A shameless love letter to Zwei!!

Before we start there’s something very important about Falcom’s old (2001) action RPG that we need to get cleared up – those damned exclamation marks in the title. The game really is called “Zwei!!” and not “Zwei”, or something more exotic like “Two” (or even “Two!!”); I don’t know why they felt the need for enforced additional punctuation because the game’s exciting enough already, but I digress.

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I’m pretty sure I first played Zwei!! when it landed on the PSP in 2008 and… I didn’t think much of it. It’s a bit weird, mechanically speaking, what with XP only coming from the food you eat and the relatively freeform nature of the adventure tending to leave you to your own devices, and I couldn’t get into it. This of course didn’t stop me buying the PC original at some point afterwards and now, however many years since I first placed it on my bookcase and let it taunt me with it’s un-played-ness, I finally picked the game up and got it installed.

I’ll finish this before the end of the year!” I publicly declared on Twitter, crippled with fear over this potentially enormous commitment almost immediately after hitting the tweet button. But I really did want to get through the game, so I dug out the guidebook I inexplicably own and dived in.

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Truth be told it still feels a bit odd even though I’ve since finished the game; almost like they wanted to make a roguelike but didn’t quite have the guts to really follow it through - inventory management never ceases to be anything less than a complete pain in the arse too - but with a bit of help and focus from the guidebook I was able to get the hang of things and play the game like the action-RPG-shooter it sort of is.

The basic flow of the game works like this – pick a dungeon around your current level, battle your way through, collect the plot-crucial item at the end, repeat until end. This is of course a gross simplification of the real thing, and players do in fact have to contend with elemental weaknesses, bosses, and all sort of switches, traps and timers throughout the game, but it’s essentially how things go.

But I don’t really want to talk to much about the mechanics (good or bad), what I really want to do is implore you to play Zwei!! for yourself. Y’see, if there’s one thing I feel modern games of all stripes miss in their desperate rush to be “mature”, whether that be through violence, sex, or (heaven forfend!) genuinely mature in the truest sense of the word, it’s that sense of breathless adventure that comes from taking control of some plucky young kids sent off  to do something brave and save the whole world while they’re at it. It sounds childish, and that’s probably because it is, but the cast are adorable, the tale is suitably epic, and the villains all get their comeuppance in the end. Zwei!! is in many ways a great children’s story, and I mean that in the most positive and complimentary way possible.

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Zwei!! is also achingly beautiful, as should be obvious from the screenshots I’ve been plastering all over this page (and Twitter). It’s not a particularly long adventure - my final save was around the 14-15 hour mark - but even so the game never once failed to impress with its detailed locations and vibrant use of colour. In truth all this graphical muscle is really only for show as there’s no actual difference between playing through a dungeon set in a forest or one set over an active volcano, but I honestly never cared. As an older gamer that would like to pretend she has good taste I’m supposed to tell you that graphics don’t matter because “real” gamers only play these things out of an appreciation for their delicately-balanced mechanics or deep plots that probably involve politics and/or someone trying to overthrow an evil religious force, but part of the joy of progressing through Zwei!! is simply seeing what beautiful sights the artists created for the next area.

Overall Zwei!! is an incredibly beautiful and relatively straightforward Falcom RPG with an import-friendly (if a bit fiddly) icon-based menu system, available on PC, PS2 and PSP – three of the most accessible gaming formats of all time – and yet it feels like nobody’s really done much flag-waving on the game’s behalf. So this is me, Zwei!! flag gently wafting in the breeze while I look all heroic on a grassy hill. If you like RPGs, you should play this game.

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zwei world map