I credit my earliest entry into the JRPG genre with Lunar: The Silver Star for the Sega CD. Developed by Game Arts and localized by Working Designs, Lunar and its sequel hold a special place because of their strong storytelling and familiar turn-based RPG mechanics. Integral to my decade-long fascination with the series was its cast of phenomenal characters. Rich in personality and sometimes struggling under the weight of the emotional baggage created from their meaningful backstories, the hours spent adventuring with them flew by much too quickly. At the time, I thought RPGs were mostly a numbers game, boosting character levels so that they may wield powerful, earth-shattering weapons. Lunar and its sequel taught me to care about the main characters and see them as something more than things to fill out the party slots with.
I bring all this up because all of the warm, happy memories I have for Lunar came rushing back the moment I started playing Lab Zero Game’s platforming RPG, Indivisible. Beginning with an exquisite, anime-inspired piece of animation that highlights our hero and her adventures, I found myself magically transported to those days spent with Lunar, reveling in the character-driven adventure that was promised to me by a fully animated intro movie. While the name doesn’t quite paint a picture of what this game is all about, Indivisible is a fantastic and really fun adventure, overflowing with high-quality production values and challenging but cool combat mechanics from the studio that brought you Skullgirls. The level of craft, quality, and polish in Indivisible makes it hard to believe that this is Lab Zero’s sophomore title.
Ajna’s call to adventure is well-trodden territory: in an act of pure evil, her village is completely incinerated at the hands of a powerful overlord. Ashwat was quaint and unassuming, making the order for its senseless destruction by the malevolent Lord Ravannavar hurt Ajna down to her core. Fueling her rage further is that her father - the one tenuous grasp Ajna has to the circumstances surrounding her birth - is brutally murdered by Dhar, the newest general in Ravannavar’s army. Ajna’s quest for revenge takes a curious turn because she has the unnatural ability to absorb people into her internal meditative space and call upon them, Pokemon-like, in battle. From a gameplay perspective, the many, many, many characters Ajna allies herself with are ultimately a means to an end but the story gives the entire cast room to grow, a voice during conversations, and space to express themselves in ways that make them endearing and relevant.
Indivisible features a side-scrolling, non-linear open world filled with numerous routes, many of which require Ajna to acquire a certain weapon or item to bypass natural barriers. In other words, the game is a Metroidvania with RPG mechanics. Indivisible uses a simplistic approach to exploration that extends other areas of the design. There is no equipment to hunt down, loot to collect, gear to equip, or even health items to hoard for later encounters. Instead of equipping new weapons, the party gets stronger and can attack more frequently as their character levels increase. In a way, the absence of usual RPG tropes is beneficial because of how much it streamlines the gameplay and not having to worry about inventory clutter or that feeling of “should I sell this or will I need it for later” is a load off my shoulders. That said, I felt that it can be difficult to gauge just how strong your character is capable of being without new weapons to boost their attack strength against Ravannavar’s minions.
As Ajna explores the world, she regularly encounters enemies and boss creatures attempting to stop her from her globe-trotting quest. You’re free to build the party using characters Ajna meets with through the story, switching them in and out as necessary before picking a fight (as they cannot be changed in the middle of battle). Each party member is mapped to one of the four face buttons that function as their primary attack. Instead of menus that let you choose between physical and magic-based actions, special abilities are triggered by holding the analog stick or D-Pad in one of the cardinal directions and hitting the attack button. These abilities do things like heal the party, set up an enemy for an air juggle, or use a magic spell. Not all characters are created equal and each brings unique skills to the table, allowing you some flexibility in what sort of attack options you want in battle. Zebei, for example, is an archer who is great at launching a flurry of arrows to hit multiple enemies or deal nearly double the amount of damage to a single, larger foe. Razmi, who is the best character in the game as far as I’m concerned, can cast fire spells that toss creatures in the air. Ginseng can’t hit very hard but each strike increases the strength of healing potions which could potentially heal the party completely. On top of these basic moves, each hit against the enemy slowly fills up a meter that can be used to trigger a character’s ultimate attack or used to revive one that has lost all their hit points.
