October 8, 2019
Xbox One, PC
Indivisible is a hybrid that sounds like a dream come true to a very specific subset of gamers (me included), with side-scrolling exploration reminiscent of the Metroid series and a combat system inspired by the cult classic Valkyrie Profile. The potential of that combination is what led to Indivisible’s crowdfunding success back in 2015. It was exciting then to imagine the harmonious blending of these concepts, but four years later, Indivisible no longer exists in that realm of pure possibilities. Reality has taken its toll here, and none of Indivisible’s promising pieces fit together exactly right.
The game tells the story of Ajna – a girl who must defeat an ancient evil with the assistance of the friends she makes along the way. The plot is simple and predictable, which isn’t necessarily bad; combat and exploration are bigger points of emphasis, but each one provides fun and frustration in equal measure.
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Most of your time is spent navigating Indivisible’s 2D world with an expanding array of mobility-related powers. Though Ajna’s moveset is initially limited, you earn new tricks at a satisfying pace. I also appreciate that so many of them have a significant impact on how you move, and aren’t just glorified keys. For instance, you don’t get a green laser that opens green doors; Ajna learns cool maneuvers like super-speed, air-dashing, and teleportation – all of which help you reach previously inaccessible areas and collectibles. When the platforming gets especially complex, the game feels almost like puzzler that requires both rhythm and concentration. At its best, Indivisible reminded me of the 2018 platformer Celeste, asking players to string together an elaborate series of moves in order to avoid hazards and reach out-of-the-way places.
However, the exploration is rarely at its best. Backtracking is a frequent issue, forcing you to revisit the same areas or retrace your steps to leave after an objective is complete. That may be part of the Metroid-inspired formula, but the places you visit don’t have enough going on to hold your interest. To be clear: Developer Lab Zero Games (the studio behind Skullgirls) did a wonderful job with the art and character designs. The world has a gorgeous hand-painted style, and the animations look great. The problem is the environments don’t give you enough interesting things to do. This makes retreading familiar ground feel boring and routine, even with the fast-travel options at your disposal. During my first visit to a mountain focused almost exclusively on platforming challenges, I was thrilled. But that sensation wore off when I had to play through the area a second time, and then a third, with just a few new paths to change up the routine.
Beating up monsters is your primary distraction as you head toward your destinations. The clever combat system has your four party members assigned to different face buttons, so you can send them in individually or as a group by tapping their corresponding buttons. You can also modify these commands, like pressing up at the same time in order to perform a launcher, or pressing down to use a unique ability. Battles happen in real time right on the terrain where they are initiated, so you also need to block with careful timing when enemies attack in order to mitigate damage. This unique combat system takes time to fully understand, but I had fun trying out different character combinations (you can recruit over 20 allies) to see how their attacks synergize for maximum effect. Can I launch enemies with my botanist and keep them aloft with my archer long enough for my chainsaw-wielding chef to start her spin attack?
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I only wish the answer to that question actually mattered. Even if you develop the exact timing needed to maximize your damage, Indivisible isn’t challenging enough to reward that expertise. Defense is disproportionately critical compared to offense; as long as you’re timing your blocks well and doing basic guard breaks, you can basically button-mash through most regular fights. That’s less entertaining, but it points to a bigger issue: Indivisible doesn’t reward you for learning its intricacies. You progress and earn experience regardless of how you win, so when victory seems assured, you don’t have a reason to experiment with finer mechanics like unsatisfying super moves or characters with unconventional combat styles.
Indivisible has high and low points when you’re fighting or running around, but the cascade of minor inconveniences and technical issues remains consistent throughout. They don’t seem like much individually, they build up over the approximately 25-hour adventure and make the whole journey feel surprisingly unpolished. I had to reload my game when one of my party members got hung up on a platform on her way back to the party after an attack. Another reload was required when I got trapped in a wall. I stood on invisible platforms, got ejected from combat due to environmental flukes (only to receive no XP for my effort), and was unable to talk to the fortune-teller who was supposed to tell me where to go next. Some seemingly important fights are literally over in seconds, while the final boss is a precise and aggravating endurance bout that doesn’t even rely on the standard combat system. Instead of ending on a gratifying note, your big climactic encounter is just a brutal disappointment.
Indivisible is full of ambitious ideas and uneven execution. When it succeeds, you see glimpses of the fantastic game it could have been – but those flashes never last long enough for the dream to take shape. What you’re left with is an experience full of noteworthy successes and confusing failures, and like the game’s title suggests, they are all too intertwined to separate.
Summary: When Indivisible succeeds, you see glimpses of the fantastic game it could have been – but those flashes never last long enough for the dream to take shape.
Concept: A beautiful action/RPG that draws on classic inspirations, with an emphasis on a unique battle system and devious platforming challenges
Graphics: Amazing art and animation do a great job bringing the events to life. However, some important moments aren’t visually represented through cutscenes, which gives the storytelling a low-budget vibe for certain developments
Sound: Excellent music and solid voice performances give the world and cast plenty of character
Playability: With a few minor situational exceptions, the controls for both combat and platforming are responsive and easy to use. That’s good, since proper timing is a major part of the gameplay
Entertainment: When Indivisible is good, it reminds me of some of my favorite games. But it hits those heights only rarely, and is usually pulled down by tedium, repetition, and other issues.
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