I enjoy smaller, independent developers. Large publishers and developers operate on a certain mental calculus; there's specific types of titles they'll support and risks they'll take. There are whole genres that existed in the previous generation that simply don't get play anymore. Some titles with original concepts only get one or two shots to prove themselves.
With an indie, the math is different. Budgets are smaller, teams are more compact, and they're able to try new things. Or bring back an old idea that deserves another shot.
That's what Indivisible is. The title comes from Lab Zero Games, the folks behind 2012's independent fighter Skullgirls. Skullgirls succeeded because it was great 2D fighter from a group of creators that understood what they loved about the genre. They were able to execute upon that love with some tight mechanics and kickin' hard-drawn art.
The easiest way to explain Indivisible is to point to a lost gem: Tri-Ace's Valkyrie Profile. This role-playing game was published by Enix on the PlayStation back in 1999. Valkyrie Profile is remembered primarily for its combat system. You control a party of four characters, with each character being mapped to a face button on the PlayStation controller. Hitting a face button causes the assigned character to attack. The focus is party composition, using your four chosen characters to create combination attacks and exploit enemy weaknesses.
In-between the combat itself, Valkyrie Profile plays out like a 2D platformer, with the player controlling a valkyrie named Lenneth. Lenneth would explore dungeons, leaping across platforms, freezing enemies, and solving puzzles to proceed. It was essentially a story-heavy Metroidvania with a unique turn-based battle system.
Square Enix followed up the first game with the slighty-different Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria on PlayStation 2 and the remake Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth on PlayStation Portable in 2006. The last two entries, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume on Nintendo DS and Valkyrie Anatomia: The Origin for mobile devices, used the fiction of the first games, but with completely different gameplay mechanics. Square Enix has all but given up on the series and Valkyrie Profile Director Yoshiharu Gotanda has become a lead programmer on the Star Ocean titles since then.
That's where Lab Zero Games comes in, taking the basic concept of Valkyrie Profile's mechanics and overlaying a new narrative and cast of characters. Indivisible is a clear homage to that older game, which is great, because we're likely never getting another sequel.
In Indivisible, your primary character is Anja, a young girl blessed (or cursed?) with mysterious powers. Like Lenneth, Anja is the character you control during the platforming section of the game, gaining new abilities that allow her to open up new paths forward. Early in the Backer Demo I played, Anja gains an axe, letting her chop through vines that are covering certain doors. Anja herself is fast and fluid, able to jump, wall jump, and slide with the best of them.
Visually, Lab Zero Games continues to do the Lord's work. The character designs of Anja and her comrades bleed personality, from the arrogant pirate queen Baozhai to Tungar, the stoic, hearty swordsman wielding a malleable blade. The characters seem to draw inspiration from different cultures, with Indian, Greek, Chinese, and Arabian influences playing out across the cast available in the demo. That sense of personality extends to the animations, with Lab Zero carrying forward the excellent 2D animation that put the studio on the map in the first place. The world itself is an interesting mix of 3D models made to look almost like painted backgrounds. Seriously, Indivisible is a game I could look at all day.
While the combat draws from Valkyrie Profile, Lab Zero is putting its own spin on it. Valkyrie Profile was entirely turn-based, with your side making moves, followed by the enemy's turn. Here, each character has a certain number of action gems: attacking drains a gem, which then refills over time. Players can attack directly, using a button alone or in tandem with up or down on the directional stick for alternate moves like launching attacks. Blocking is done by holding down a character's corresponding button.
Your party has a shared resource called Iddhi. Attacking creates Iddhi, defending drains it, and your character-specific special attacks, called Iddhi Powers, eat an entire segment of the meter. Iddhi Powers are pretty important, as they include things like healing or elemental attacks. So combat is a matter of real-time management. Who's being attacked and who has to defend? Is it better to take the hit so as to not lose Iddhi? Are you combo-ing properly with your available characters to maximize damage?
The Backer Preview is built primarily around showing off the combat and exploration, so it lacks a story. New characters are just standing in your path and bringing them into the team is as easy as touching them. Once they've joined your party, not only do you have access to all of their unique movesets, they also offer commentary in the brief cutscenes. The surly shaman Razmi—she's the one wearing the tiger skin—was a highlight during my time with the preview. She's such a wonderful, sarcastic contrast to Ajna's upbeat naivete that she instantly won my heart.
The original Valkyrie Profile offered 24 playable characters and a quick look online shows me that Indivisible is going to beat that with one more character. That's a total roster of 25, which should offer players a lot of room to find their favorites, especially with the strong highlights in this demo.
In this early Backer Preview, Indivisible has a very strong core. The art is gorgeous, the exploration element works very well, and the combat system looks like it's trying to improve on what Valkyrie Profile laid down back in 1999. The last key here is the game's overall tale. The dialog in this preview points to a team of solid writers, it's just a matter of what kind of story we can expect. Currently, Indivisible is on the lighter side, so it remains to be seen whether the game will dig deep and offer some real emotion. Still, this game is shaping up to be excellent.
Unfortunately, we have a bit of a wait as Indivisible has been delayed into the first half of 2019. Lab Zero is moving full steam ahead and I can't wait to play the final product. Indivisible is currently planned for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.