Indie Game of the Week 147: Indivisible

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Mento

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I realize the IGotW feature is in a little bit of a rut here, with yet another explormer with heavy RPG elements that spent a long time bouncing around Kickstarter. It's Indivisible from Lab Zero Games (the Skullgirls people); an RPG that is overtly riffing on tri-Ace's Valkyrie Profile but also subtly on Konami's Suikoden. Indivisible follows impetuous axe-girl Ajna as she chases after the despotic monster who burned down her village; however, this is only the first act in what emerges as a classic JRPG conflict for the sake of the very world. Ajna has the distinctive ability to "absorb" friendly fighters and summon them for combat, allowing them to chill in her "inner realm" (not a euphemism) in the meantime. The game splits its time between platforming sections, where you're controlling just Ajna as she climbs walls, slides under gaps, and learns new abilities that expand her traversal capabilities further, and in battles where she and three companions quickly demolish enemy encounters with a real-time/turn-based hybrid combat system.

Let's focus on the combat first. The player's party is arranged in a diamond formation so that each individual fighter corresponds to a face button on the DualShock/XBox controller, and that button is used to both attack and defend (when the enemy is attacking). Defending works like the Mario RPGs, where holding the defense button mitigates some damage and holding it right at the moment the enemy strikes mitigates even more. Attacking is closer to Valkyrie Profile - the main similarity the two games share, in conjunction with the way other fighters just hang out inside the heroine's head - or Project X Zone, where it's not just about unloading attacks when they become available but harmonizing with your other fighters to create effective combo chains. Indivisible goes one step beyond VP by having separate attack functions depending on whether you're pressing that character's attack button while holding up or down (or neither, i.e. "neutral"). A mage, therefore, might have a fireball attack on neutral but could use the up+attack function for a party buff and down+attack for a heal. Each character has a different assortment of abilities, often meant be to complementary with other skills they possess or those of their party members. It's... a lot. Especially when you factor in how many characters this game has: though you can only roll with a party of four at any given moment, including the compulsory inclusion of the protagonist, I currently have at least ten companions with me and I'm sure that's not all of them.

When the last enemy has a sliver of health left and I just send everyone out at once, I get a lot of
When the last enemy has a sliver of health left and I just send everyone out at once, I get a lot of "battle end" screens like this.

In that regard, it can be said that the game can feel a little overwhelming, especially early on. Though in some ways far more simple than most turn-based RPGs - characters only have three attacks, everyone heals back to full automatically after battle, and there's no equipment or skill trees to be concerned about - the number of companions and the way their abilities complement each other as a unit makes it tricky to figure out which assortment works best for the player's style. There's also the matter of proper attack timing: you're essentially creating fighter game combos (the team repurposing their experience with Skullgirls to an extent) with four separate characters with twelve distinct actions between them, figuring out how best to send an enemy into the air to juggle them without ground-based attacks whiffing, or how to quickly demolish a guard stance with an up+attack/down+attack combo (I think the idea being that you can't block high and low at the same time) before laying in the damage before that enemy can rally and put up their barrier again. It sounds more complex than it actually is though, because by using the same characters regularly you get a feel for how and when they should strike. That the game keeps throwing more characters at you is where it starts to feel a little much again. However, in spite of this, encounters have been relatively breezy to get through; while enemies hit very hard if you aren't blocking, there's a way for the protagonist to easily heal and resurrect the party early on, and most enemies telegraph way ahead of time who they're about to hit. It's no big ask to have them defending in preparation, though obviously a little tougher to get that perfect guard timing down with each new enemy type. I've had a few party wipeouts with some bossfights, but I wouldn't say I was struggling at any point. That you respawn instantly at checkpoints, which are also plentiful, helps considerably.

Then there's the platforming. Ajna controls well enough and while I've only acquired a few new traversal upgrades, they've already immensely when covering new ground. Ajna starts with an infinite wall jump, and she can later use an axe as a makeshift foothold to make climbing even easier. A high-powered dash not only smashes through certain obstacles, but greatly expedites your passage across level terrain and will even count as a pre-emptive hit on wandering enemies if they happen to be in the way. I just acquired something akin to a high jump (though it's only slightly higher than normal) and am looking forward to gathering more. The map is doing a fine job logging where I cannot yet go - barriers I have the right ability to surpass are indicated as such with an appropriate icon, while those for which I lack the ability have a question mark - as well as keeping track of quest sponsors and destinations. I'd say the platforming makes up a significant amount of the gameplay, at around a 60/40 split with the combat, though obviously the latter is where most of the game's mechanical focus is concentrated.

