Lost to the internet: Zwei!! Online

I do love a good poke around the internet for information on old MMOs from far-off lands, which is how I ended up writing a little blog post on the Korean PC game Astonishia Online a while ago. This time it’s Zwei!!’s turn, after a quick replay of one of my favourite Falcom games reminded me of this online spin-off’s existence.

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Falcom are no stranger to licensing their IPs to third-party companies and this has resulted in several MMO tie-ins over the years such as Ys Online: The Call of Solum, Sorcerian Online, the upcoming Akatsuki no Kiseki, and obviously this one, Zwei!! Online. Falcom have done this quite often both for all-new games (Ys Strategy, Yume no Kiseki) as well as more straightforward console ports too (think of GMF’s Legend of Heroes range), and is pretty standard practise across the industry (Shin Megami Tensei Online and Uncharted Waters Online are two relevant examples).

It’s worth taking a moment here to establish the difference between “licensed” and “farmed out” – the former is more “We like your thing, can we buy the rights to use the brand?” whereas the latter is “We need a new game in [SERIES], but don’t have the staff/time/inclination ourselves, who can we hire to make it for us?”. Zwei!! Online was licensed; developed by NEON SOFT and published by Wemade Entertainment. Wemade are still around and still dealing in MMOs and mobile games, NEON SOFT are appear to have vanished in a puff of F2P MMO smoke.

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Anyway, on to Zwei!! Online! The game was announced way back in 2007, and was intended to be a casual MMO (typical F2P plus cash shop set up) aimed primarily at the seven to eleven age group and exclusively for the Korean market. This was also the exact age group that are the least likely to have any inclination to play an MMO based on a PC RPG that was already six years old by the time it was revealed, but hey – what do I know? The original plot had it set a century after the events of the original Zwei!! – the final boss of that game, Demon King Vesper, was just one of six Demon Kings sealed away across a matching number of floating continents and it was going to be your job to track them all down and put a stop to any demon-releasing antics. From what I can gather they dropped the “one hundred years later” part as development progressed, seeing as everybody and their uncle from the original Zwei!! shows up in the story sequences I’ve been able to find.

After this initial announcement the game was due to go through some closed beta testing and then be released in 2008, but it ended up going in and out of development/closed beta phases until the first open beta in 2011, and then it was eventually launched on the 3rd of May… 2012, over a decade after the game it’s trying to ride on the coat-tails of and at best four years after the most recent port of the game (PSP Zwei!! came out in 2008).

The good news is that when it did launch it had three thousand quests and well over two hundred maps to its name, as well as four base classes for players to get stuck in to. The developer repeatedly stated that they wanted the game to remain as faithful as possible to the source material, and as such the game retained  Zwei!!’s unique XP-from-food system as well as a companion pet to hoover up dropped loot and occasionally help out in battle. A statement from 2007 mentions that they were considering allowing you to raise pets via a companion mobile app, but it appears that was quietly dropped. Battles were mouse controlled (as with PC Zwei!!) and kept the frankly a little weird air-juggling tactics of the original, as well as the special move stocks that could be built up by successfully combo-ing enemies.

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Players would start out by picking one of the four basic classes – fighter, mage, rogue, and archer – then either get on with the story, attempt to clear special time-limited challenge dungeons to earn Zwei Points to spend in a special shop, or go off gathering materials from the typical MMO selection of logging/mining/fishing points to hopefully pull enough scrap together to craft new items, armour, and accessories. Once a character hit level twenty their class upgraded to a better version of whatever job they’d chosen – fighter to swordsman, mage to sorcerer, rogue to thief, and archer to scout – and once they’d doubled that and hit level forty players were able to choose between one of two more specialist classes; a swordsman could become a warrior (attack) or knight (defense) while a mage could choose from wizard (offensive magic) or acolyte (support spells) for example. This all sounds a lot like Ragnarok Online to me, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – if you’re going to copy something it may as well be from one of the longest-running and most successful MMOs of all time, right?

As you’d expect from a game that aimed to feel like the next Zwei!! dungeons were littered with traps and environmental hazards and would sometimes throw up larger and more powerful versions of certain sprite-based enemies as well as low-poly 3D bosses for everyone to gang up on – earlier interviews implied that dungeons would be instanced but that seems to have been dropped early on judging by the number of players shown in screenshots as well as the deliberately more open level design created to accomodate a large number of simultaneous players. It looks like not all areas were heavily tinkered with though, as Puck Village (humorously labelled “Puke Village” in one video) looks almost identical in places to its original offline counterpart.

As with the graphics the music was also a combination of the old and the new – the entire original soundtrack was reused where appropriate (I’m guessing the excellent PSP arrangements going off the release date) as well as ten all-new tracks composed by Falcom themselves. Just two of these tracks are available to buy: “An Eternal Dream, Memories of the Heavens” is on both the Zwei!! 2008 album as well as Falcom Unpublished Music 2007 Autumn, and “Mythical Land Serpentina” is also included on the latter. Both albums are available internationally on iTunes if you’d like to listen to some samples.

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I haven’t been able to find out when Zwei!! Online closed down, but what I can tell you is that NEON SOFT appear to have vanished from the face of the earth and all the original official Zwei!! Online sites are so taken down they don’t even exist via a magical Wayback search either. The game seems to have had one fundamental issue that was never addressed during its troubled development process – they wanted to stick closely to Zwei!!’s original plot and style while at the same time trying to position the game as a casual MMO for young children, pretty much pulling every aspect of the game in two opposite directions right from the start. It’s a shame this Zwei!! sequel didn’t hit the right notes, but at least Falcom hit the nail on the head when they finally got around to making a sequel of their own.