Zwei 2, AKA How To Make Fans Of Your 2D Game Not Hate Your 3D Sequel

(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Help, I think I’ve taken this fandom too far (AKA: The Biohazard curry post)

Regardless of what you think of Capcom’s Resident Evil series, it sure does merchandise well. But when you’ve already bought a selection of prop-replica handguns, official watch(es), official bags, visited the Japanese theme park attraction and got enough S.T.A.R.S. gear to form your very own Special Tactics and Rescue Service where do you go from there? What more could a fan possibly do to prove their blind love other than grit their teeth through the utterly awful Resident Evil 6?

The answer is simple. The answer is…

CURRY OF THE BIOHAZARD

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The packaging didn’t do much to convince me that this was going to be a tasty meal featuring as it does a zombie, a violently green bowl of what is possibly the curry contained within, and the cheery message “Have the BIOHAZARD Green Herb Curry and survive.”, apparently meaning that my continued existence after eating this …substance… wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

But this curry wasn’t going to research itself, so the only thing for it was to open up the box and get on with boil-in-the-bag’ing the thing and praying the contents didn’t make me ill and/or a zombie, which incidentally is my usual approach to cooking anyway. The pouch itself is almost completely unmarked, which was either a sign that the marketing folks had got bored after designing the box or that this was possibly a completely generic product in branded packaging… surely not!

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Five minutes later and… ah! A completely normal bowl of standard green curry appeared out of the mysterious white pouch, with a few token chickpeas and what I sincerely hope were remnants of poultry meat floating around in it. Tasted damn nice with a bit of rice – all tasty, no itchy.

2015-01-05 12.54.57Did I really pay the best part of £10 to have what turned out to be a bog-standard green curry in a Biohazard box shipped from the other side of the world? Yes, yes I did. Do I regret it? Nah – that was fun!

Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls AKA “Kimimi watched a TV show!”

Spoilers ahead!

OK, so there’s not really an awful lot to actually spoil, but as I’m going to be jabbering on about the entire series there might be something in here you wanted to see for yourself first (assuming you haven’t already) so consider this fair warning!

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SeHa Girls (available to watch on Crunchyroll US) is *deep breath* the story of anthropomorphic representations of old Sega hardware as they go to a “school” that they must graduate from by entering the world of various Sega games, ranging from the retro-tastic Virtua Fighter (yep, the first one) through to a nigh-infomercial episode on popular free-to-play title Chain Chronicle. There’s only thirteen episodes in total, and they all last less than ten minutes if you skip the (catchy) intro and ending tunes.

That could easily have been it – a quick cash-in show of nothing in particular designed to pull at the heartstrings of Sega fans – and it is true that the show does ultimately exist to push the surprisingly extensive range of merchandise and tie-ins consisting of anything from figures to CDs to blu-rays to Phantasy Star Online 2 outfits, but, and I do feel a little weird saying this, the show comes across as having a genuine, honest, affection of all things Sega – and not just the sort of “love” that’d come from a quick Google of the most superficial parts of the company’s back catalogue either. Even the character designs (by the chap responsible for turning voice synthesiser software into hyper-popular cute girls) have neat little references to their console namesakes, such as the almost-VMU on Dreamcast’s belt or Mega Drive’s controller button hair slide. However deep your love for Sega goes, from the most casual of acquaintances to a white-hot passion that can only be sated by Segata Sanshiro himself, SeHa Girls has a joke, cameo, or I-sure-hope-you’re-screencapping-this reference to suit.

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As for the anime itself? Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I honestly don’t watch much TV at all so I’m in no position to compare it to any other shows – anime or otherwise – that have come before or after it. But I can tell you that SeHa Girls is formulaic and straightforward, and the main trio settle comfortably into typical shy/cool/cute roles within about a second of meeting each other and remain this way in 99.9% of situations for the rest of the series. But even so the show does still come across as sweet, earnest, and ultimately likeable – and with the episodes being so short it never has the chance to overstay its welcome or dwell on a weak storyline (I’d say the Border Break/Sonic two-parter was the worst of the bunch).

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Then last episode throws a real curveball in there, as it turns out that for all the fun the girls have been having they’re actually the living embodiment of the ideas behind the consoles they represent, and now have to cross over into the real world to bring gaming joy to everyone as the hardware we all grew up with. I found my (gaming) life flashing before my eyes in chronological order, starting with the Mega Drive I was given for my birthday as a child through to the Dreamcast I preordered import games for with the wages from my first job. Suddenly this silly little show was not only making me say goodbye to these chipper characters but also stirring up fond memories of my own at the same time.

Can I be good hardware?” Dreamcast wonders before she steps into the light. I found myself thinking of the times I spent playing Soul Calibur with my brother or negotiating phone line use with my mum to have an evening on Phantasy Star Online. “Of course you are were are!” I internally shout, glancing over to my own Dreamcast as if it was actually waiting for a reply.

But the show wasn’t finished with me yet.

You see, there’s a short RPG-like conversation at the end of the final episode, with a dad introducing his young son to the Dreamcast for the first time… and while it’ll no doubt get me some ribbing on Twitter, I have to admit I started to cry. Tears started rolling down my face, puzzling my six year old son no end. The six year old son I sit and play Dreamcast games with. That dad, a fictional man from the other side of the world sharing his gaming treasures with his equally fictional son, was me*.

SeHa Girls is a silly piece of “fluff” TV, designed to trade on gamer nostalgia to shift an ever-increasing range of goods on fans and generate profits for Sega. But the show also really, really, loves its source material – and it knows you do too.

*For the record – I’m not male. Or Japanese.

End-of-year review/awards, 2014 edition!

