Last year’s release of Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection was a lovely surprise: the first Western release of a niche, decade-old game that’s aged surprisingly well. That was actually the second game in the Zwei series, so it makes sense that XSEED would want to localise the first one as well. Enter Zwei: The Arges Adventure.
Unfortunately, this game is much older than its sequel, and it hasn’t aged nearly as well. The Arges Adventure has a lot of design similarities with The Ilvard Insurrection—a tag-team action combat system, food-based levelling, and an irreverent, comedic story—but it’s much rougher version of the experience.
Zwei: The Arges Adventure begins with the sudden, mysterious theft of a group of idols from a small-town temple. The task of recovering them falls to an unlikely pair: the step-siblings Pipiro and Pokkle. For the book-wormy, history-obsessed Pokkle, it’s a chance to finally be a hero like in the legends he always reads about. The sassy fashionista Pipiro, on the other hand, has her eyes on the reward money and all the clothes she’ll be able to buy with it.
With that, the pair sets out on a journey across the floating island of Arges in search of the holy idols, in the process getting swept up in a plot to revive an ancient Demon Lord. Is it simple and even cliche? Sure, but a cast of oddball characters and tongue-in-cheek humour makes even such a straightforward story enjoyable.
The dynamic between Pipiro and Pokkle is the heart of the game’s charm and humour. They fight like siblings do, and they care for one another like siblings do. Pokkle is a big dork, with a love of bad puns and a fondness for wearing a fake tail, but he’s also a big flirt with a weakness for older women. Pipiro is all snark and sass, whose main interests are reading fashion magazines, shopping, and teasing her brother. The banter between the two of them is it a lot of fun, and it’s really the thing that keeps Zwei: The Arges Adventure going.
That said, I didn’t find Pipiro and Pokkle as endearing as Ragna and Alwen from The Ilvard Insurrection. Maybe it’s just because I played the second game first, but the bond between the two characters felt much deeper. And while Arges Adventure is funny, it’s not a patch on the sequel.
That’s probably the biggest hurdle that Zwei: The Arges Adventure faces: it’s sequel, which improved on it in every way, was the first of the two to get a Western release. It’s not a fair comparison to make—Zwei II came out eight years after Zwei—but it’s an inevitable one, due to the release schedule of these localisations.
Like its successor, The Arges Adventure is built mostly around dungeon crawling and frantic real-time combat. Free dungeons are fantastic, with clever puzzle design and plenty of secrets to uncover, and as you progress through the game, new tools and spells allow to venture further into each of the game’s dungeons.
Combat, in the other hand, is unwieldy, sometimes to a point of frustration. It’s mechanically simple—there’s one attack button, and another button that lets you switch characters on the fly—but the challenge often comes from being crowded by enemies and having to dodge their varied attacks. It’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on in the chaos, and that often means getting hit by things you don’t even see coming. Hit detection is also very iffy, and it often felt like things that shouldn’t have hit me did (and vice versa). To be blunt, I avoided fighting as much as possible, which isn’t a great look for an action RPG.
Zwei: The Arges Adventure also suffers from clunky menus that make using items in the thick of battle a pain. There’s a hotbar that you can drag items to for quick access, but each individual item takes its own slot; there’s no stacking. Considering how quickly you go through food items—which both break your HP and earn you experience points—opening up the main menu to drag a new stash of items onto the hotbar becomes necessary after almost every encounter.
To complicate matters further, and items you have equipped use up a hotbar slot. By the time you’ve got a few different pieces of armour on and a handful of different tools at the ready, there’s very little space left for those all-important hours items.
The food-equals-experience is still a neat touch, but it doesn’t work nearly as well here as it did in The Ilvard Insurrection. In both games, you can opt to store up 10 of an item and trade it for another that offers much more experience. In the second game, that created interesting risk-reward decisions in the moment, but in The Arges Adventure, the fiddly combat makes using items almost a necessity, and hoarding them comes down more to luck with drop rates than any sort of skill or deliberate strategy.
This is what I mean when I say that Zwei: The Arges Adventure hasn’t aged well. It first came out in 2001, when technology was far more limited and this sort of awkward game design was more common. Playing it for the first time in 2018—as will be most people’s experience, what with this being the first release outside Japan—the clunkiness is a lot more noticeable and tiresome to deal with.
One area where the game does hold up well, though, is in its art direction. Unlike its successor, The Arges Adventure is amongst entirely 2D, with gorgeous sprites and hand-drawn locales at bring the whole game world to life. Even without the high-res stuff that got see today, 2D art of Zwei‘s ilk is timeless.
It’s also an interesting game from historical perspective. Zwei may not be as big or well-known as the likes of Ys and The Legend of Heroes, but it’s still nice to see where the series began. Oddly enough, the first Zwei is also something of a precursor to Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure; they’re not directly connected in any way, but they share a lot of similarities in terms of dungeon design and sense of humour. Clunky as it is, this is still a piece of history that deserves to preserved.
Still, this is a game that’s only really going to appeal to gaming historians and diehard Nihon Falcom buffs. For anyone just wanting a bit of lighthearted fun and cheeky humour, last year’s Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection delivers on that far, far better than The Arges Adventure does.
Zwei: The Arges Adventure is developed by Nihon Falcom and published by XSEED. It’s available now on PC (reviewed).
A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.