Vinny's D&D character is, sadly, not one of the many playable companions in this game. Also, with all this (GB)eastern flair, he strikes me more like a Vinigawa McCaravellaburgito.
Vinny's D&D character is, sadly, not one of the many playable companions in this game. Also, with all this (GB)eastern flair, he strikes me more like a Vinigawa McCaravellaburgito.

Indivisible's art design is top notch. The excellent character designs and animations of Skullgirls are equally at the forefront here, and the whole game world is roughly analogous to the continent of Asia: Ajna and her village invoke India, as do the game's early antagonists; the climactic Mt. Sumeru and its protectors have a distinct Nepalese or Tibetan feel; the hub-like port city of Port Maerifa suggests an Arabian background; and early impressions of the kingdom of Tai Krung hints at a steampunk variation of China. Half of the cultures depicted are very rarely seen in video games, at least outside of single stages within the Tomb Raiders and Uncharteds (which are only ever as respectful as "nice stuff you guys have, don't mind if I do"), and the variation in colorful styles only enhances the art direction further. It's well voice-acted on the whole too, with actors specifically chosen to match the real life equivalent ethnicities of their characters. RPGs regularly draw from exotic locales and customs for their distinctive worldbuilding, but rarely with this level of detail. It's a shame most of it is purely aesthetic; the game doesn't do a whole lot of optional lore gathering outside of story cutscenes and conversations. I did like how some of the monsters were drawn from all across Asia as well, including a favorite of mine: the unsettling Malay vampire penanggalan.

While my playthrough is dogged by a nagging feeling that I could be combo-ing better or working on a more palatable party composition, on the whole I'm greatly enjoying both sides of Indivisible's platforming/RPG dynamic. I always appreciate when Indie RPG developers take after the lesser known or more ambitious RPGs of my childhood (fine, late teens if we're talking PS1) like Valkyrie Profile or Suikoden. The latter's influences are a little more muted, but are most apparent when, in addition to new fighters, you also find yourself absorbing NPCs who provide services like upgrading, hints on future destinations, to playing selected tunes from the soundtrack. The number "108" also appears frequently, most prominently in the game's achievements, which is an important figure for any Suikoden fan. As I stated the game's RPG elements are more downplayed than they might initially seem; characters gain levels regularly but this only seems to bump up their HP and damage output slightly. The bigger evolutions come through finding well-hidden and out-of-reach collectibles called "ringsels": a certain number of which expands the amount of times your characters can attack in one turn, or can be put towards making defensive plays even more effective. These upgrades make a huge change to your combat prowess, but the combat's been approachable enough that they aren't strictly necessary if backtracking to earlier areas with new abilities isn't your deal. I both like and am made slightly anxious by the vast number of characters that can join the party, as each offers a unique method of playing them that takes some acclimatization, but too much choice is hardly a negative.

*bangs table with tankard* More. Lesbian. Pirate. Queens. In. Games.
*bangs table with tankard* More. Lesbian. Pirate. Queens. In. Games.

I'm around the halfway point of Indivisible as I write this and plan to stick with it for the long haul, curious about the way the game has suddenly opened up to allow for multiple destinations while suggesting that progress in each will be incremental as I bounce between them with newly acquired skills. I haven't seen a whole lot written about the game since its release last month, but I think it'll appeal most to those who sit on that rare Venn diagram overlap of fighter fanatics who love to spend hours "in the lab" with team compositions and combo mix-ups, and explormer stans who enjoy a well-annotated map of barrier puzzles to solve later on with the right tools.

Rating: 3 out of 5. (Downgraded from 4 because of the rushed final chapter and terrible end boss fight.)

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csl316

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Played a couple demos over the years, and as a huge VP fan I've been eagerly waiting for this.

And I'm still waiting because I want it on Switch :(

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