"If you're interested in Metroidvania games, animation or JRPGs, Indivisible deserves your attention."
Originally funded by backers on Indiegogo in 2015, publisher 505 Games and developer Lab Zero Games are closer than ever to reaching the vision they have for their upcoming action RPG Indivisible. Centered on telling a stylistic, side-scrolling story about a young girl named Ajna and her journey to discover herself, I was given the chance to play a hands-on demo, testing out the combat, an area within the game, and the option to fight one of the bosses present within the final game. My feelings in a single word: excited! Let me extrapolate a little on that.
Immediately, I was dropped into an environment known as the Ashwat Forest, one of seven confirmed areas that Ajna will be able to explore throughout Indivisible. The first thing that I noticed was the variety of environments found in a single area offered in the demo. I saw towering trees intertwined with ruins, a rustic village with houses that climbed over hills, and web-infested caves with cracked rock underfoot, each designed with side-scrolling in mind. Each area brimmed with verticality, with some sections hiding secret passages, nooks, and crannies for Ajna to wall-jump, slide through, and break apart, securing upgrades to power her attacks and innate abilities.
Speaking on the topic of movement (an iconic part of Metroidvania games), the way one makes their way through an environment, and how good that feels, is paramount. I'm pleased to report that Indivisible has made controlling Ajna feel tight, responsive, and smooth. In all of the environmental puzzles I found where jumping and gliding needed to be done, there were no delays in animation and each movement felt light and smooth. Wall-jumping between two pillars? Smooth! Double-jumping and leaping forward to clear an environmental hazard? No error, except on my part! Twice. (I'm not that great at platforming, more barnstorming!)
As I made my way through both the Ashwat Forest, an interesting feature of the game, and one intrinsic to Indivisible's core conceit, was revealed in the form of a four-horned individual known as Ratna. They revealed that Ajna possesses the ability to enter a place known as the Inner State: a literal island of self-reflection and a hub area that one can toggle at will when outside of combat. As Ajna continues through her journey through Indivisible, collecting items and companions, this area will expand and grow, allowing for merchants, quests, and upgrades to populate its demesne.
Companions, mentioned briefly above, also play a key part within Indivisible. Ajna, as a core concept of the game, is able to meet various beings known as Incarnations within the world and absorb their essences, storing them inside of herself to use in battle. In the demo, we were given the opportunity to find, interact, and fight alongside with several of the companions that'll be available in the full title. Razmi, a tiger-pelt wearing woman, cracked sarcastic jokes and expressed a great need to eat many a snack. Ginseng and Honey, two herbalists seeking to find the best methods to cure people, showed nothing but kindness to Ajna, helping her progress through the quest in the demo. Dhar, a blade-wielding soldier, is steeped in the idea of law and the necessity of order. Others were available, but I didn't have the opportunity to collect them. 28 Incarnations have been confirmed to be available for Ajna to assimilate when the full game launches.
But, where would an action RPG be without a combat system? Indivisible's answer to that draws direct inspiration from the Valkyrie Profile series, having Ajna and three of her Incarnations fight all manner of beasties in a rhythmic back-and-forth trading of blows. Each member of the party was assigned a command button (Square, Cross, Triangle, Circle) on the PS4 controller I was using, and once their action gauge filled up, I was able to command them to strike an enemy.
It's interesting to note that all the Incarnations that I had in my party specialized in a specific element of battle prowess. Dhar has the ability to sacrifice attacks in his turn to stack an increase to his damage, Ginseng and Honey have the ability to lay plants that'll trap and hurt enemies, as well as a powerful heal that can be leveraged to great effect. Razmi uses her shamanic ability to unleash flame-based magic that cripples and burns enemies for serious damage over time. Each of these abilities were activated by command button presses and a directional input, allowing players to craft strategies and counters on the fly.
And, yet, even with this impressive variation, Indivisible has more working underneath the hood with a Limit Break style system known as Iddhi — appropriately named after a Buddhist term for supernatural power. Each strike that Ajna and her compatriots land on an enemy provides this resource, up to a maximum of three levels that can be used to either block massive damage or, my personal favorite, enhance specific moves of each party member. It was extremely satisfying to watch Dhar, for instance, unleash an attack enhanced with Iddhi Level 3, ripping a gigantic, ornate pillar out of the ground and slamming it on an enemy that resembled a spooky floating wig for thousands of damage.
Something I haven't talked at length about yet, and for good reason, is the story of Indivisible. To be frank, not much was on offer in the demo that I played. Ajna, at the onset of the demo, raced off to find a little creature called Roti, and this propelled her exploration through the Ashwat Forest. While not confirmed, I'm fairly certain that this was a slice of the game cultivated to show off the various systems, aesthetic, and tone that will be, by and large, what Indivisible will be about.
The various Incarnations that Ajna met throughout the demo exchanged words with Ajna and each other, communicated via static character portraits with changing expressions, akin to the Persona or the Fire Emblem series. As it seemed, the writing itself was energetic, charming, and full of personality, with Ajna showcasing a strength of personality and will that was endearing to me and her Incarnations showcasing small snippets of their personality through my playtime. Dhar was strong and serious about his journey, Ginseng and Honey cooed and were in awe over various plant specimens, and Razmi channeled my inner self, lauding snacks and sarcasm above all else. I just wished there was more of a cohesive narrative than the one that I stitched together through my playtime. I imagine that this concern will be moot with the full release, with both the main story of 20-30 hours confirmed and sidequests working alongside that full length.
Lastly, though I've talked about the environments within the demo, attention needs to be called to the aesthetic and character sprites of both enemies and Incarnations shown. I'm a little bit of an animation geek, and to see a semi real-time battle system with hand-drawn sprites move and go through animation cycles with a reactivity and sense of personality unique to each character was, and is, brilliant. I never felt that the reactivity of mechanically controlling your party in battle compromised the aesthetic of what I believe Indivisible is trying to achieve: a combination of hand-drawn success melded with tight, action-orientated gameplay. It's to be expected, I believe, from the studio that made Skullgirls. (Big Band is best boy, no lie.)
Dhar's strong and straight strikes with his sword flowed as well as the animation of Ginseng and Honey's traps popping up at the enemies' feet (Or lack of feet. Floating spooky wigs, y'all, they be terrifying There were some awesome designs.) As well as enemies, all of the Incarnations I saw had a sense of hand-crafted love and technical prowess about them, and it's this that was my greatest takeaway from the demo played. It makes me want to see and find every single Incarnation present within the game, just so I can see the aesthetic and legitimate differences in how they play, and, personally, how they look.
Phew, I took far more than one word to explain why I'm excited about this game, and, though I felt the narrative was lacking, it's a small blemish on an altogether fantastic experience. If you're interested in Metroidvania games, animation or JRPGs, Indivisible deserves your attention when it launches in 2019. I'll be joining you and hunting for every Incarnation that I can find!