo Xanadu comes up again – the hero of that game, Kou, wields what is essentially the same weapon) while Alwen tends to do better casting spells at range. Switching characters is quick and easy and you’ll often find yourself doing so mid-battle. As the game progresses both heroes will collect upgrades, which are especially notable for Alwen since new magic can drastically change her attack range and pattern. All of this comes together thanks to the trademark Falcom “snappiness” that characterizes modern Ys; controlling the heroes just feels great thanks to the responsive controls. I could gush about how this could be an object case for anyone making action games in the future, but instead I’ll just go with “it’s great, it feels great and Zwei is worth playing almost solely because of how great it feels to play it.”
What’s less great: this is an older title so you may expect a little rockiness when it comes to graphics and sound. In particular, Zwei seemed very attached to 30FPS and I couldn’t find a way to get it to a more acceptable 60FPS. That’s more of an annoyance than the end of the world. Sound tends to fare better, particularly when it comes to the excellent voice-acting, which is so well-done that it almost seems like a waste for an older and more niche title like this.
Again, I’m probably more of a Nihon Falcom fan than most, but I still think that Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is a solid adventure that’s worth a look. It calls to mind the classic action-RPGs of the 32-bit era, like Alunda and the aforementioned Threads of Fate. There are far worse genres and times to hearken back to! If you’re after a little nostalgia you’d do well to give this one a look.