Indivisible is undeniably the most-anticipated indie game of 2019. Since its crowdfunding announcement in 2013, Skullgirls fans have been salivating at the mouth given Lab Zero Games’ reputation for vivid hand-drawn animations, excellent gameplay, and responding to fan feedback to make those things even better. We were grateful for the opportunity to write a preview of the 2015 backer build of their latest project, and now, we have our hands on the full build to see if it upholds expectations!
Indivisible is a rare game that exposes the deficiencies of my ideologically Occidental education. Lab Zero Games promises a “huge fantasy world, characters and aesthetic design…inspired by various cultures and mythologies,” and they fulfill that promise, deriving the game’s themes from non-first world sources. Those like me who are invested in cultural enrichment will be in for a treat!
For those reading this section to learn about “the bad stuff,” I am marginally competent enough to recognize the Indivisible‘s Eastern religious influences. For example, Googling the protagonist’s name, “Ajna,” reveals not only a Hindu root, but also the game’s icon for iddhi. Googling an unlocked achievement, “Maha Heruka, Accepted,” retrieves Buddhist influence. My favorite character’s name can be traced to the Middle East even though she is of African descent, while an entire location is a Mesoamerican replica, complete with pyramid-like temples. Google alone cannot supplement my 36-year deficit in familiarity of faiths like Hinduism that one-billion people practice.
These elements are presented fantastically rather than ritually. This means that will be required to pray at shrines to save (accompanied by a monk’s “Ohm!” chant), and meditate at landmarks to unlock their power, while certain character and enemy designs hearken Asian influences—and I mean the entire continent, including Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and possibly Vietnam. Yes, I say possibly, because unless I had the opportunity to take college-level courses in Asian culture, I would not know otherwise. Therefore, I look forward to the articles that will be produced by fans and critics alike who will define precisely what those various cultures and mythologies are.
Even in my ignorance, Indivisible has been spiritually enlightening for me. If I do something good, it is because I believe God commands me to, or because it is a Christ-like expectation. Indivisible does not deploy an explicitly karmic system, but the plot illustrates that Anja’s actions have consequences. This parallels Christiandom where we say that one reaps what they sow.
A highlight of Indivisible is that it promotes repentance and second chances. The game recognizes that we as humans are imperfect, yet we are still capable of good and should strive to practice principles like kindness and gentleness. The game also touts the power of friendship…a concept I have not experienced recently in life, rendering Indivisible’s lessons timely and encouraging.
Indivisible is rated T for Teen, though its content is barely beyond what I would expect in an E for Everyone game. All of the violence is cartoonish, though one villain is summarily decapitated, a few rare enemies are ghoulish or monstrous in design. In terms of language, I have counted a couple of “d**ns” and one “kick***.” Plenty of men find shirts distasteful, but they are not endowed with bouncy animations like many of the large-chested women, which includes an NPC who is important enough to be a tritagonist. The character in question also has a crush who happens to be female herself.
Sixteen-year-old Ajna awakens, already late for her sparring lessons with her father. When she arrives at the training grounds, he expectedly scolds her, which she does not receive with grace. She erupts, vexed because he has yet to reveal to her many things about his past or her deceased mother. Heartbroken from Ajna’s outburst, he departs, telling her that when she is ready to speak to him with the respect he deserves. After garnering the courage to apologize, she gives pursuit, only to observe that her village is blazing. When she arrives on the scene, a man named Dhar stands atop her father’s dying body.
Enraged, she defeats Dhar, but before delivering the fatal blow, she…absorbs him into her mind. Now imprisoned within Ajna’s mind, Dhar reveals that he was conscripted by a named for a man named Rvannavar to capture strong people like herself. Ajna and Dhar mutually agree to go straight to him. Along the way, Ajna befriends and absorbs allies, enlisting them for her quest. To be brief, Ajna and her trope do eventually face off against Rvannavar, who in turn reveals an even greater threat….
Indivisible deploys more clichés than I care to see in a video game topping off in the 30-hour range, including the ol’ “bigger bad existing beyond the “big bad” trope. Ajna’s characterization as an angsty teen is the most egregious, though. Understanding that the game is intended to be a light-hearted (somewhat linear) ARPG rather than an open-world epic assaulting gamers with a barrage of ambiguous quagmires, I managed to swallow Ajna’s immaturity and tendency to believe violence solves all problems with the patience she lacks for the first three acts of the game. As she is the lead character, her actions drive the plot; her tendency to disregard the wisdom of elders even 1000 years (!!!) her senior parallels modern polemics, and the results are predictably…chaotic. As should be expected, Ajna will need to right her wrongs, making for an endgame reminiscent of 90’s sitcoms where a character does something bad, and at the end of the 24-minute show, they are sorry—except that Ajna’s penance requires at least an hour or two.