What makes Indivisible’s real-time combat so interesting is learning how to use each character’s abilities to maximize damage. Some encounters shake things up by introducing special conditions that dramatically change how you approach the fight. An early boss can only lose hit points after its been tossed in the air and knowing how to plan out a sequence of button presses so that you can keep it from hitting the ground as much as possible is more fun than spamming the same attack over and over. It takes a little time but once you’ve got the combat system down, there’s a nice sense of rhythm to each encounter that’s far more fun than any menu-based system.
There is a bit of down time you have to sit through while waiting for the character’s attacks to recharge. It’s extremely likely that your foes will fight back at this point and put you on the defensive. The game’s blocking system is one of the more challenging aspects to combat because it boils down to learning the timing of attack patterns. This makes the Metroid-style backtracking worth your time because it grants opportunities to study and learn enemy behavior. When the enemy strikes, you’ve got a limited window to brace for whatever they throw at you. In some cases, it’s a simple two-hit sword slash or a constant stream of hits that can be harder to block due to speed and frequency. The mechanic can be tricky but if done right, you can significantly reduce the damage taken from a powerful hit down to a single point.
I really enjoyed playing through Indivisible because of its inventive and largely interactive combat system and a rich, multi-path world to explore, many of which hide secret rooms containing special gems that can increase Ajna’s power. What is sure to attract a lot of eyes to the game, however, is the artistically high-end production values. I haven’t been this wow’d by an aesthetic since Studio MDHR’s Cuphead. Lab Zero Games has collected a strong contingent of talented artists because the hand-drawn art style of the game is stunning. Screenshots don’t do this game justice at all.
The meticulousness of drawn backdrops and interactive assets allows the game’s different environments, such as lush forests, cold and desolate mountain ranges, and underground caverns, to look incredibly detailed both in the fore- and backgrounds. Each zone has its own visual personality with a really cool lived-in look and feel. As pretty as the environments are, I’m also a huge fan of the character designs which are represented as full-sized character portraits during scenes where Ajna and her friends chat to each other. These portraits change depending on the type of emotions being expressed in the scene, be it anger, sadness, or excitement. The in-game sprites used during the platforming bits and combat bear a strong resemblance to the portraits, leaving no detail hidden away in between the different models. What I love most is that no two characters look the same. The different costumes, skin tones, and body structures go a long way in making you feel like you’re going on this globe-spanning adventure, even if dramatically different environments are connected by a few small passages. You can tell a lot about a character before they open their mouths, which is something I found to be really cool.
I can’t have a discussion about Indivisible’s great cast without expressing my awe at the cavalcade of stars Lab Zero has brought in to give Ajna, Zebei, Ravannavar, Razmi and the rest of the characters their voices. The team must have connections or know people because they’ve drawn the net over the entire entertainment industry, pulling men and women whose careers have been defined by their performances in television, film, anime, video games, and stage theater performances. You might know some, like Star Trek’s Michael Dorn, Critical Role’s Matthew Mercer, and Skullgirls alum Christine Cabanos. But these people are just the tip of the iceberg of what is a massive cast of men and women who have near decades worth of voice over experience. Furthermore, Lab Zero paid a lot of attention towards diversity, pulling in many women and people of color to represent characters of different ethnic backgrounds.
Indivisible is another successful crowdsourcing project that benefited from a healthy budget and the support of a strong and active publisher, 505 Games. Even though Indivisible shares similarities to the genre, it’s not mere Metroidvania. I appreciate the game’s simplicity in spots, like not having to spend time managing inventory or party equipment, though after a few hours I wish I had more options to beef up my party beyond increasing their character levels and finding magic crystals. Combat is inventive but it takes some time to get used to. At first, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the reaction time the game demands. However, with enough practice and a calm approach - there’s no need to rush through anything despite any sense of urgency the game imparts - you’ll get the hang of it all in no time. What I found to be particularly enchanting, though, were the characters you get to interact with. They’re well-realized, easy to like, diverse, and backed by vocal performances that effortlessly draw you in. And just like Lunar The Silver Star, Ajna and her friends were the source of all joy I felt playing through the game.
Don’t let the nondescript and somewhat generic title cause you to look away. Indivisible is charming as all hell, sweetened with a bit of old school flavor, and a product of high craft in every regard.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.