Over the years video games have been separated into certain genres. Anyone who games knows what a platformer or RPG is. Over the last few years there have been a number of “metroidvania” games released, and this is a good start when trying to explain developer Lab Zero Games new title, Indivisible. But that is just the start. The Skullgirls developer wanted to create something unique and have done so by also tossing in RPG and fighting game elements as well. Fortunately, unlike many games that try to use too many elements and create a mess, Indivisible stands out as a contender for my favorite game of the year.
Lab Zero Games is a small developer located in LA. In 2012 they released their first game, Skullgirls to critical acclaim. In a crowded fighting game market full of long established series and companies to back them, this little studio created something visually unique and it was a blast to play. Just talking about it makes me want to boot up my PS3 for the first time in years to play it again.
It has been nearly seven years since Skullgirls released, and to be honest, I had assumed we saw the last of Lab Zero after all this time. Thankfully I was wrong, and the reason for the long silence was that they were working hard to create something that would again stand out. Indivisible was originally funded via INDIEGOGO back in 2015 where they managed to acquire over 2 million dollars. Publisher 505 Games stepped in and here we are finally seeing the results.
Because of the support Lab Zero was shown, they were able to acquire some of the best in the industry to provide opening animation from Titmouse and Studio Trigger, a soundtrack from veteran Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana), and voice actors for every major character. This shows in the quality of Indivisible.
After an incredible playable prequel story, Indivisible throws the player into the world of Ajna, a teen living in a small rural village. Suddenly her home is attacked and burned down by an army controlled by Ravannanar (voiced by Star Trek: TNG’s Michael Dorn), an evil warlock. During the attack, Ajna confronts her father’s murderer in battle. Suddenly his killer is sucked into her mind where she cannot hurt him and he cannot leave. With no reason to stay she embarks on a journey to find out what exactly is going on with her. And most importantly, to get stronger so she can take her revenge on Ravannanar.
I won’t go into any spoilers but Indivisible has one of the most well written and compelling stories I have seen in an indie game. Players see Ajna grow and meet so many interesting characters along her journey. There are some serious moral and social commentary here and I love it. The inclusion of so many various cultures and mythology is amazing.
Indivisible is at its core a side scrolling platformer where you can backtrack to access new areas as you discover upgrades to your weapons and powers, or what we all refer to now as a metroidvania. Combat is where things get really different. Indivisible uses an action based system similar to the old PS1 classic Valkyrie Profile. Each of the four characters in your team are assigned a button on the controller.
The attack these buttons produce is based on the player using the up and down on the d-pad, and it feels similar to a fighting game in that respect. You can knock enemies into the air and use combos to juggle them. It takes some getting used to but once you do, it is so damn addictive. Also like an RPG there are turns in a sense, you must wait for your attacks to refresh and also deal with incoming attacks from enemies.
Players can block with the whole group by pressing the L1 button (PS4) but will need to watch for single attacks and block by pressing that characters button. If it is pressed at exactly the right time it is considered a clean block, reducing damage even more and adding more “Iddhi” to your meter.
Iddhi is used for special attacks, each level increases the power of that attack for some incredible screen filling destruction. Each of the “Incarnations” or characters you suck into your head, dubbed the “Inner Realm”, have unique abilities, like healing, AOE, and more.
I found the formula for success involves having a good mix of characters that compliment each other but also having the ability to watch everything and time your attacks and blocks like a fighting game. This is not a game you will be grinding for experience. Success is based on the skill you the player have. The characters are all very different and represent a wide variety of cultures and gameplay types. There is also no lack of different Incarnations for players to choose from and build their perfect team.
This unfortunately creates a bit of a learning curve. Some players may find the difficulty a bit much, I know I did at first. After a time though I found my groove and Indivisible’s combat got much easier after a few hours. The platforming gameplay can also suffer from some major difficulty spikes. I personally got stuck on a section where a boss required me to to platform to him between phases. I died. Many times. I got frustrated and took a break but eventually got it on my 10th attempt.
Graphically Indivisible is just beautiful. The hand drawn characters and levels are on par with some of the best anime. I really felt like I was playing a cartoon. I am in awe that such a small team was able to make this game. Indivisible doesn’t feel like an indie title. The opening animation is something I would expect in AAA title.
The soundtrack for Indivisible is just plain perfect. As a gamer who actually played all of Hiroki Kikuta classic games from the 90s it gave me a warm fuzzy nostalgic feeling. Voice work is better than many AAA titles I have played, with professional actors that just increased my love for certain Incarnations even more. Looking at you Razmi (Stephanie Sheh).
Just like in nature with the amazing platypus, Indivisible is a hodgepodge of ideas that somehow creates the best experience I have had in an indie game all year and is a contender for my game of the year. But just like the platypus has a venomous spike Indivisible can sting you with its difficulty spikes. But if you take your time and don’t just button mash, eventually, just like a fighting game, you get in a groove. Hopefully more gamers will fall in love with Indivisible and we won’t have to wait so long to see a follow up from Lab Zero Games. Until then Indivisible will have upcoming free DLC with more Incarnations I look forward to playing with.