"[Zwei: The Arges Aventure] is weird as hell, and I love weird as hell."
We can always trust XSEED to bring us unlikely Falcom localizations, from the entirety of the long-awaited Trails in the Sky trilogy to the PSP's Brandish: The Dark Revenant in 2015, three years after that handheld had been superseded by its younger sibling, the Vita. But they've really outdone themselves with their recent release of Zwei: The Arges Adventure, an offbeat 17(!)-year-old action RPG curiosity and the distant prequel to 2009's Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, a title XSEED put out last Halloween.
I'd always wanted to play The Arges Adventure on the merit of its visuals alone — the gorgeous backdrops are colorful hand-painted scenes that bring to mind SaGa Frontier 2 or a flyover intro to a fantastical anime. I'm a total sucker for that kind of thing, but Falcom's PC games were notoriously difficult to import back in those days. Even after the PS2 and PSP ports dropped, high prices and shipping fees kept this cutie out of my hands. But now, The Arges Adventure is at everyone's fingertips, and in English to boot!
Set on the floating continent of Arges, the appropriately named Arges Adventure follows teenage brother and sister/best friend duo Pokkle and Pipiro as they leave their hometown of Puck Village to hunt down the mysterious masked man who absconded with the village's six sacred statues. This quest takes the pair to a number of dungeons in which they must deftly use the tools at their disposal to smash monsters and solve light puzzles, all the while collecting all the food they can scarf.
If you've come to The Arges Adventure expecting something on par with The Ilvard Insurrection, you should punt that presumption to the curb: while the two titles share a common ethos and a few key mechanics, The Arges Adventure released before Falcom really cemented their affinity for satisfying, action-based combat. The long and the short of it is that this title doesn't play nearly as pretty as it looks.
Like The Ilvard Insurrection, players swap between Pokkle and Pipiro at the touch of a button; brother Pokkle is the melee fighter, while sister Pipiro keeps her distance with a selection of elemental spells. However, controls for both of them are finicky and landing hits feels distinctly unsatisfying, partly due to the fact that neither character animates whatsoever aside from their walk cycles. The invincibility window after being hit is far too short, which allows foes to easily juggle you to death if they surround you in a cramped corridor — something that happens a lot.
The experience system caused me a great deal of grief, too. Experience, and by extension levels, are gained by eating food, which doubles as your healing items. It takes an inordinate amount of experience to gain one level, which means chowing down on an incredible amount of food, which often doles out far more hit points than experience points. The biggest problem with this system is that a single level often spells the difference between victory and defeat, a fact demonstrated most egregiously by the game's boss battles. Every time I reached a boss, I had a horrible experience: I'd plink plink plink away at their thousands of HP, doing 1 damage per hit, doing my best to avoid their disproportionately powerful attacks. Even if I'd kept this up for as long as I could, in some cases it would've been just plain impossible — a giant phoenix that, when down to its last sliver of health, dashes away from you to heal 1000 HP comes to mind — so I'd bite the bullet and burn through all of my healing items to gain a level, at which point I'd suddenly be doing 100 damage per hit, killing off my formerly intimidating nemesis in a matter of seconds. My empty inventory didn't even matter in the slightest. There was no in-between, the system is simply broken in one direction or another.
The thing is, I don't think The Arges Adventure is a bad game. Brother Pokkle's affinity for awful puns coupled with sister Pipiro's self-centered impatience makes for a charming adventure, and the fact that the pair each have something unique to say about virtually every object in the world shows the dedication Falcom have to bringing this setting to life. Coupled with the excellent localization, The Arges Adventure once again proves XSEED and Falcom to be a match made in heaven.
It's also weird as hell, and I love weird as hell. Pokkle and Pipiro can spend their hard-earned cash on a number of apps, like a clock synced to your PC date/time with an alarm that can be set. Why? Why not! There's also a strange Tamagotchi-esque app where your pet goes off on an adventure in search of items, and you choose which path it should take at a crossroads. All of this plays out in real time in a small window in the corner of the screen as you explore Arges. It is quite adorably distracting. These apps can be turned on and off at will, so you don't have to watch time march on or see your cat roll around on its back 24/7 if that's not your bag. There's also a handful of minigames, including the infamous Typing of Ys (think Mario Teaches Typing but with Adol), which needs to be seen to be believed.
In short, Zwei: The Arges Adventure may not be the most polished or compelling experience, but it's a fascinating look into Falcom's past, and a quite loveable one to boot. Those looking for a rollicking action RPG should stick with The Ilvard Insurrection, but enthusiasts interested in Falcom's trajectory will no doubt find a lot to love here.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.