DISCLAIMER: I backed this project on IndieGoGo and am on cordial terms with some people involved with its development.
Indivisible, Lab Zero Games’ sophomore effort after Skullgirls, has had a fair bit of hype and attention surrounding it. A lot was promised during the game’s crowdfunding campaign: a tremendous amount of hand-drawn character animation to rival that of the lushly animated Skullgirls, an engaging original RPG world to explore, combat that recalled the much-beloved PSX classic Valkyrie Profile, a score by Secret of Mana composer Hiroki Kikuta, and animated cutscenes from fan-favorite Studio Trigger. While Indivisible delivers on all of these to some degree, the big question is: does it all come together to form something worthwhile?
The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes.
Indivisible follows Ajna, a young martial artist and daughter of a great hero who helped to seal away a malevolent being many years ago. This game doesn’t waste much time getting to the meat of the story: Ajna’s village is torched and her father is dead within minutes of the game’s opening, awakening both latent powers and a thirst for revenge within her.
She discovers the first of her latent powers when she attacks the commander who lead the assault on her village: upon besting him, he is sucked into her soul and confined to her “Inner Space”, being able to be called upon in combat and when Ajna deems him worthy of materialization. As weird and disconcerting as Ajna finds this, it isn’t long before she assimilates several other (considerably less hostile) characters into her mind-plane. It’s a party in her brain, and everyone’s invited! Well, everyone who can fight worth a damn and wants to help, anyway. It’s a neat setup that makes entertaining use of a concept I’ve always been fond of – metaphysical inner self as a physical place – even if it doesn’t dive too deep into the whole idea.
The world of Indivisible presents itself as a series of 2D, side-scrolling areas to be traversed through Ajna’s ever-expanding repertoire of movement skills as the game progresses. It’s much more akin to a Metroidvania than a standard RPG, but it should still satisfy anyone who is hungry for exploring big, beautiful environments filled with platforming challenges – and who appreciate lots of background details that make each area feel distinct and memorable. As more and more of the world opens, you’ll see more settings inspired by various world cultures – South American, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. – all of which are beautifully portrayed through the amazing work of Lab Zero’s art.
However, the platforming and exploration – while far from terrible – is easily the weakest part of Indivisible. The controls and collision never quite feel as tight as they should, and there are lots of little things about movement that can be bothersome when trying to navigate some of the more demanding platforming challenges. (A good example is that Ajna doesn’t retain dash momentum after jumping, which feels extremely awkward – that is, until she gets a specific power at the end of an area where said power would have saved a good deal of annoyance.)
Combat, however, is where the real meat of Indivisible lies, and it’s an absolute delight. When you encounter an enemy during exploration, Ajna and three other fighters materialize on the field to do battle in realtime group combat. This isn’t a case where the CPU controls other characters, however – every character’s attacks and defensive movements are assigned to a different face button on the controller, so if you want them to act, you just press the button and they’ll zoom into action. Different directional inputs combined with button presses result in different actions, and knowing when to use each attack (and when to chain them together in a multi-character rushdown) is crucial to success. A party-wide power meter that fills with each action allows for characters to utilize powerful special abilities, chaining them into their normal attack strings like a fighting game character.
In fact, Indivisible’s combat owes just as much to fighting games as it does to titles like Valkyrie Profile – which is no surprise, given Lab Zero’s origins as a group of fighting game fans. It’s easy to see the influence of games like Samurai Shodown, Guilty Gear, Vampire Savior, and even the CAPCOM JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure fighter in the playstyle of certain characters, and the defense system that rewards precise timing feels like many similar systems seen in games ranging from Street Fighter III to Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. You’re bound to find characters in Indivisible’s large cast whose playstyle “clicks” with you, much as you would in a fighting game, and learning to use them in combat together to cause massive carnage is immensely satisfying.
While Ajna’s large, ever-expanding entourage of warriors gives players a lot of options for combat, it’s also a bit of a double-edged sword. With so many characters in Ajna’s head, only a select handful get substantial character development and screentime beyond their initial introductions. The cast that does get to play a bigger part of the story are great – my favorite is Razmi, an always-entertaining weirdo who answers the question “What if Beavis from Beavis and Butthead was slightly more literate and also a frumpy woman?” – but it does feel rather disappointing that a lot of these fantastic character designs don’t get a proper chance to shine in the greater narrative.
I’ve already mentioned several times that the art design in-game is stellar, but what about the music? If you’re familiar with Hiroki Kikuta‘s previous work, you’ll recognize a lot of his style in Indivisible – there are plenty of tracks that sound like they were lifted right out of a Mana series sequel that never got produced. While the overall soundtrack isn’t quite as strong as his work on Secret of Mana or Trials of Mana, it never stops being pleasant to listen to, and doesn’t have any particularly weak tracks at all.
Then there’s the Studio Trigger cutscenes. These are of particular interest to anime fans, given Trigger‘s status as one of the most beloved animation studios out there, and while they’re undeniably fantastic… they’re also quite short. Most cutscenes are done either in-engine or in “motion comic” style cutscenes, with the game’s intro and the occasional super important cutscene being given the full-on Trigger treatment. It’s always a joy to look at Trigger‘s work, but if you’re expecting Indivisible to be packed full of action-packed cutscenes, you’re going to be let down. (Still, given how good Lab Zero is with animation, you’ll certainly never want for seeing fluidly-moving characters in Indivisible’s gameplay section.)
Taken as a whole, Indivisible is an excellent game and a testament to how crowdfunding, a good development team, and strong management can produce excellent, original ideas that otherwise wouldn’t make it to market. While it has its occasional moments of annoyance, the overall experience is hardly dampened by the game’s minor flaws. Those looking for a charming and unique adventure would be well advised to join Ajna and her merry band of soulbonds on their journey.