(Yes, the “AKA” titles are going to be a thing for a bit, sorry)
It’d been a long time since I’d loved 2D art as much as I loved Zwei!!'s, so after finishing that off it was with some trepidation that I picked up the Zwei 2 (yes, I do realise that means “Two 2” – please stop tweeting me about it) box I’ve had hanging around since forever and got this 3D sequel installed.
To get to the point: I’ve never loved 2D art so much and then been so happy to see its 3D replacement.
Zwei!! and Zwei 2 are different examples of the exact same design philosophy – that technical muscle always comes a distant second to plain old good design. The simplistic textures and chunky, low detail, character models in Zwei 2 are distinctive and bursting with character. The locations are breathtakingly beautiful while still being easy to read during play. Cutscenes have some incredible direction that allow for visual flair without locking players in an endless cycle of non-interactive sweeping camera angles. Basically the game is absolutely stunning while containing none of the things that a typically stunning PC game would be expected to contain, and it’s all the better for it.
Of course they didn’t just give the graphics a once-over, Zwei 2 has been given just as much care and attention under the hood too. Combat is still broadly the same as before, with the new auto-aim behaviour making it a breeze for both characters to attack enemies without running head-first into them. The old magic system has been replaced with an automatically regenerating MP bar, allowing for more liberal use and experimentation with the elemental weakness system. The old (and tedious) inventory/equipment system from Zwei!! has been thrown out entirely and in its place is something that doesn’t require you to sacrifice healing items for equipment or faff around moving items between storage/your backpack/your hotbar just to get things where you need them to be. Perhaps the most welcome new addition is the ability to retry bosses with all the food items you had before the fight started, as opposed to Zwei!!’s method that had you restart with whatever you had left over when you died. Some of these changes probably sound like modern “easy mode” conveniences – the dreaded coddling of the incapable or the impatient – but this is not true. Streamlining these features makes for a more exciting and engaging game that allows to you concentrate on the parts that are actually fun rather than doing all the busywork that normally comes between the bits of fun in an RPG.
This combination of good balance and improved design meant that when I died to a boss my reaction was always “What did I do wrong?” not “Guess I need to grind for items!”. This approach actually worked too! Obviously you still need to be within a reasonable range of the expected level requirement (during a standard play through, anyway – New Game+ players have the tools to pull off some impressive low-level stunts if they want to), but playing well always outperformed slamming recovery items down Ragna and Alwen’s throats and hoping for the best.
But even an action RPG needs a good plot to tie everything together, right? Just like the rest of the game Zwei 2 does a grand job of mixing the old with the new, in the same (well, mostly) nice and light and breezy style as the previous entry but with all the expertise Falcom gained in the years between the two. Falcom simply know (and you could rightly argue, have always known) how to write good characters and in particular how to write a male/female duo that gives both individuals agency and importance without coming across like it’s been forced or has some sort of “agenda”. This all adds up to a very pleasant and exciting adventure with enough drama to make the conclusion feel suitably epic without drowning everything in teenager-level tragic backstory or boring you with another emotionally broken character whining on about how they’re struggling with “deep” choices.
So Zwei 2 is very different from Zwei!! while at the same time being exactly the same, and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who’s ever enjoyed Falcom’s Ys series or other similarly charming action-RPGs. Falcom may no longer produce native PC games, but at least with Zwei 2 we can say they definitely left their old flagship platform on a high.