If there’s one thing that Indivisible has proven, it’s that developer Lab Zero knows how to crowdfund. Building hype, maintaining relevance, and exceeding audience expectations seems easy on paper but is woefully hard in practice. Yet, people believed that Lab Zero would deliver. Why wouldn’t they? These were the creators behind Skullgirls. They got crowdfunding and publisher money. They had a celebrity composer and a world-famous anime studio creating an opening animation for their game. Indivisible would be great.
Like many Kickstarter stories, Indivisible falls short of the lofty image cultivated on the road to release. It’s an extremely good looking game, yet one that feels shallow and lacking in many key aspects of its mechanics. Vibrant designs and slick 2D animations can’t hide the fact that beneath Indivisible’s polished exterior lies a mediocre game.
A Journey of Heroic Proportions
The world is built on mythologies that have seeped into our collective consciousness over centuries of history and cultural osmosis. We know The Hero’s Journey, the struggle of good vs. evil, and the personal quest to find meaning. Indivisible holds true to these longstanding tropes, archetypes, and narrative beats to create a story that feels incredibly familiar. By leaning on Southeast Asian cultures and Japanese pop media, Indivisible keeps these well-tread narrative beats engaging.
After a brief intro detailing events prior to the game, players meet Ajna, the plucky 16-year-old protagonist. Ajna’s world turns upside down when her village falls under attack and a mysterious power awakens inside of her. She must embark on a globetrotting adventure in order to understand her newfound abilities and save the world. Along the way, she meets a host of colorful characters, each with their own unique backgrounds, quirks, and personalities. Together, Ajna and her comrades set out to stop an ancient evil from destroying everything they know and love.
Indivisible’s narrative and visual design are undoubtedly where Lab Zero shines the brightest. The team exhibits much of the same expertise showcased in Skullgirls: vibrant color palettes, playful character designs, and fantastical worldbuilding based on a stylized reality. Lab Zero once again flexes their 2D animation skills with an incredibly diverse array of visually distinct characters. Whether it’s Razmi the swamp witch or Baozhai the pirate queen, Indivisible’s main cast is an absolute delight. Ajna herself (voiced by Tania Gunadi) serves as an endearing protagonist whose rebellious bullheaded shenanigans are good fun to watch. The 3D environments, while also quite nice, mostly serve to showcase the 2D art, which is the real visual draw.
Fun on Paper, Tedious in Practice
As beautiful as everything looks, the gameplay is where many of Indivisible’s problems begin to arise. The game styles itself a platforming action-RPG and, while not wrong, leaves much to be desired in both regards. The two inhabit completely different spaces. You control Ajna to explore the map but start combat whenever you make contact with an enemy NPC. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that combat clearly took priority over platforming.
Good platformers give you a set of tools to explore the world with. Accordingly, maps should offer a fun but challenging momentum of forward progression. Indivisible has sparks of platforming genius at times by making use of Ajna’s axe-climbing and wall-jumping abilities. However, far too often the way walls, platforms, and hazards are placed is so simple to the point of being tedious.
Exploration is also plagued by an infuriating backtracking system exacerbated by a complete lack of fast travel. At several points, the game asks you to revisit different locations in order to progress. This becomes an absolute slog to traverse huge maps where the only challenge is to not get so bored that you decide to play something else. Thankfully, the game breaks up these mind-numbing bits of platforming with wandering enemies that you can pummel the snot out of.
Based on the cult classic Valkyrie Profile, Indivisible’s combat is a pseudo-hybrid of action-RPG and turn-based gameplay. You control a party of four characters, each of them assigned to a face button on your controller. In conjunction with directional inputs, you can perform attacks, debuff, or heal depending on who you control. During your “turn”, each character has three Action Points to spend on inputs, refreshing after a given period of time. Combat then switches to the enemy “turn”, where the opposing side will attack certain members of your party. Proper input on the appropriate face button can mitigate damage and fill up your iddhi meter (used for special attacks). It’s quite a fun, tactile system that encourages spontaneity and improvisation. Mixed with Lab Zero’s punchy visuals and a rousing orchestral backing, Indivisible’s fights create a colorful sense of mayhem that’s easy to dive into.
While the combat system is slick and fun, it doesn’t take long to fully “solve” its mechanical complexity. Indivisible borrows several elements from fighting games, like juggling, character combos, and special meters. In spite of all that, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to engage with most of those mechanics. The easiest solution is almost always to button spam and unload your specials whenever your meter gets maxed out. Spend the bare minimum effort to maintain blocks and HP upkeep and there’s never truly any danger of you losing. The combat spontaneity and improvisation mentioned earlier is certainly encouraged, but never is it optimal.
Indivisible also features boss fights, but those tend to be more frustrating than fun. Mixing the two aspects of platforming and action-RPG, these encounters often devolve into wild goose chases. You slowly chip away the boss’s health in combat, get pushed out, run around with Ajna on the map while avoiding environmental hazards, then dive back into combat to rinse and repeat. Boss fights do little to raise the challenging benchmark set by the rest of the game. As a result, they end up feeling like a chore to get through rather than epic showdowns.
Too Much, Too Little
Indivisible’s vast scope is also its most glaring issue. The game has far too many things that, while polished, serve little purpose beyond window dressing. This is most obvious with interactable NPCs that you are, for the most part, better off skipping. Ostensibly, they were a result of crowdfunding pledges that Lab Zero honored. These fanmade characters, though drawn in Lab Zero’s style, stick out like a sore thumb. These NPCs are completely inconsequential not only to the environment they’re in but the game as a whole. It’s rather distracting to talk to NPCs and have them tell some in-joke where reference obviously goes over your head.
That same problem affects Indivisible’s core gameplay systems. Ajna’s diverse party and the plethora of roles they fill in combat serve as one of the game’s selling points. Yet, you very quickly discover that some characters are objectively better in combat. Furthermore, several characters serve no purpose in the story other than to join your party. This becomes a glaring issue when they never again become relevant to what’s happening on screen, pushed aside by the voiced characters that the developers deemed more important.
There are also RPG progression mechanics that, quite frankly, feel like they were included because sure it’s an RPG. You can level up and improve your combat capabilities, but this progression system is so shallow that you wonder why it’s there at all.
Short of the Mark
Indivisible falls too short too many times for it to really be worth a go. But, depending on what you value, it could be up your alley.
Developer Lab Zero can certainly create a game that looks great and has good game feel. The story, aesthetic, and characters magnificently blend Southeast Asian mythologies and cultures with a grandiose anime-inspired style to great effect. Combat can be satisfying if you buy into the system it’s trying to sell you. However, an overabundance of style over substance prevents Indivisible from being the truly great game that it could be.
Indivisible will be available on PS4, Xbone, and Steam on October 8th, with a TBD Switch release.