While JRPGs have evolved a significant amount over the course of video game history, the genre has made its share of sacrifices along the way.
Newer games like Final Fantasy XV feature worlds that can take hours to travel across, but I still find there to be a certain level of emptiness to them. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection reminded me of exactly what I find to be missing from most modern JRPGs, despite being almost a decade old.
Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection follows the story of Ragna Valentine, an adventurous pilot and treasure hunter. After crash landing in the unfamiliar land of Ilvard, Ragna’s life is saved by a vampire princess named Alwen through a blood contract. In exchange for saving his life, Ragna agrees to help Alwen recover her stolen magic and reclaim her castle from an unknown threat. Although the plot’s setup is simple, what makes Zwei stand out so much is the amount of world building that’s put into its text. Every NPC has something to say that gives you a sense that they exist for more than just giving you information. On top of that, characters will say new things as you progress through the game, showing that that they’re more familiar with you. The game is well aware of how much information it’s dumping on you too, creating bios of every character you interact with and adding to it as they open up about their lives.
Being a release of a 2008 Japanese game, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection won’t win any awards for its visuals. The textures on everything have been cleaned up and the character models look as good as they can but they are still really stiff. Xseed has done an excellent job on the game’s translation, writing some genuinely funny lines for the characters. It’s unfortunate that more of the lines aren’t voiced but the ones that are become that much greater.
The gameplay of Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is similar to Falcom’s other series, Ys. You control Ragna from a fixed camera angle and fight against monsters in real time using a string of melee attacks. Alwen will follow you around during the game but she won’t take part in any fighting unless you switch characters and control her directly, making use of her ranged magic attacks. While there is some strategy behind knowing when to alternate between the two characters, combat mostly boils down to mashing the attack button before running around and jumping to avoid enemy attacks.
One of the more unique elements to Zwei’s gameplay is the way it deals with experience points. Rather than gaining experience and leveling up through combat, you accomplish this by eating food. Different types of food can be dropped by defeated monsters or found in treasure chests and is worth different values of experience in addition to helping recover lost health. If you gather ten types of the same food, you can trade them in to receive a higher quality meal, worth even more experience. I liked the way this mechanic made me look at healing items overall. I planned to save as much food as I could to trade it in for more experience later but this meant I had less attack power and defence while I was exploring, not to mention I had to be more cautious when it came to taking damage.
Despite its age, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection holds up well. The graphics are average and the combat can feel a bit basic at times but the game did such a good job of drawing me into its world that I was easily able to forgive its shortcomings. It tells a charming story with characters interesting enough that I made sure to speak to all of them at every chance I got. If you’re a fan of Falcom’s other titles such as Ys or The Legend of Heroes, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is a title you don’t want to miss out on.