Indivisible, the action RPG from Lab Zero Games arrived on Nintendo Switch a little unexpectedly early last week and we took this action-adventure for a turn or two in our review.
Sometimes when it comes to adventure, two heads are better than one. Sonic and Tails, Ash and Pikachu, Mario and Luigi all spring to mind. This time around though there’s plenty of character carried on one set of shoulders as Indivisible arrives on Switch. Nintendo’s mobile hybrid now plays host to Indivisible, coming straight from the same team that developed Skullgirls. After initially announcing way back in 2015, Indivisible surged through Kickstarter and onto PC back in 2019. Now this zany take on the traditional side-scrolling Metroidvania styled RPG adventure gets a new audience.
The first moment I really stopped to take notice of Indivisible was when an utterly gorgeous Studio Trigger trailer dropped for the 2D title. The same wonderful hand-drawn aesthetic and accompanying soundtrack from Hiroki Kikuta are the first things to appear as Indivisible boots up onto the Switch. The tiny 6.2 inch Switch screen comes to life amidst a flurry of color. Characters that you’ve yet to become acquainted with are introduced and the in-game world, when it appears, is just as you’d expect. The opening fields of our protagonist’s village and the forests that surround it are utterly gorgeous. The character design, while a might less lush than Studio Trigger produced for cutscenes and trailers, could still have come straight from a big-budget animated feature. The soundtrack makes an immediate statement of intent, drawing inspiration from classic JRPGs and even Kikuta’s work on the Mana series, and the cell drawn art style of Indivisible ends up being a fantastic reflection of the central character’s own upbeat personality. As a result, Indivisible manages to pull you into this tale before it has even really begun.
Indivisible revolves around the story of Ajna, a young girl who finds her world turned upside down by an attack on her village. With her father slain, she sets out on a quest to get answers, unsure of what lies before her. Fortunately for impatient players, it doesn’t take long for something to go awry. After a scuffle with a hostile soldier, very weird things start happening. Ajna uncovers an ability to absorb certain individuals known as Incarnations into her being. From here she embarks on an adventure, mastering this ability and pulling these unfortunate individuals out into battle whenever she faces an adversary. What sounds like a far fetched concept works as a mechanic for hero collection. No more mystical cards or bags or horses that can ride in over the distance. This unique power allows players to trudge around with the perfect team in mind, literally. This fairly traditional RPG mechanic only really works if the heroes are worth collecting and the team at Zero Lab are just as creative with character design as they are with animation. Skullgirls contained over a dozen different characters that all had to play their own way so when Ajna finds Razmi, a weird witch or pirate captain Baozhai , you know that neither will feel the same.
Bring it On
Like many other titles, Indivisible merges a mix of narrative content and combat, but Zero Lab’s latest certainly doesn’t fight like many other side-scrolling stories. Blasting into battle, the warriors that reside in Ajna’s inner world appear ready to do a very different type of turn-based battle. Up to four characters make up a party and while each member of this group might feel and play differently, the traditional tactical combat of other titles could make these differences seem like little more than statistics. Thankfully Zero Lab has a history with active combat and has merged the best of turn-based and real-time systems. When facing off against an obstacle, our heroic party are all mapped to their own action button. A combination of these four action buttons and analog stick manoeuvres allows a small selection of attacks to be easily delivered in real-time. There is no taking turns between team members, if an attack is off cooldown then it is instantly available to use until an enemy decides to strikes back. This dynamic flow is augmented by an ultimate bar, that makes a very definite nod to the fighter genre that Zero Lab is known for, and a blocking system that keeps players from going passive mid-match.
Much like any decent fighting game, winning during combat isn’t all about attacking. Certain enemies require a specific set of moves to break down and there is no way to win without mastering the art of blocking. Ultimately there are several moments where the Indivisible morphs into a beat ’em up and it definitely shines at this stage. While fights can sometimes feel a little homogenous as they progress, the new enemies and companions that players collect keep things fresh enough that collecting and levelling up heroes is almost an end goal in itself.
The Real Goal
In the end, Indivisible isn’t just a new way to pick a fight. The inventive real-time turn-based combat makes the game genuinely engaging but Indivisible has far more dimensions to it. Players heading out on adventure will find a raft of genre influences. The side-scrolling action can be best described as a Metroidvania style encounter while the narrative and team building mechanics feel closely aligned to the RPGs that soundtrack composer Kikuta is associated with. That range of diverse influences manages to merge well, with a gallery of great interactions between Ajna and the heroes in her head. Some fantastic and offbeat writing make each of the characters as unique as their combat abilities and breaks up the monotony of hearing the internal monologue of just one hero character.
Unfortunately, despite some excellent, dialogue and some interesting offbeat characters, some elements of Indivisible can become a little repetitive. Exploring the world, taking on the 2D platforms, and uncovering areas of Indivisible can feel a little of the same. Despite a range of different backdrops and the odd environmental mechanic, I’ve never been overly blown away by running Metroidvania style stages which act as filler between more interesting experiences. This rinse and repeat problem also becomes apparent during combat encounters. While Zero Labs do their best to produce an intuitive and engaging series of scenarios, combat largely follows the same patterns and overcoming enemy hordes never posed too much of an issue.
What saves this from becoming a game-breaking problem is the constant mix of new heroes, villains, locations, and mechanics that Indivisible introduces. Coupled with the aforementioned excellent writing and fantastic aesthetic, it’s hard not to fall for Indivisible. Sure, I consumed it in small doses but the intuitive controls and a very available save system provides plenty of room for short play sessions. This makes Indivisible a great escape from the morning commute when it returns, or just a great place to chill out for a few minutes on the couch. It’s difficult to tell exactly what type of game Indivisible is, except a great one. Indivisible is out now on Nintendo Switch and available on the Nintendo eShop for $29.99.