Despite being in the industry a good thirty years at this point, Falcom games always have a wonderfully indie feeling to them. The term ‘indie’ has become somewhat nebulous of late, so for clarity, my definition of indie is rooted firmly in the mid-2000s, with titles such as Cave Story and Iji being quintessential examples. Not quite janky, but certainly rough-hewn; carved squarely by a single vision rather than being smoothed over by the waves of dissonant voices, caught in the middle of designer and corporate interests. Entirely unafraid to defy convention, for good or ill, and try something new even if it doesn’t pan out.
Falcom’s flagship is surely the Ys series, of which I am a fan, but they also have plenty of smaller projects, among them previously-featured Gurumin and now Zwei, an RPG where you do not gain Exp from defeating monsters but by eating food, and every single environment was drawn by hand.
Pipiro and Pokkle are step-siblings (yes, alarm bells rang out for me too, but apparently the game doesn’t go there) who live a pastoral life in a pastoral village. It’s about as JRPG as it gets, as indeed one day the village is beset by a mysterious stranger who steals the items of plot significance, and so our intrepid duo must go and get them back.
No prizes for originality there, then, but XSeed’s typically-entertaining localisation does a lot to alleviate the sameness of it. The opening scenes took up the bulk of the hour, in some amount due to poor signposting (instructions to talk to a specific villager with no indication of where said villager might be found, for example), but the dialogue is fun enough to retain engagement.
Combat and dungeoneering… is less so, and although I didn’t get to experience a lot of it I don’t have particularly high hopes. While in the beginner dungeon I encountered several switch puzzles whose solutions could only be divined by trial and error, and along one linear pathway (the only route I had available to me) I came up against a monster who could kill me in two hits and survived anything I tried to throw its way. Whether that was supposed to be cautionary or just the way this game goes, I’ve yet to discover.
Fin or Bin:
The experience in the dungeons certainly left me questioning where Zwei should go, and reading up about the levelling system similarly worries me- many people saying finding the right foods is a grindfest that quite often results in simply no reward from fighting monsters at all. Despite all this however, I trust Falcom to deliver a fun if not praiseworthy game that is worth seeing through to the Finish, whether or not its rough edges give a few splinters along the way.