While most crowdfunded video game titles rely on nostalgic throwbacks or revivals in order to garner support from fans, such as this year’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Shenmue III, it’s generally more impressive when a title without such baggage receives such a popular campaign. Modern classics such as Shovel Knight and Undertale are titles that simply would not have been made if not for their massively successful Kickstarter campaigns, and both came from small teams with ambitious goals that convinced many to support them. It’s stories like these that once again caught me off guard when Lab Zero’s Indivisible launched its IndieGoGo campaign back in late 2015. The campaign blew up among fans of JRPGs and fighting games as Lab Zero had announced their goals to take their fighting game expertise and direct it towards creating a 2D platformer/RPG. An ambitious goal, for sure, but due to the nature of crowdfunded titles, here we are four years later, the fruits of Lab Zero’s labor with the final release of Indivisible.
Indivisible starts with Ajna, a sixteen-year-old girl living with her father in their home village, peacefully training in martial arts until one day when her village is attacked by an army led by a warlord named Ravannavar. The warlord’s men quickly destroy Ajna’s village and kill her father, which causes Ajna to awaken to a spiritual power that allows her to absorb certain friends and foes into her head while also giving her a major energy buff. Ajna soon learns that she has ties to a force that threatens to destroy her world, so she sets out to gather a group of allies to stop said evil threat and save her world.
Trying not to spoil Indivisible’s story is difficult considering a lot happens in its early hours, but it does highlight its major issue: Indivisible’s story is something you’ve likely seen a million times before, especially in other RPGs. Never does the story venture off in a more engaging direction, nor are there many twists that set it apart from others of its ilk, instead Indivisible offers a traditional, if not boring, JRPG adventure that is mostly held above mediocrity by its fun and likable cast, of which there are over 20 recruitable party members. Unfortunately, playing Indivisible back-to-back with Square-Enix’s recently released Switch edition of Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age makes the shortcomings of its story feel all the more underwhelming. What Dragon Quest XI pulls off so well is taking a traditional story and very gradually flipping it on its head and deconstructing formulaic JRPGs of its kind, even if Indivisible does soften that a little bit by having some respectful and charming LGBT representation.
Indivisible takes the foundation of a 2D Metroidvania and mixes it with the combat of a turn-based RPG. The player guides Ajna through the overworld via sprawling 2D platforming levels, and whenever Ajna comes into contact with an enemy, the game switches to an RPG combat interface with three other party members. Each party member is tied to a face button on the controller, meaning the player can attack with that character simply by pressing the designated button. Different attacks can be used to chain combos tied to using up, down or neutral stances on the directional pad, and each member can only attack a certain number of times before needing to cool off (the number of attacks per turn can be leveled up as the game progresses), and by pressing their designated button, the character can either dodge or block attacks from incoming enemies. Combat is engaging and definitely reminiscent of Tri-Ace’s Valkyrie Profile for the original PlayStation; however, it also takes hints from the original Paper Mario titles and even South Park: The Stick of Truth in some areas. It also flows on an active-time battle approach akin to the traditional Final Fantasy titles more so than the usual turn-based affair found in, say, the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series or Persona games. Certain characters can also pull off super moves similar in fashion to fighting game characters with different levels depending on how high the super gauge is, which saves time when fighting smaller enemies as the biggest issues with Indivisible’s combat is that there is no option to run from battle. The only way to avoid fights is to physically bypass enemies in the overworld, meaning to either jump over or under them.
As the game progresses, Ajna’s arsenal for 2D platforming can also expand, which in true Metroidvania fashion, can unlock blocked areas in previously explored levels. For instance, Ajna gains access to a bow, a dash that allows her to knock down certain walls and a staff that she can use to high jump, to name a few of her upgrades, all of which do a fine job of keeping platforming from getting boring in the long run. Nevertheless, after a while the formula of platforming and turn-based combat begin to feel at odds with each other, with the title never feeling like either a good RPG or platformer. With the turn-based combat being inherently slower-paced, the repetitive platforming challenges start to outstay their welcome by the 10-hour mark of this 20-25-hour adventure. This is emphasized especially in Indivisible’s greatest misstep, its backtracking and lack of fast-travel. Being a Metroidvania, Indivisible is the type of title that requires a lot of revisiting previously explored areas, especially since about 7 or 8 hours into the adventure, the gang aquires a boat, and the player is then asked to visit three separate areas. Upon exploring two of the three areas, Ajna is faced with an obstacle that requires her to travel to another place to gain an ability to overcome said obstacle. In some of these areas, the obstacle won’t appear until the player is pretty deep into the level, meaning that they must backtrack through the entire map to get back to the ship and visit another level. This happens multiple times throughout the game, and due to some of the level designs and the ambiguity of the game’s map, it took me up to 30 minutes just to leave one area because I kept getting lost.
So much of Indivisible seems to lack much respect for the player’s patience, and painfully obvious oversights, such as the lack of fast-travel (something founding titles in the Metroidvania genre, such as Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, allowed for), drag the whole experience down from a charming, storybook adventure to a repetitive, frustrating mess of navigation. The game feels clearly lacking polish at times too, with some platforming challenges cutting to a quick loading screen during gameplay. Another glitch that affected me through my entire playthrough was that every time I would purchase a defense upgrade, the game would not save my choice, refreshing my currency to the previous amount and prompting me to level up my defense every time I saved my game. What’s ironic about this is that I actually managed to gain a trophy for leveling my defense three times despite the fact that the game had not actually given me this buff once.
What’s most immediately striking about Indivisible’s presentation is the gorgeous art style and animation, taken from Lab Zero’s history with the Skullgirls 2D fighting game series. Animation is excellently produced, with each character’s individual personalities conveyed wonderfully through their combat style, yet what surprised me the most were the gorgeous animated cutscenes produced by anime Studio TRIGGER (the studio behind Kill la Kill) and director Yoh Yoshinari with storyboards from American studio Titmouse. While these animations only make up small scenes and the opening cutscene, they help add personality and depth to the world, making it look more alive. Character designs are also brilliant with a generally consistent art style; however, NPC designs during towns come across as very jarring, continuously contradicting the game’s main art style. It seems like a lot of these designs were made to reflect certain IndieGoGo backers, but the low quality of their art really stands out in contrast to the game’s generally beautiful aesthetic. Voice acting is also overall excellent, calling on a lot of contemporary anime and Japanese video game dub voice actors to flesh out the cast. Ajna’s voice actor in particular feels especially in touch with her character’s personality. Music has been handled by Secret of Mana composer Hiroki Kikuta and is overall engagingly atmospheric with some truly wonderful arrangements, yet some tracks do become quite repetitive as they are used in multiple areas or cutscenes quite often.
While starting out fresh and exciting, Indivisible’s main two gameplay elements ultimately feel contradictory of one-another, and the title far too often takes advantage of the player’s patience for what is essentially a story you’ve seen a million times before. While the title does boast some gorgeous animation and a brilliantly composed soundtrack, they aren’t enough to save the game from constantly getting in its own way, and major design oversights and bugs lead to an adventure marred by its own ambition.
Developer: Lab Zero Games
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 11th October 2019
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