Zwei: The Arges Adventure is the second release of the second version of the original Zwei, a cute dungeoncrawling action RPG originally released by Falcom on the PC in 2001. It was translated and updated by XSEED for a 2018 release on PC. It's a silly adventure starring the two siblings Pokkle and Pipiro on their quest to reclaim their village's magical idols and get paid.
Zwei is a game drenched in charm. You can't walk two screens without stumbling upon some cute sprites to look at. It's all very bright and cheery throughout its runtime. Even the cursor smiles!
The story matches the presentation and really feels like a relic of its time. It's more fun than it is narratively satisfying. The main duo already knows eachother and the rest of the cast aren't exactly showstealers. But what's there gets the most out of its simplicity and is a joy from start to finish.
Pokkle is a kind-hearrted and timid punster, while Pipiro is a self-centered greedy bastard with no concern for the feelings of others. Together, they make for a pretty decent duo. The NPCs do the usual Falcom thing and have their own little stories that progress throughout the game.
Another thing that exposes the age of the game is the way the level progression is set up. It's not obtuse (save for one hidden level), but it doesn't shove quest markers in your face either. There are a few select areas with different themes that contain two small hubs each, plus some others with only one hub.
Most of the levels are locked to start with and I heartily recommend keeping notes of them, if only to save on fast-travel items. The game isn't exactly non-linear, but there are a few instances where you can go into dangerous places for a bit of extra stuff. Finding where to go is usually only a matter of using your newest item and perhaps doing a little fetch-quest.
The actual levels are very simple, but remain varied. There are a few commonalities between them, like gates, switches and traps, but they're remixed in very inventive ways to keep things fresh. To progress, you might need to kill enemies, open chests, push certain switches, pop balloons and what have you.
They're all of good length and distinct enough, so no complaints from me, except for one optional timing puzzle. There's also a ranking system for fun, but I have no idea how it works. I got a silver medal once, the rest were bronze. That part felt underexplained.
The most unique part of the Zwei games is the leveling system. You don't get directly stronger by killing enemies. Instead, they drop food that you can eat for health and EXP. That would just be quirky on its own, but if you manage to procure 10 pieces of the same food, you can trade it for even better food.
This presents an interesting dynamic when combined with inventory management. A big part of the game is deciding what to keep and what to eat on the spot in order to maximize EXP gain. The food sprites also look delicious. The rest of the items you carry around are either key items, equipment, or a few puzzle items.
The equipment doesn't really make much of a difference, this is a very lightweight RPG. Puzzle items aren't that exciting either. As soon as a relevant obstacle shows up, it's just a matter of equipping the right thing, doing some quick busywork and then moving on. The menus are also a bit fiddly unless you use the mouse. Thankfully, XSEED were nice enough to map a bomb shortcut on controllers at least.
As dictated by the title, you make use of both characters in combat. Pokkle has spike weapon of some sort, while Pipiro is a mage. You can switch between them at any point depending on preference and the stuation.
I spent a good deal of time during the game trying to figure out if the two characters are balanced correctly and if they make for worthwile gameplay together. I can't say I've come to a proper conclusion. The combat seems a little erratic and unfocused.
They way I see it, Pokkle is better at stunning and saving your skin when you're surrounded, while Pipiro is better at preemptive attacks. I'm not particulary certain of that though, since the stun seems a bit random. But I found myself swapping between them often enough, even if Pipiro's spells make her more versatile. There is an elemental system in place, but I didn't care about it until enemies started nulling certain elements.
Doing combos earns you super attacks that are useful in a pinch. I found it difficult to actually get combos intentionally, since stunned enemies can randomly be put in a ”juggle state”. Once that happens, they'll stay alive even if they run out of HP and you can slowly juggle them for eternity, which doesn't create a combo.
The lethality of the game is surprisingly high. Both you and your enemies die rather fast. It was a bother until I adjusted to the intricacies of combat. And even after that, HP came and went rather quickly. But this gives you an excuse to use up your common food, so I didn't mind.
The food system let's you modify the difficulty to your standards, but I think that only works in regular gameplay. Bosses do not leave you much wiggle room if you're underleveled. I can't say I like them much, since they're all extremely similar, even if you don't count the four near-identical elemental dragons.
Bosses usually move around the arena chasing you whilst shooting projectiles and doing some AoE attacks. Not only are they boring, but quite hard to master as well. Most of my battles just devolved into panicked DPS races. And just to keep things balanced, you can't use your high-tier super moves on them without triggering automatic healing. Not even the pet-based one works.
Should you find one, you can make use of a pet in combat. It helps a bit, but is mostly there to look cute and help you charge it's super attack for later use. I kinda found it more annoying than anything, since it loves to juggle dead enemies, which postpones any potenial loot gain.
One last things that bothers me is how death is handled. You lose money, plus some items on death, which is all well and punishing. But reloading is pretty poorly designed. I think the penalty is there to punish you for not saving, but even if you don't choose to return to the village to lick your wounds and instead return to the last save point, you still suffer the penalty!
And better yet, you can return to the main menu after dying, spend an extra 3 seconds picking your last save and get back your lost stuff. Dark Souls this ain't.
For a bit of extra fun, there's 4 minigames to be found in Zwei. I think all of these were played from a separate executable in the original version, but were baked into the main game for this release. There's a sidescrolling shooter with some interesting ideas that I didn't like playing. Same thing goes for the pet adventure. If you leave it at home, it'll soon go out exploring in an adorable low-fidelity window in the top right.
At first, I thought it was based on luck and time, but you actually need to guide it. That wouldn't be so bad if there was any way of telling screens in the same area apart from eachother. Gamefaqs ho!
The last two are much more fun. There's a Tetris-adjacent puzzle game centered around making tall towers for a rabbit creature to climb without it getting crushed or scrolled offcreen.
The last minigame is The Typing of Ys. It's exactly what it sounds like. You have to protect the main character of Ys, Adol Christin, by typing monsters to death. It's quite varied as far as symbols go, but I didn't get far. Touch-typing while under pressure ain't my thing. But I do approve of the presentation, not sure if it's new assets or recycled stuff from the 437 different versions of the Ys games though.