America - Front
America - Back
By Jacob James 12th Oct 2019 | 1,214 views
Indie studio Lab Zero Games has crafted one of the most impressive genre defying mashups to date. Indivisible mixes side-scrolling metroidvania exploration, Valkyrie Profile-inspired combat, and Celeste-level platforming all into one package. Best of all, no one feature takes a back seat to another, and every element shines as brightly as the next. With a colorful cast of over 20 unique characters and beautiful hand-drawn animations, this is hands down one of the best games you’ll experience this year.
To give you a sense of what we're dealing with here, check out the opening animation by Studio TRIGGER and Titmouse:
How incredible was that?! It reminds me of some of my favorite cartoons, straight out of the 80s. Having adequately set the scene now, you play as Ajna, the fearless teen with a rebellious streak. Her story begins with some hands-on training with her father, Indr. With her past shrouded in mystery the petulant teenager demands her father answer lingering questions about her mom and her past. Those answers would have to wait for another day, though, as her village comes under attack by Dhar, the newest Lieutenant in Ravannavar’s army.
When Ajna finds Dhar has slain her father, something awakens in her that has laid dormant for 16 years. With her mysterious new ability, she traps Dhar in her mind, making him the first “Incarnation” that she absorbs. By absorbing people, Ajna effectively recruits them as companions, allowing her to utilize them in battle. The “Inner Realm” of Anja’s mind is where these people reside now, and Indivisible does a good job of poking fun through character dialogue at just how nonsensical the premise is, never taking itself too seriously. By holding the circle button and pressing up, you can enter and exit the inner realm at any time. While there, you can speak with companions and level up your attack and defense abilities as the game goes on.
From this point on, Ajna embarks on a journey to exact her revenge on Ravannavar, but she won’t be able to go it alone, and may even discover an even bigger threat looming large, as is usually the case. Throughout her travels she will meet and befriend 20+ fellow adventures, each with their own interesting personalities and exclusive battle traits. Razmi, for example, is a reclusive shamaness who lived in the forest near Ajna’s home village of Ashwat. Her awkward, dark, and snarky attitude was one of my personal favorites, actually causing me to laugh aloud at times. She’s not much of a people person so she consults with Bom, her tiger spirit that lives in her lantern, while she wears his hide like a cloak. Her battle skills include a fire attack, a slowing debuff hex, and a medium group heal, making her an indispensable member of my party.
Ajna is joined by up to three other party members in battle, each one being mapped to the face buttons on the controller. Pressing their corresponding button will make them attack, while tapping that same button at the exact moment an enemy strikes will execute a “Clean Block”, nulling the attack and actually healing you a little. Encounters flow at a fluid pace, allowing allies and enemies to attack at any given time. Each character has a neutral attack, an Up-Attack, and a Down-Attack, hence the fighting genre reference. It’s advisable to chain your ally attacks together to combo for greater damage. You’ll start off with two attacks per character, but the number of attacks will increase as you level up with gems found throughout the game world.
Combat felt a little overwhelming to me at first, but as time went on I was pulling of combos in the hundreds. I was also a big fan of your health being fully restored after each battle too, eliminating the need for frequent and mundane health top-offs. This kept the pace of the game moving along nicely.
If things ever become too frantic, you can hold R1 to make Ajna “focus”, the screen will darken, and the battle time will stop for everyone on the field. You can use that extra time to switch targets, check companion health meters, or just generally catch your breath.
A power meter fills at the top of the screen whenever successful attacks or blocks occur. This meter is broken up into sections, each bar enabling a power attack. More bars can be obtained by gathering the aforementioned gems and leveling up your attack.
There are many other elements of combat that echo the fighting game genre, like being able to “juggle” enemies by knocking them up into the air and keeping them there with successive hits, likewise increasing the damage done. Sometimes you may have to break an enemy’s guard, dodge a “grab” attack, or even counter a magic spell.
Traversal through the word is a pure joy. I marveled at just how gorgeous each environment was, and how perfectly the character animations of Ajna and company looked moving through them. Indivisible employs side-scrolling to get around, which always felt snappy and responsive as I transitioned from one area to the next. Holding up on the left analog stick brings up your map, with each segment being revealed as you pass through it. In general, the map does a fine job of relaying relevant information. I did, however, experience some minor discrepancies here and there. Like a walled off area on the map allowing me to continue outside the map’s boundaries.
The world of Indivisible begins along a linear path, but midway through the game you’ll acquire a ship, from a self-proclaimed “Queen of the Pirates” that will allow fast travel from port to port. This really fleshes out the world's connected feel and further deepens the sense of exploration.
From the onset Ajna can only run, jump, crouch, and dash. As she grows and absorbs new followers, she’ll gain access to new weapons and abilities. Each new addition will open up further avenues for exploring that were previously inaccessible. The Axe is a weapon gained early on that allows Ajna to cut down obstacles blocking her path, for example. But be prepared - for every gained entry point there is usually another gated off area that requires a new ability or weapon to access. It never felt too off-putting, until the final hours of the game, when some excessive backtracking gave way to frustration, as I knew I would have to return to an area in a few hours, but only after obtaining the necessary tool set.
If all that weren’t enough, Indivisible is also a solid platformer experience. Using weapons and abilities obtained throughout the game, you’ll be climbing ledges, wall-jumping like a ninja, air-dashing between crumbling platforms, and yes, even pogo-stick bouncing with your spear just like Scrooge McDuck! This game truly has it all.
I’m not usually one for overtly tough platforming challenges, and thankfully Indivisible keeps the difficulty in the fair range. Some sections required an extra attempt or two, but most areas felt fun to progress through and not a thumb-numbing, obscenity-shouting slog fest. The final stages of the game do put you through your paces and ask you to be well accustomed with all your skills and abilities in order to prevail. The climb to the top of the mountain is reminiscent of Celeste, though the checkpoint locations are plentiful and in forgiving locations.
The audio in many games I play is just that - sound. Not often do I remark to myself how moving and melodic certain tunes are, or even mention them in my reviews. But Indivisible does such a good job of evoking the mood of the environments I was in, I felt I'd be remiss not to mention it here. In the process of doing so, I discovered why I was so captivated by the game’s soundtrack; because the legendary Hiroki Kikuta, of the Secret of Mana, was the game's composer. One of my all-time favorite games, the Secret of Mana has such a fantastic soundtrack that, to this day, I can still hear the score in my mind. Each area of Indivisible is brought to life as much by the music as it is by the visuals, thanks to Hiroki Kikuta.
With over 25+ hours invested in Indivisible I can honestly say this is one of my favorites games this year. Everything about it exemplifies quality, charm, and creativity. To include so many different genre types usually means one or more area will suffer because of it. However impossible, Indivisible proves it is possible to pull off. Stellar voice acting, inspiring music, challenging platforming, robust combat, gorgeous aesthetic, diverse character roster, rewarding exploration… Indivisible.
Jacob James grew up in the golden era of 8- and 16-bit games, forever shaping and molding him as a life-long gamer. Some favorites include: Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy and Super Mario RPG. Jacob graduated FullSail University with a degree in Computer Animation, so he has a working knowledge and understanding of what it takes to make these imaginative and immersive games he spends so much time playing and reviewing. You can follow him at www.LiveLootLevel.com