Hands-on preview: Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection leans heavily on its niche appeal

Up until now, the Nihom Falcom developed Zwei II Plus seemed to be relegated to the Japanese market. That changes this summer when the game finally makes its way to North America. Retitled Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, the game will release exclusively on PC for fans who missed out on the game due to its overseas exclusivity.

The key word here is "fans." Having recently played the game at E3, I'd wager that only the most diehard Nihom Falcom aficionados will be eager to play this particular game, as it doesn't exactly have much gameplay appeal outside of its core consumer base.

Rescued by a Vampire

Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection follows Ragna Valentine, a treasure-loving pirate, and Alwen du Moonbria, a mysterious vampire. When faced with life-threatening danger, Ragna finds himself being saved by Alwen. The tricky vampire then tells Ragna that he basically owes her his life, and makes him help regain her stolen magic and castle. The story setup is decent, but I worry that it'll lead to the typical anime-styled back-and-forth banter that this sort of team-up usually results in.

While this may be the second Zwei game released in Japan, it features a standalone story with original characters. There are some cameo appearances seen throughout to provide some fan service, but the game is meant to be enjoyed as its own entity. So, if you're bummed out about missing out on some overarching plot, you don't need to worry because there are no major story beats tying the two Zwei titles together.

Two Playable Characters to Choose From

Gameplay in Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is fast-paced hack-and-slash fare. It's not deep, but because you can switch between Ragna and Alwen with the press of a button, you've got multiple attacks at your disposal. Ragna is a straight-up brawler, delivering quick and powerful strikes best suited to close-quarter combat. He can also break down obstacles blocking his path to get to new areas.

Alwen is also okay at melee combat, but where she excels is in long-range and group attacks. Her direct attacks are a lot weaker than Ragna's, but because she can unleash a powerful shockwave she's the ideal choice for when you're heavily outnumbered. You can switch between the two protagonists on the fly, so when you find that something's not working with your current character you can essentially tag out at will and try the other character's moveset.

Aside from the playable characters, you can also bring along an AI-controlled pet to aid you. There are different pets to discover, and they each have special abilities that will benefit you in different ways. One pet can help you collect nearby treasures. Another will get its paws dirty and fight alongside you. I only got to see one of the pets in action, but because it was early into the game, it was one of the weaker types. Hopefully there are pets later on in the game that make a more meaningful impact on the gameplay.

Despite some interesting ideas at play, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection definitely feels a little bit too simple in its design. Sure, being able to switch between the two main characters to use a few different moves is a nice touch, but the combat itself is far too simplistic. And while there's potential for the pet system to be pretty cool, what I saw didn't exactly make a great first impression.

Food-Based Leveling System

One thing about Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection that I found interesting was its leveling system. Rather than gaining experience from defeating enemies, you level up by eating different food items. You can eat any food you pick up on the battlefield to gain a quick hit of XP and health. You can also hold on to the food and trade it in for something better in one of the game's towns. This creates an intriguing trade-off: Do you level up while battling monsters and keep your health high, or do you soldier through the dungeons using minimal food items and then trade what you've found for something really sweet?

There's only one difficulty level in Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, but because you get to choose how quickly you level up using food, you also choose how challenging your experience with the game will be. It's a nice way to test players, and I'm certain that people who really dig the game will play through the adventure multiple times using different approaches to food conservation.

Zwei: The Epitome of a Niche Game

I only spent about 15 or 20 minutes playing Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, and that included some dungeon crawling as well as two boss encounters, one of which led to my demise. I didn't dislike the game, but I also wasn't all that crazy about it. I found its gameplay to be one-dimensional, even though there are a couple of neat systems in place with the potential to be really cool, such as the pet companions and the food-based leveling.

With that said, there's clearly an audience for Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, as you'll notice if you do a quick Google search. So with that in mind, this game definitely won't be for everyone — I know I won't be playing it at launch — but if you're craving some Nihom Falcom action-RPG dungeon crawling, this game will probably be for you when it lands on PC later this summer.