Zwei: The Arges Adventure is a nostalgia trip to an unknown dimension

Nostalgia is an increasingly effective tactic as more and more players come into games with a decade or more of past play. The NES! The PS1! The… Xbox 360! (We shudder at the thought, but we know it’s true.) But Zwei: The Arges Adventure, the latest release from XSEED, offers a different sort of nostalgia to Western players: an unknown one.

Originally developed almost two decades ago by Nihon Falcom, this first Zwei game is a relic from an era not really experienced in the West: that of the Japanese PC. Computers in the country have always held games that we just couldn’t play because we didn’t share the tech, and that extended even to the Windows era. Why? Habit? It’s hard to say, but Japanese games that made it West traditionally did so through console ports that changed the experience in fundamental ways.

Nihon Falcom is all too familiar with this experience. The developer has raised its global profile in the past decade by shifting to PlayStation platforms in Japan and partnering with XSEED in the West, but much of its history is buried to those outside of a small domestic niche. And Zwei is a compelling window into that world.

Released seven years before its sequel (which was localized and released last year), Zwei is a top-down dungeon-crawler with large, detailed sprites and a bright palette. For Western players, it can feel a bit, well, foreign to see a 2D game with its level of detail, and to see a pixel-art game with legacy PC interfaces. With platform holders discouraging 2D games in the era in favor of 3D ones that were “better” at showing off tech and PC games still a decade away from welcoming significant presence from Japanese developers, this sort of thing just didn’t pop up in the West. Some of these games, especially Falcom’s, popped up on the PSP for a second chance at exposure, but the platform just has a different feel.

Still, it’s a compelling mix, made even more peculiar by the methods of its modern release. Its late-PS1-era game design and PC-standard inventory management mesh with a localization that is pure 2017 and all the technical upgrades XSEED and Falcom could manage. The script is biting and rude in a way that would never have met console approval standards in the past, but it’s also (seemingly) a faithful adaptation of the original Japanese, communicating the tone of the 2001 PC market in the region. The game’s certainly pixelated and less-than-ideal at any modern resolution, but it’s also not a pixel-art game of the ’90s; there’s just too much detail.

The gameplay is simple — early-Ys simple at times — but it relies upon this simplicity to make a game more about positioning and thought than picking exactly the right moves in exactly the right situations. Though there’s a lot to dig into as the game progresses if you want to optimize your run! You can enjoy the native gamepad support of this release, experiencing the game largely how Japanese players did in its PlayStation ports, but you can also play the game with a cursor and an item bar and all sorts of things that let the game’s roots shine through. Add to that a whole assortment of side games that seem to have born out of the ease of taking side projects coded on a whim and stitching them into a larger whole, and it’s really… it’s really a whole thing.

Zwei: The Arges Adventure is out today on Steam.

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