by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
A Blast from the Past
If you’re someone that doesn’t speak Japanese, understanding the chronology of the Zwei series may seem a bit confusing. See, back in October 2017 the similarly titled Zwei: The Illvard Insurrection, a game released originally in 2008, was localized and put up on Steam. Zwei: The Arges Adventure, despite being released months later, is actually the first game in the series having come out way back in 2001. It is, perhaps, a strange way to release the games, but being that either can be played independently of the other makes it more of a fun fact than any kind of actual nuisance. Regardless of all else, it’s certainly nice to see older games Western audiences haven’t previously been able to appreciate being localized with the attention and care with which XSeed Games and Nihon Falcom have done.
The Arges Adventure opens, as you may expect a game creeping up on 20 years old to do, as an almost perfect stereotype of classic Japanese entertainment media. The game takes place in the titular land of Arges, a civilization existing on a giant floating piece of land in the sky. Arges is filled with beautiful landscapes, stories of epic histories, and homey, semi-European inspired architecture. Some people wear cat tails because they think it’s cute. There are holy relics from heroes past, and magic is an accepted part of life, though not terribly common. This might all feel boringly derivative, but Zwei makes it work. The simple charm of the places and people you’ll encounter on your adventure is easily the best part about playing.
Unfortunately, as always seems to be the case, the wholesome peace and joviality doesn’t last. A (handsome) masked stranger shows up in our protagonist’s home of Puck Village and swiftly steams some relics of great cultural and historic value. In an attempt to raise the land’s opinion of him, the wealy Pneuma throws out a handsome reward for their return, which twin siblings Pokkle and Pipiro jump at. What follows is a fairly predictable jaunt across Arges to return the relics and bask in monetary glory, and the game is content to deliver that story in a straightforward, easy manner devoid of huge plot twists or moments of harrowing character development.
While the antiquated design of Zwei works in the favor of its characters and world, that same bygone styling keeps the combat fairly monotonous and unexciting. While exploring the game’s many dungeons - all rendered in an absolutely beautiful watercolor/pastel style - confrontations with baddies don’t really get any more complex or strategic than “hit the attack button really fast,” either ramming into enemies with one sibling’s melee weapon, or shooting with the other’s magic blasts. There isn’t much wrong with how the combat functions, save for things getting a bit hectic to follow once and a while, but there isn’t anything particularly satisfying about it either. Tied into the combat is the experience system, which is unique (if not my favorite). Instead of killing baddies to earn XP, defeated enemies drop food that can be eaten to gain points and recover health. I appreciate something a little different, but it then turns leveling up into a bit of a slog: finding bad guys, fighting them, and then hoping that they drop food - which they may or may not do. The game doesn’t really encourage grinding, so it’s ok to kind of just take the enemies as they come, but it does at times seem like an unnecessary complication to something simple.
New School Dialogue
It becomes clear rather quickly that the staff of writers and translators took some... liberties with The Arges Adventure’s re-release, and I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. From a grammatical perspective everything is great: sentences flow, I didn’t catch any errors, and nothing seems like a “lost in translation” issue. I was thoroughly pleased with how smooth the conversations are. Many of the conversations with NPCs are legitimately hilarious, landing better than most text-based attempts at humor I’ve seen. The game is full of modern American slang and references, though, which is what I keep going back and forth on mentally. The dialogue does help hide the game’s age a bit, I suppose, and makes the 14-year-old main characters seem more relatable to kids today, but, at the same time, the game’s showing of its age is part of its undeniable charm. There’s definitely a strong sense of anachronism with the classically old-school Japanese art style and character design clashing with modern turns of phrase - and even references to recently popular memes. I was also a bit thrown off by the casual cursing that pops up fairly frequently. I’m certainly not uptight or a prude, but the “shits” and “hells” did seem to be a bit at odds with the jovial, wholesome tone of the rest of the game. It’s all personal preference, though, so your mileage may vary. Overall, regardless of the aforementioned, what the writing does do is a fantastic job of rounding out all of the major characters into engaging, unique personalities that I enjoyed spending time with, and I suppose that’s all that really matters.
Zwei: TAA is the kind of game that, for reasons both tangible and not, are infused with such a pure and powerful sense of joy that it’s just hard not to smile. I don’t have a history with the series - or with many JRPGs, really - yet the childlike wonder that effortlessly permeates the art, dialogue, and titular adventure still managed to make me feel the nostalgic yearn of simpler times. It’s a game that has its share of rough edges, but one that I don’t find terribly difficult to recommend.
Beautiful art, a charming world and story, excellent translation quality
Dialogue is a bit too modernized for my tastes, very simple combat, occasionally frustrating XP system