To the untrained eye it probably looks like I’ve done nothing but play REmake this past year, but I’ve actually gone through all sorts of formats and genres! 

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OK, and an awful lot of Biohazard. I can’t really deny that one, can I? No? No.

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But seriously, it’s been a very interesting year for me: I’ve dated hot part-time lion men (Beast Master & Prince – Vita), experienced the wonder that is Burns Byford (Hard Edge – Playstation),  marvelled at the technical witchcraft of Parasite Eve 2’s player-controlled scrolling FMV background (a feat that they sadly didn’t repeat at any other point in the game) and made myself utterly and permanently terrified of school lavatories thanks to the deceptively tame-looking Corpse Party.

This was also the year that not only did darling doujin shmup Crimzon Clover see a worldwide release on Steam (in its upgraded arcade form, no less!), but so did the equally impressive and yet totally different Astebreed too. You pretty much can’t move on Steam these days without bumping into a great doujin title and thanks to (Japanese) PSN I literally don’t have enough room on my Vita memory card for all the incredible Playstation games on offer – some of which, like LSD, would be ludicrously expensive to buy a physical copy of (a quick eBay search shows the cheapest to be about £200/$300 USD). Slightly further afield the ever-lovely Project EGG’s commitment to bringing gamers the finest retro Japanese computer games has meant I’ve been able to pick up everything from Star Trader to Xak to Solid Lancer with no fuss and minimal damage to my Paypal account (about £3 each). Yes, there have been issues with digital services – DDoS attacks seem to be the cool thing for antagonistic nerds to do these days, excitedly turning on a new console only to see it update everything for the first hour or so is really boring, and Nintendo continues to have such strange and draconian digital policies that they’d be called archaic if anyone else had ever actually been stupid/paranoid enough to use them, but overall digital’s done more good than harm.

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Of course I’ve had a lot of fun playing/replaying old games over the past twelve months but modern games have probably given me more pleasant surprises this year: both Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris and Diablo III have been good co-op fun, PT scared the living hell out of me even when I knew what was supposed to happen, Destiny was good fun (up until the “Light” grinding, anyway) – all in all I’d be much worse off without modern games. I’m still not as up to date as I want to be (Sen no Kiseki really needs buying at some point) but I think this year’s been a good reminder that I was perhaps teetering a little too close to being a “All new stuff sucks!” nerd before now.

However I’m still furious at HtoL#NiQ for squandering such a wonderful setting on such an awful game – it’d be the disappointment of the year if only…well, you’ll see when you hit the “awards” part of this post.

Not all the surprises were from the new side of things – to be honest I started playing Resident Evil: Outbreak just for completion’s sake; there was no way the offline bit of an ex-online group-based survival horror title was going to be any good, was there? Actually, it was. Outbreak proves why it’s good to sometimes dive in to games that I don’t think I’ll like, or why I’ll have another go at games I didn’t enjoy first time around – because being wrong is awesome. While by no means perfect, both Outbreak titles are incredibly deep games that reward skilled, thoughtful play and repeated runs. On the atmosphere side of things they also manage to be an excellent example of the “We’re all screwed and everything’s gone up the Swanee” that everyone currently thinks The Walking Dead did first while at the same time being a Resident Evil lore-hound’s delight. When I finished Outbreak File#2 I wasn’t just impressed, I was upset that there weren’t any more to play!

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So what about next year? In the main I want to continue in broadly the same direction I have this year, but I’ve also written out a wish list of gaming challenges  to try and finally finish a few games that I keep starting but never quite get through (Vagrant Story’s a good example of that) as well as a few things I’d like to do because I can be a terribly cocky show off at times (my 1CC Alien Soldier challenge is a good example of that). I might do them all or I might only do a few, but it’ll be fun to try them out either way.

Last but not least -

Kimimi’s 2014 Gaming Awards of Award-y-ness:

Favourite retro RPG: I almost gave this one to PC-98 RPG Elmknight for being so technically impressive as well as a shockingly fair old RPG, but it just doesn’t feel right giving it to anything other than Falcom’s action RPG Zwei!!. Experimental, drop-dead gorgeous, and a pleasure right up to the very end.

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Favourite retro not-RPG: I’ve cruelly banned myself from giving this to a Biohazard title, so I’ll instead award this…umm, award to Densha de GO! 2 on the Neo Geo Pocket Colour instead. I never thought a pared-down handheld port of an arcade train sim could be as enjoyable as this is.

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Favourite modern game: It’s got to be Astebreed – exhilarating, accessible, and arcade-y. That’s proper arcade-y, which means it’s a shmup that’s flashy as well as fun from your very first go, rather than the sort of thing that only appeals to the type of gamer that Googles perfect chain videos.

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Disappointment of the year: The Evil Within. I’ve played games that are far worse than this in 2014, but this is the only one where I feel it really could have been something spectacular with a few different design choices.

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Guilty pleasure: Wasting an awful lot of time playing Final Fantasy XIV, dressing up my Phantasy Star Online 2 character, and grinding in Dragon Quest X. So basically, playing MMOs. No doubt these will all be 2015’s guilty pleasures too.

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Overall game of the year: What title left an indelible mark on my gaming consciousness in 2014? What title was the one above all others I was most grateful to have experienced? How much longer can I string out this poor attempt at tension-building?

Prepare yourselves, because my game of 2014 is…

Gun Survivor 3: Dino Crisis

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Not even joking. Capcom’s stupid, stupid, dinosaurs-in-hyperspace game left me with a huge smile on my face like nothing else this year – and that smile was still there when I went through it the second time. It’ll be there on the third too, no doubt. So, for simply being absolutely bonkers and a hell of a lot of fun while it’s at it, Gun Survivor 3 is my game of the year.