There’s a concept in fighting games (and indeed most competitive games): the art of “punishing.” It’s the act of exploiting a moment of weakness — oftentimes when your opponent makes a mistake — and damaging them in some way. Indivisible, from the makers of Skullgirls, has some very obvious fighting game DNA. There are moments when it does take advantage of my mistakes. But it very, very rarely makes me feel punished.
Despite its fighting game roots, Indivisible is a self-proclaimed successor to Valkyrie Profile. It’s a 2D platformer that transitions into Active Time Battle (turn-based… ish combat) when you encounter enemies. You smack back with the four face buttons — each represented by an on-screen character. With the exception of Ajna, the central protagonist, you can swap these units in and out more-or-less at will. And each comes with different abilities.
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Zebei, for instance, can sacrifice damage to archer-ize swathes of enemies on the ground. Or he can attack from above to concentrate his arrows on a single target. Dhar can’t use low attacks at all, but he can sacrifice an action to multiply the power behind future strikes. And it gets far more esoteric than that. Other skills produce healing trails on the ground, follow-up attacks that let you hit twice per action, and delayed dive bombs that do more damage the longer you wait. Between it all, you also have to block incoming hits. It really feels like an JRPG with fighting game bouts instead of traditional battles.
I should hate it. Don’t get me wrong: I love RPGs. But I am downright Roger Rabbit at fighting games: totally oblivious to frames. Something about them does tickle the back of my brain, whispering sweet nothings about ultra combos and footsies, but that’s never translated into actual skill. I bounce off every one of them harder than somebody named “SatsuiNoHomo” flings me through stage transitions.
I get knocked around a fair bit in Indivisible, too. Enemies hit hard, positioning matters, and even blocking isn’t a guarantee you won’t get ground to dust. But the game gets something so, so right about introducing these concepts to a neophyte. It’s quick.
I’m talking about the load times. They’re basically nonexistent in Indivisible. If you lose a fight, you restart inches away on-screen. If you fail a jumping puzzle, you checkpoint right back where you started before your body hits the ground. Even saving my game takes two button presses and about one second of my time. It’s the kind of quality-of-life detail that I wish every game had. And it makes or breaks one like Indivisible.
There is no “punishment” in the more traditional video game sense — of losing time, or even any progress, to static screens. Instead I can go back into battle, mistakes fresh in my mind, and correct old errors. The only other games I can think of with similar swiftness are “splatformers” like Celeste and Super Meat Boy. But those are about rote memorization of a single, correct pattern. While it doesn’t pit me against human players, Indivisible still has enough of that fighting game-style unpredictability. I’m not memorizing a pattern. I’m having my thinking corrected. It doesn’t feel like being punished, the way going online in Mortal Kombat or Guilty Gear does, but like a stern instruction instead.
There are other, similarly pleasant details, too. Enemies attack different party members, for instance. That requires defending in different ways — just like high or low blocks in fighting games. Except Indivisible telegraphs them a second early with blazing red arrows. When I do miss a block, I know exactly where and why. Those lines are much more readable than esoteric seven-frame animations that change depending on which of 48 characters you match up against. Indivisible comes with a fighting game background, via Skullgirls, but doesn’t carry that presentational baggage.
The game still has its quirks. Jumping puzzles can be troublesome; some boss fights are a little too long; certain abilities aren’t as clear as they could be. But any failure, for any reason, feels like a catching your second wind, rather than having it knocked out of you. That makes it so much easier to dust myself off and do it all over again.
If anyone is getting punished, it’s the forces of darkness that have to deal with me. They don’t get a break. Oh, no. Because I’m going to be right back in their faces all over again, ready to have some lady shoot magic water out of her hair — or an old warrior slap them around with his turban that turns into a whip. There are all kinds of possibilities. And I’m going to find the right one to use at the right moment. You can count on that.