We’re living in a golden age of “spiritual successors,” where dormant series and sub-genres are allowed to live again in concept, if not in name. It’s pretty awesome.
It was therefore only a matter of time before a studio built an RPG that tips its helm to Square Enix’s 1999 cult hit, Valkyrie Profile. Lab Zero’s answer to the long-neglected property, Indivisible, is ready to bash, hack, and burn its way into your heart after a lengthy development process, and thankfully, it’s largely worth the wait. A few rough edges, particularly with the game’s platforming elements, keep it from excellence. But there’s no denying Indivisible has style, charm, and joy in every pixel of its gorgeous locales and colorful monsters.
You play through Indivisible as Ajna, a cheerful young girl who goes through her obligatory RPG life change when soldiers suddenly burn down her village. The tragic event spurs Ajna into a typical revenge quest, but everything spirals out of control and Ajna inadvertently winds up waking up a goddess of destruction. Ajna sets out on a journey to correct her whoopsie, and she collects a passel of friends and skills on her way.
Indivisible isn't a pure-blooded RPG. As with Valkyrie Profile, your platforming skills matter almost as much as your fighting prowess. Towns and dungeons are all presented in 2D, where crossing gaps and reaching new heights requires you to master wall-jumps and a tricky maneuver called the Axe Hang. When Ajna leaps, she can whack her axe to cling to a wall, after which she can leap one more time. It might take you awhile you get used to hangin' with Ajna's axe, but rest assured it's a vital skill. As the game progresses, you're often required to combine the Axe Hang with other skills Ajna learns, like a move that lets her spring to new heights with the aid of a spear. Indivisible's mandatory gymnastics take some work to master, but once you have everything committed to muscle memory, you'll be leaping, sliding, and hanging tough like a natural.
Indivisible's platforming is fine, but its battle system is the game's brightest star. When Ajna instigates battle by hitting an enemy (or being ambushed), she enters battle mode with three other friends. Each fighter's actions are linked to a corresponding button on the controller, and the same buttons are used to block incoming enemy attacks. It's easy enough to button-mash your way through early fights, but before long it becomes necessary to fight with care. Some enemies are shielded for example, and the only way to break through their defenses is to execute a high attack (pressing an action button in conjunction with "up" on the control pad), then a low attack (pressing the button again in conjunction with "down"). Other enemies can only take damage if you juggle them with chains of high attacks. With good timing, Ajna and her friends can rack up enormous combos that devastate foes.
Mastering Indivisble's battle system is one of its greatest pleasures. I admittedly found it a finger-tangling endeavor at first, but the more I practiced and experimented, the more I enjoyed myself. It helps that Ajna collects friends like a crow collects shiny objects. There are a whole lot of fighters who are willing to accompany the strange girl on her quest, and you're bound to find a party that works for you. Two of my favorite fighters are Razmi, a monotone shaman who attacks with a fiery tiger spirit, and Kushi, a tiny girl who's technically a falconer, but her "falcon" is actually a roc named Altuin that's three times her size.
Razmi and Kushi are good fighters with great secondary skills (Razmi can heal the party, which is vital during some of Indivisible's heated boss battles), but I was first drawn to them because they exemplify another one of Indivisible's great strengths: Its imaginative character designs and settings. Lab Zero Games' hand-drawn graphics take you and Ajna to cities and towns inspired by real-world locales in Thailand, Britain, Mexico, and India. The enemies you beat up reflect their surroundings, too. My favorite critter is a gremlin-like rodent that scurries around the streets of the Iron Kingdom (read: London) and nibbles nervously on gears in lieu of cheese. The unparalleled charm and imagination of Indivisible's visuals is enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack by Secret of Mana composer Hiroki Kikuta. It's good to hear Kikuta's love for woodwinds shine in another RPG.
Indivisible's strong battle system and visuals help carry the experience across some of its weaker aspects. The game's camera often becomes your biggest foe during its platforming sections. Sometimes it slides too far to the right or left, or it doesn't pan out far enough to let you see hazards below you, forcing you to take a leap of faith—onto a bed of spikes, more often than not. Falling onto hazards saps your hit points, which becomes a problem with your next enemy encounter. Thankfully, death never sets you back too far, but it's still frustrating when it happens because the camera decided to take a nice stroll when you needed it most.
Indivisible's map is also confusing. Portions of it are splashed with colors, and I still have no idea what most of these colors mean. The sparse map legend is of little help. Worse, the map doesn't show blockades that Ajna can clear with skills she gradually acquires. Indivisible has Metroidvania elements. You surmount previously inaccessible areas with new abilities, but the map isn't much help in telling you what to use, and where.
It took me a little while to find my groove with Indivisible. I've never played Valkyrie Profile (pssst, Square Enix, maybe you can do something that'll help me with that), so its battle system was completely new to me. I also had a hard time getting used to the Axe Hang, and I still can't squeeze much useful information out of its map.
But the more I travelled with Ajna, the more comfortable I became with Indivisible's unique way of moving and fighting. I started to look forward to meeting crazy new friends, and found myself amazed at the background details in every town: People hawking merchandise, ermine-like rodents sniffing through greasy bins, mothers scolding children, and innumerable other signs of life that exist only to bring more color to Indivisible's soul. It's a delightful little RPG overall. It's imperfect and a bit messy at times but to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, not every adventure can be a pony ride in May.
Indivisible's unique blend of platforming and action-heavy monster fights will take some getting used to, but everything feels good once it clicks into place. Indivisible has some problems with its camera and map, but you'll be too busy marveling at its wonderful graphics to feel much of a sting.