You’d figure that an action RPG managing to merge tight 2D platforming, thrilling combat, and a thought-provoking story would be an all but impossible task, yet Indivisible makes it look easy. Developer Lab Zero Games proved it knew its way around a fight stick with the 2012 fighting game Skullgirls, but this is its first foray into the realm of dice rolls and level-ups. The result is one of the most wildly creative RPGs I’ve played this year.
Indivisible is set in a beautiful world where myth and spirituality are as tangible as the ground beneath its people’s feet. Several years before the beginning of the story, a band of heroes banished a fearsome deity named Kala before she could bring about the apocalypse. Ajna, Indivisible’s hot-blooded teen protagonist, grew up in the peaceful years that followed the big bad’s banishment, but that calm is swiftly burnt to a cider when her village is set ablaze by invaders.
“Here we go again,” I thought, assuming Indivisible would staunchly adhere to a typical RPG hero’s journey as Ajna vowed revenge and brashly took to the open road. And while the plot is a bit trite in the early goings, it quickly grows beyond any familiar tropes and into a unique story that I came to love thanks to Ajna’s character development. Whenever a problem rears its head, her first reaction is to throat-punch it and move on, insisting that it’s her way or the highway. If she wants to be a true hero she has to confront her egoism and realize anger is a fool’s paradise. Otherwise she won’t open her third eye and access the hidden powers buried within her.
Be Water My Friend
Indivisible is built on two types of gameplay: 2D platforming while exploring and party-based fights with cooldown-centric combat reminiscent of Valkyrie Profile’s turn-based battle system. It was impressive how well the two blended early on, but I was worried Indivisible might come apart at the seams as it juggled increasingly intricate level design and more combo-dense fights. It was a pleasant surprise when my concerns turned out to be for naught, and the mix was intoxicating from start to finish.
Its Metroidvania styled platforming is nothing to scoff at. The first real test came in the form of an underground temple full of wall-jumping and leaps over hazardous spike pits. It made for fun navigation, but was still pretty standard platforming fodder – that is, until I found the axe, which lets Ajna scale up walls more easily. Suddenly, more of the temple opened up because I had a tool that increased mobility and cleared obstacles. A doorway covered in tree roots isn’t such a big deal when you can chop away wood.
That’s what makes the mobility items you find throughout Indivisible so much fun: they always have a dual purpose. Take the spear, for example: your first inclination might be to waltz up to enemies and stick’em with the pointy end, which you can do, but it’s more useful as a means to pole vault Ajna up to high ledges that she couldn’t reach before. Retreading previous areas and trying out new toys to see what hidden pathways you might’ve missed the first time around gets a lot of mileage out of the world.
It’s also an excellent excuse to admire all the breathtaking landscapes. From bustling Arabian-inspired marketplaces to stone-walled temples in the jungle, Indivisible is a total knockout. I’ve never seen a game so elegantly weave 2D sprites with 3D backgrounds – it’s to the point that there’s no contrast between them whatsoever.
Sometimes, though, you have to stop exploring and throw hands – and that’s when it becomes apparent that Indivisible’s combat is brilliant. It’s a hybrid between real-time and turn-based in which each of your four party members is assigned to a face button – so pressing ‘X’ will make whichever character is tied to that button attack or block, depending on if the enemy is attacking at the time. Turns are linked to the entire party as a whole rather than an individual character, so you can use anyone repeatedly – or not at all. Conversely, if you want to madly tap the face buttons and send everyone in for an all out-actually, you can! There’s plenty of room for experimentation, too, encouraging you to think tactfully about your party makeup because each character has vastly different utility from one another.
Synergy is the name of the game here, and a particular duo jived so well that they were rarely absent from my party: Thorani, the hydromancer with a healing touch, and Baozhai, the damage-dealing pirate queen. All of Thorani’s abilities center around water, so whenever she casts attacks, puddles are left scattered about the area. She can then make it so these puddles damage foes that step in them and, conversely, heal party members that do the same. Baozhai, on the other hand, needs to plunder booty from enemies to up her attack power. Witnessing her fire away bombs and gold from her shoulder cannons while she laughs at the poor sod on the receiving end is a devilishly satisfying sight to behold.
I adored pairing these two because their skill sets complement each other so well. I’d toss some rejuvenating puddles on the ground as Thorani then follow up with some gold-snatching as Baozhai, causing the latter to get the lion’s share of the healing while gathering the materials necessary to up her damage. You can even time this plan of attack so Baozhai bombs enemies before they get a chance to clap back. The Thorani-Baozhai tag team is just one example of how much depth there is in the combat system, but there are a least 20 characters to be found throughout the world, each with their own distinct move sets. Some characters arrive naturally by progressing through the story, while others might require you to complete a side quest or two before they join your fellowship. I was addicted to gathering them, and even after Indivisible’s curtain call 30 hours later I started a new playthrough right away to see if I could find the character’s I’d missed out on the first time.
The Mind’s Eye
I felt downright spoiled by the cast, each of them willing to hop into the party and share the load. My favorite personality is Ramzi, an overtly cynical pyromancer who’s one shade of goth eyeshadow away from being a My Chemical Romance groupie. She enjoys the finer things in life, such as sticking bugs in people’s mouths or setting the victims of her shenanigans on fire if they don’t indulge her bug-eating curiosities. That said, she’ll often settle for just dragging her companions – for example, one of my party members donned a scarf that obscured their face, and Ramzi’s first inclination was to suggest they were hiding the fact that they had no lips. Much to her chagrin, they did, in fact, have lips. It’s one of the few games ever to make me belly laugh at regular intervals.
Indivisible’s writing knows when a stern talking-to is required just as much as when to be silly. Ajna is put through the wringer, learning to love imperfections about herself while opening up to her companions and lean on them in times of need. All the emotional high notes truly hit home due in large part to the incredible 2D sprite work and great voice acting. Despite its tact with heavy subject matter the storyline could get almost too real at times, so I appreciated the odd bug-eating gag to lighten the mood. That tonal juxtaposition works, and in the 30 hours I spent with Indivisible, the humor never took away from the gravity of the story. Not even when a chainsword-wielding surfer girl shouts “RIP AND TEAR” while dicing her foes. Oh, and the chainsword’s blade is made of shark’s teeth. It’s glorious.
The biggest weakness is that combat difficulty has stiff peaks and valleys that can be jarring as all hell. Enemies often have enormous health pools, which results in some battles that are challenging not due to exciting mechanics, but because you’re just fighting a war of attrition. Then, in the last third of the campaign, everything became a cakewalk for some inexplicable reason. Relentlessly mashing buttons didn’t result in victories early on, but suddenly that becomes a sound strategy. Sure, my characters were stronger after leveling up, but your adversaries should rise to the challenge in that sense too. But even if Indivisible drops the ball with regards to its difficulty curve, that’s by far its most significant sin, and I was still enjoying myself the whole way through.