XSEED Games has been capitalising on the recent upsurge in JRPGs on PC. Its most recent announcement was a Nihon Falcom title that previously never made it outside of Japan, and Harry Papadimitriou was able to give Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection a try at E3. The game is set for release this summer.
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection was released for the PC in 2008 but, like many Nihon Falcom games of the time, looked set to never make it outside Japan. XSEED Games will finally bring the game to English audiences for a late summer release, even adding voice acting in story scenes that wasn't present in the original release. The game is about thirty hours long, and I had the chance to give it a test run at E3. When I asked XSEED why the company decided to localize the game now, it cited a ressurgance of interest in PC titles, thriving digital game stores that facilitate the success of such releases, and personal interest in the title itself. The game focuses on Ragna and Alwen. Ragna is a treasure hunter who is rescued from imminent death by Alwen, a vampire princess, by making Ragna her Blood Warrior. The plot then focuses on Ragna helping Alwen recover her stolen castle and magic.
The game mosty focuses on working through dungeons, which is broken up by the progressing narrative provided at the beginning and end of said dungeons. Although there is a type of world map, it's mostly for dungeon selection rather than exploration. The game features three towns, one of which acts as a central hub of sorts, and a number of different dungeons. In the demo I explored part of a dungeon and fought the game's first boss. Progressing through dungeons generally means clearing rooms of packs of enemies and finding buttons or solving puzzles in order to open doors and progress. Combat is fast paced and features excellent, responsive controls. Players can control one of two characters, using Ragna for physical combat and Alwen for magic attacks. Control can be switched instantly between characters, and the idea is to use their abilities in a complimentary way. For example, players can use Alwen's wind attack to incapacitate an enemy, and quickly switch to Ragna to beat down the enemy while it is unable to act. Each character can equip one weapon or ability that enables unique actions, though changing between these cannot be done in real time and is instead done through a menu while the game is paused.
The boss I faced in the demo was a multi-stage affair highlighting the different characters' gameplay styles. In the first phase, Ragna was far more useful in dealing damage to the boss at close range. Once the boss entered the second stage, however, Alwen's ranged attacks were far more effective at reaching the enemy's weak point. Bosses get progressively more complex, requiring more advanced strategies and more precise execution to win battles.
Equipment and items in the game are few. The inventory has specific slots for each available weapon and armor, and there are about ten of each, progressively increasing in power. The only means of customization is the thirty or so accessories that can be used to stack various statistics and effects on characters. I didn't get a chance to play too much with this system so it wasn't clear just how much customization can be accomplished, but from the limited number of items it didn't seem like all that much. Players also find various food items they can consume as the main way to heal, but food also acts as the game's sole experience source, so players will have to decide when to use food to level up and when to save it in case they need healing.
Although the game's graphics are from 2008, the style has aged exceptionally well. Character models feature a cell-shaded semi-chibi anime look, and sort of look like 3D versions of characters in games like Wild Arms, Shining Wisdom, and of course the first Zwei!! game. The few environments I saw were graphically very simple by today's standards, missing things like advanced lighting and other shader and post-processing effects. While lacking detail, the bright and saturated colors somewhat made up for this, and the consistent and cartoony visual style mitigated the visual aging of the game. The aesthetic is generally enjoyable, and enhances rather than detracts from the experience.
Overall, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection feels extremely smooth, with excellent controls and fun, varied combat. XSEED has made sure the game runs at 60 FPS, system specs willing, to enhance this experience. Its visual style is simple but effective, and reminiscent of classic JRPGs of the previous decade. Fans of Falcom games, action RPGs, and classic JRPGs will all find a lot to like in this title, and we should all be thankful to XSEED for finally making it available to fans outside of Japan.