Developer Lab Zero Games made a name for itself in 2012 with the 2D fighting game, Skullgirls. Its fantastic, hand-drawn animation and interesting character designs made even those who don’t normally play fighting games take notice. For its latest game, Indivisible, Lab Zero has brought those elements forward in an ambitious RPG with a unique combat system, plus a compelling story and world. Although frequent bugs and a general lack of polish holds back the overall experience.
Indivisible’s most impressive elements are its characters and the way they move. The cast is big and every character from the armless dancer, Yan, to Kushi, who is partners with a bird more than twice her size, and even the random NPCs who only have a few lines of dialogue, are all distinct and cool. The animation for all of these characters is fantastic, and swapping out your party often is encouraged just to see what all their bombastic attacks looks like. Even the simple act of making protagonist Ajna walk around looks great.
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The story begins as many classic RPGs do (after an excellent animated attract screen teasing future characters and story moments) as Ajna’s town is decimated by soldiers with questionable morals. The larger story never strays too far from typical RPG cliches: gather new friends, travel to a series of mythical objects, and fight a god. However, Indivisible plays with ideas related to player intention and whether or not you’re doing the right thing in thoughtful ways. I don’t often see these themes handled so well in video game narratives. The dialogue is also clever, with Razmi, the macabre pessimist, standing out as a funny highlight. Ajna’s relationship with Dhar is also particularly interesting — his motivations violently oppose her own and I got to watch them reconcile their extreme differences.
The visuals, story, and characters (and their voice actors) are all strong, but Indivisible runs into problems when it comes time to fight. The combat is turn-based, but straddles an action line with opportunities to execute combos with different inputs and the ability to block incoming attacks with good timing. I like the combat overall, but I encountered difficulty spikes where seemingly minor enemies would wipe out my whole team if I made a small error on a block. As I made my way toward the end, the balance seemed to shift, and every encounter became a cakewalk. I stopped trying to use specific combos at a certain point and found more success by just activating everyone’s attacks all at once without much thought. The strategy worked well until the final boss, which is brutally difficult to an unfair fault and relies almost exclusively on proper blocking and a small puzzle that, if you miss the solution, forces you to repeat the majority of the difficult fight. It made what should have been a cathartic finale into a frustrating marathon.
Exploration fares better with platforming gauntlets that control well and function almost as puzzles. To pass through them, you must use every ability you’ve earned up to that point in fun and interesting ways. You can also revisit old locations with new abilities to unlock various bonuses, which is just good game design.
Tipping the Balancing Act
For all the highs and lows spread across the story, exploration, and combat, an overall lack of polish drags Indivisible down. Some bugs are minor — like user interface elements overlapping when they’re not supposed to, or the game time clock being inaccurate — but I also ran into more severely distracting bugs. I had to be careful about where I would engage enemies, because starting a fight near a spike pit could lead to problems. My characters might automatically fall off the ledge, forcing me to restart. In another instance, one party member suddenly joined my team without any introductions. She later referenced elements of her backstory I had simply never heard.
I also found random invisible ledges and one major screen-filling boss inexplicably flashed on and off during their fight. That last example could have been entirely intentional, for all I know, but so much of the rest of game is filled with bugs that I had no way of knowing for sure if what was happening was correct. It made the whole experience feel generally unstable. I was always worried something might go wrong and prevent me from progressing at any moment.
Indivisible has a lot going for it. A very special game exists somewhere in here. I like everyone in the cast; I like the larger story; I like the writing. And despite balance issues, the combat is genuinely new and original, which is a rare claim for any new video game to make. Indivisible was originally announced four years ago. That feels like a long time. But perhaps it needed a bit longer still. The core is strong, but the lack of polish and balancing unfortunately brings the whole experience down significantly.