Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is a dungeoncrawling action RPG for the PC released by Falcom in 2008 and localized by XSEED in 2017. It's the sequel to the first Zwei and stars new main characters, namely Ragna the treasure hunter and Alwen the vampire princess. They form a pact and intend to liberate Alwen's castle from some unknown invaders together.
I approve of what Zwei 2 does with its story. It's a satisfying tale of Ragna and Alwen's friendship that doesn't start in an annoying way. They could have easily made Alwen act like a petty slavedriver, since she saved Ragna's life at the start of the game and doesn't know much about the outside world.
Instead, Ragna makes his case that they should treat eachother as equals in spite of the master-servant pact they're under. What follows is a nice chunk of story where Alwen gets used to the world with Ragna's help. She isn't a complete fish-out-of-water though, merely in need of some time to adjust.
Once Ragna's story comes into focus and he loses himself a bit, Alwen is there to help him out. It's just so pleasant. My one complaint is that the final boss doesn't die after they do a cool pose or super attack together. DMC3 has me spoiled in that regard.
The supporting cast is zany and charming, as one would expect out of Falcom. I want to give praise to Subaru the ninja disciple and Odessa the Wildwolf. They give context to a few parts of the story and star in some good scenes. Pokkle and Pipiro make a return as secondary characters this time, but aren't of much note unless you know them from the first game.
The voice acting of the villain Montblanc is also noteworthy. I never thought I'd come to enjoy the shrill voice of a cat wizard so much. Did I mention this game is zany? There's a lady in a cute penguin suit as well!
Zwei 2 is quite close to the first game mechanics-wise, but has its own distinct identity. You still switch between the two characters as you explore, making use of their unique abilities. Where the games differ is in the small stuff.
The sequel is in 3d and the pace of combat has been lowered a notch. Not only that, but it's much more ”composed”. By that, I mean that it's much easier to understand what is going on in a fight. There is no longer a random stun that launches enemies skyward either.
Instead, Ragna has a proper combo string that stunlocks most enemies. His weapon, the Anchor Gear has a few mods, but only the claw has any big impact on combat. It let's you grab enemies and launch them for good damage.
Jumping is also introduced, so he can even reach flying foes with a satisfying spin attack. He is riskier to make use of, but once you get going, he can shred foes much faster than Alwen.
She is the mage of the duo and very useful once you get strong enough magic. Compared to Ragna, she deals much safer and consistent damage. Her spells are easily spammed in this game, since the super moves aren't tied to holding the attack button anymore. The only limit is the MP gauge, which refills rather quickly when Ragna attacks.
The spells offer pretty different options in combat, be it damage, reach or stuns. I only found the fire and light spells lackluster out of the bunch. At least, their normal incarnations. The super moves are revamped a bit. Instead of there being different levels of them depending on combo count, there is only one level. But each spell grants you a new super move, so the overall amount of moves is much higher and they are more diverse as well.
The pet system has changed for the better as well. Your pet of choice collects items for you and levels up because of it. Once it learns to fight, it doesn't juggle dead enemies anymore, since enemies always die when their HP runs out now. I do not like how the cat loves to play with bombs and how the chick loves dropping them as well though. Makes for some unwanted tension.
Bosses are much better as well (We might have ourselves a pattern here). Each one is unique and a few even involve some light puzzle solving. As expected of a Falcom game, they are quite tough if you don't match their level and try to beat them early.
They mostly revolve around simple pattern recognition, but the last few devolve into some absurdly hectic fights. Some of them remind me of how you have to learn the patterns of Megaman bosses, while others forced me into a DPS race. They're all fun and so is trying to beat them without healing.
One tiny complaint I do have with combat is how hard it is to judge damage, since the damage numbers do not stack. It's not a big deal, since you can just go by the health bar, but it's still annoying.
As expected, Zwei 2 kept the unique food system from the first game, with some alterations. There is no longer any item management, you're free to carry anything you want. To balance this, food is a bit rarer, but easier to trade in for better food, since the types you run into in a level are fewer.
It's basically the same as before. If you don't waste the food you find, you'll get rewarded with more exp. It let's you customize the difficulty curve, but bosses remain almost impossible if your level doesn't match theirs. I did find myself grinding a bit for the last few bosses, but it felt resonable to do so and isn't common.
The equipment system has been very streamlined, for the better. Stats are easy to understand and the menu is much easier to use. The accessories are a tad more complex, allowing for a small degree of ”build”-making. It mostly devolves to stacking damage stats, but there are some fun things you can do.
There are also a bunch of charming and mostly useless widgets that you can decorate the UI with. Like a digital clock, a math game that earns you one coin per answer and a memo pad with Ragna's thoughts on the plot. There are also more useful things, like a scoreboard for ranks and a treasure finder.
The dungeons themselves have been streamlined as well. The game is much more linear than the first, allowing only for a scant few choices between levels. The fast travel system is also free now, making progress through the game a cinch.
The switches and gates from the first game remain, plus some other stuff like trampolines and moving platforms. Just like the first game, all of these obstacles are reused and remixed in order to create the levels. Individual floors are about as complex as in the first game, but there has been effort made to put in unique assets and design ideas every two floors or so. The navigation map feels too small sometimes, but all levels are pretty good. Sadly, none feel exceptional.
The addition of jumping gives the designers a chance to introduce some simple platforming, but it's nothing interesting. It's often just a platform over some water or a moving platform next to an enemy.
While finding chests usually involves scour floors and possibly backtracking with a new power, there are a few chests that are absurdly hard to find, even with the finder widget. You don't need them, but it's annoying that you can't find them all without going through some ridiculous trial and error, or using a guide.
Thanks to the score board, the ranking system is easy to understand this time. You're rated on time, damage and pots destroyed in a level. Geting a good score first time through is very unlikely, but you're rewarded pretty well for getting decent medals in the form of gifts from the Hunter's Guild.
Zwei 2 is pretty starved for side activities. There is an arena, where you can square off against most of the characters, but these duels are the lamest bosses in the game. They're either too easy, too hard, or just crazy DPS races. There's no good flow to them when compared to the normal bosses.
There is also a snowboarding game that seems to be the foundation of a similar minigame in Trails of Cold Steel 2, but here it's pretty bad. The controls are janky and the checkpoint and time requirements are very strict. It wouldn't be such a sticking point if one of the super moves wasn't sealed behind this minigame. Thankfully, you can just bribe your way through it after failing enough. Capitalism ho!