I think what would have helped immerse me to the degree where I would focus less on Ajna’s one-dimensional nature is a wiki on the lore from which the game’s themes are derived. I am confident that either Lab Zero Games or fans will assemble something post-launch, but during my playthrough, I lamented not knowing or recognizing many of the themes the development team complied to create the world of Indivisible.
At least the world of Indivisible is absolutely gorgeous! Among the settings, The Iron Kingdom exudes a steampunk penchant for robotics; Kaanul reminds me of what little I learned about the Aztecs and Mayans; Tai Krung City’s neo-Pacific island convincingly predicts what might become of fishing villages when the fish are exhausted; Ashwat is a tropical paradise. These are not the extent of the game’s locales, and yet every one of them is bustling with lively NPCs. The art team had their work cut out for them, and they hit a home-run. There is not a single NPC that I failed to speak to, and I wish that I could talk to some in the background. Others, I wish I could recruit on my team!
Speaking of Ajna’s team, the roster on Indivisible is huge, and sports the most diverse cast I have ever seen in the history of video games. Here, characters are not just brown, but unambiguously African, Asian, Hispanic, or European, with plenty of racial blends with accents in-between. I would like to highlight my favorites.
I am not usually keen on bard classes because they tend to be hybrids where a specialist would serve better, but Zahra’s design is simply irresistible, from her braids to her skirt blowing in the wind, even while indoors, to her vivacious dance as she plays music enhancing the attack power of her allies. Her other two songs enhance defense and healing, which include special animations to match her uniqueness as a character who lacks an attack. Her super forces foes to join her in dance.
The ridiculously adorable Nuna almost dances during her idle stance, and uses the power of horticulture to thrust with trees, entrap with thorned bushes, and cancel threatening attacks with a plant that sprouts as an enemy crosses over it. For her super, she blows the aged dandelion pollen puffs for a multi-attack.
Razmi is the second character who joins Ajna, but her morbid Wednesday Addams-like temperament is sure to make her a fan-favorite. I like her simply because her spirit-animal Bom hits hard, as does her supernova-like ultimate ability. Thorani is as beautiful as Baozhai says she is, but I appreciate about her most is her water elemental abilities that can be used as attacks or heals; with every attack, she creates pools of water that can be recalled to heal if an ally is standing near one, or attack nearby enemies.
I wish I could discuss Kushi and her roc or how the threat of Yan with even no arms, but I would be discussing characters forever. That said, because Indivisible impresses with some outstanding voice acting for key characters like Razmi, Ginseng, Zebi, and Baozhai, others like Tungar, Latigo, and Phoebe are introduced, and are then silent outside of battle. The contrast is conspicuous, especially during cutscenes relevant to the story, for these characters are treated as extras rather than core members. Even amidst the joy of camaraderie and fellowship, those who choose a party of allies with minimal roles in the plot will feel neglected.
The combat formula has not changed from what I stated during my experience with the backer preview: Indivisible employs a hybrid active time battle (ATB) system that requires players to wait until the (for my DS4) X, square, circle, or triangle globes are filled for the corresponding characters to take action. Finding enough special gems allows Ajna to upgrade the number of orbs every character gets, allowing for additional attacks per turn. Timing attacks so that characters strike simultaneously or juggle enemies in the air produces more iddhi, filling the bar at the top of the screen used for ultimate attacks. Overall, the combat is simple, but fun, and even though I always felt OP (even when the whole party dies, Ajna can use iddhi to resurrect herself and the rest of the party, and Nuna can self-revive), boredom can be remedied by swapping between the party of two-dozen.
As Indivisible is an ARPG that side-scrolls across 2D environments, there is platforming. At the beginning of the game, it feels perfunctory, but hidden among the basic jumping and axe-climbing is map design reminiscent of a metroidvania. During the second act, when players can choose their destination between Kaanul, Tai Krung City, and the Iron Kingdom, visiting each will unlock an ability that ameliorates Ajna’s platforming endeavors, but she will inevitably have to backtrack in every area at least once, for they all include obstacles that require all three of the unlockable traversal skills. Some backtracking is to be expected, but I experienced some Metroid: Other M influence with Ajna activating a skill only after encountering a scripted event where a member of her party says, “Oh yeah, did you know that you could do this,” and suddenly she can. Regardless, during the 3rd act and just before the fourth, Lab Zero Games delivers some masterful platforming puzzles that made me reconsider every criticism I had previously levied, showing me the kind of stuff I miss seeing from Mario games.
As I write this review, I have already pre-ordered Hiroki Kikuta’s wonderful soundtrack, and I look forward to it unlocking in full by the time readers see this review go live. Consider this my good-faith gesture in confirming that Lab Zero Games’ half-decade development cycle has been fruitful. It is rare that when a game with this large of a following lives up to the hype, but Indivisible delivers.
Review copy generously provided by Wonacott PR.
The Bottom Line
Lab Zero Games has succeeded in making Indivisible a memorable experience that will be discussed for years to come.