Indivisible is an example of a game that attempts to revolutionize RPGs, only to be sadly hobbled by a somewhat baffling ignorance of what the drawbacks of each genre it emulates brings to the table.
Right away the game is clearly beautiful to behold; mixing heavily stylized and fluid animation, vibrant colour, unique models for both characters and foes that beam with personality and a highly diverse selection of terrains to traverse. Add to this solid voice acting, music and sound and you have an artistic experience that makes the game genuinely stand out, leaving me with nothing to complain about in this area.
The story is a bit shallow, lending more to the games fighter platformer side than the RPG side, but characters are charming, and dialogue is humorous. It has a fairly convenient anime trope of allowing everything that should be questioned to immediately slide, one prime example is the main girl Ajna’s ability to enslave those she meets like they’re pokemon. The first thing that happens in the game is the capture of a foe, Dhar, and both logically react with hostility to the event. Afterwards though, just about everyone else either accepts it immediately or barely even registers it.
This lack of reaction or the speed of recovery from often heavily tragic or overwhelming events is a spotty but relatively constant theme, and Dhar despite being basically treated as the villain everyone in the party despises becomes one of the most likeable characters in my opinion for being the only one that says things that make sense.
Villager NPCs are an example of the abundance yet unimportance of every character in the game beyond a select few- as while they are generally useless to the plot or continuing the game, as most RPG villagers are, there’s also perhaps one in fifty that will join your group or have something to contribute from a utility standpoint, such as a random lady that joins to give you access to model palette swaps.
This is a nod perhaps to how RPGs work, but really just entices you to spend time speaking to everyone you cross just in case despite knowing almost all are simply there for an amusing one liner or bit of dialogue. At least the things they say tend to be aimed at being interesting and amusing.
That said, even for those that despise it this proves to be a minor consumer of time, which tends to focus on a mix of platforming and combat, keeping the game moving quickly. Battles start without a load screen upon running into or assaulting a foe, letting you get the drop on enemies and making the transition from RPG combat to platforming seamless.
Battles can be affected by terrain, as I found when I started a battle over a pit and then enemies simply fell into it, ending the battle immediately. The combat uses a 3D grid, where foes are in different lanes and different elevations, so certain attacks can have trouble hitting someone on a slope or in the air. This also allows you to use the combat system to knock enemies down, or upwards, set traps or terrain based boons in your or your foes path, and even group up foes for AoE or in some cases accidentally attack your own allies, as a few abilities such as the pirate’s rockets have friendly fire.
Combat is fast paced, requires good timing and use of directional buttons to combo attacks in a way that makes use of the field, while also ensuring you stay healed up and break through enemy guard. This is very similar in concept to the way fighting games tend to function, albeit simplified in a way that even those who are not good with such games can still do well, while making mastery of your party rewarding. Each traditional RPG role is well represented, so if you find one healer to be annoying to use, you can swap a different one with a completely different move set in. Furthermore, timing your own guard can result in lowered damage and even restoration of the meter that fuels your special attacks.
Combat is enjoyable, easy to pick up and tough to master, and has a fast pace most of the time. Some battles though can become ones of attrition and drag on. There is basically no menu management, you heal between fights and there is no gear, items or talent trees which both keeps pace rapid and stifles some customization.
Bosses are a bit of a treat themselves, as they go between combat and platforming segments which can be challenging, though it can also be quite frustrating to get through a lengthy phase of combat only to perish while trying to dodge walls of fire.
Platforming in the game consists of some good ideas, but the level design feels very flawed for several reasons. It works well with combat, and has you using abilities you pick up to get through platforming puzzles which is all fine. Collectables are sparse, giving very valuable upgrades to your combat defenses and offence, and generally require some sort of tricky jumping or use of abilities to obtain.
This seems on the surface to be great, but it has its flaws. For one, getting through a tough puzzle or platforming segment is usually meant to be rewarding, and one of the rewards is not having to repeat it either by unlocking shortcuts or having no reason to return that way again.
Simply progressing through a level requires numerous platforming puzzles and challenges, which isn’t inherently bad. However, on more than one occasion I would be halfway through a level, spot a side area with a collectable and go to retrieve it, only to be placed in a position where I had no way back other than a one way short cut to an earlier area in the level.
I don’t want to have to be forced when seeing an area to explore and potentially get a prize for doing so to also consider that this will cause me to redo most of the level again.
I assure you though, it gets worse. Even if you ignore that side exploration and side quests that revel in backtracking through puzzles you’ve already completed, you’ll have to do it for the main quest anyway.
Perhaps five hours into the game you are given an option to choose between four different areas, which seemed perfectly fine. I initially chose a smoggy city to go through, was having a mostly good time with it despite a bit of collectable backtracking, until I hit a wall.
Suddenly, without obtaining short cuts or any sort of satisfying conclusion to the story in the area, or even facing a decent boss I was told I’d have to go to another zone to get a platforming unlock to continue.
There may be games that this can work in, generally due to the generous use of quick travel or short cuts- but when you spend a few hours making your way through an area, only to be told to literally run back through what you just did so you can go do half of another area so you can come back later to redo what you just did it is utterly frustrating. Do not give me the illusion of choice when the game is actually linear, especially when it’s linear but involves just running back and forth on that line. We figured out this was a bad idea with Castlevania 2 decades ago, it feels like a waste of time first of all but it also means we’re going to be ‘exploring’ something we’ve already explored for large chunks of the game, which needless to say defeats the purpose.
Imagine if, while playing Mega Man X, you were given 8 stages to play, but to beat any of them you needed the boots, helm, enhanced blaster and armour upgrades, then to finish mammoth’s level the boomerang was required, and four of the bosses could only be reached by the use of the penguin’s ability. Just think about how much backtracking you would have to do, and then imagine if you both didn’t know that and had no clue where any of it was.
Exploration loses the joy when you’re kept on a path, and suddenly it’s less about wondering which stage would be most fun or easy to complete first, and more about what is the most efficient path I must travel, like a joyless scavenger hunt. If you’re going to give me multiple options, make sure I can actually take those options- there’s a reason you can fairly quickly and effortlessly go from the start of each of the Mega Man X stages to the end, it lets you focus less on the part you are doing again and more on the optional item you’re trying to get now that you have the flamethrower and want to see what all the explosives in the airport are hiding. It makes you think ‘oh sick, now that I have this I bet I can get something from that area in another stage’, not ‘oh finally, I can now go back through the entire level I almost completed again and hope once I’m past it they don’t make me backtrack again’.
The only thing that makes this an annoyance rather than the total ruin of the game is it does not take up as much time as one would think, but, in a game otherwise doing a great job of being unique and keeping well-paced it is a glaring black spot.
It’s all amplified by the challenge in simply doing precise maneuvers in platforming. At first, the controls seem quite tight, but when trying to combine different abilities it can be very frustrating. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve fallen down an entire platforming area simply because I didn’t time my wall grapple correctly, as most games have you grapple right before you hit the wall and are often generous in leeway, but in this game that would cause you to simply fall with no chance of recovery.
At one point, noting a likely collectable I took at least a dozen tries to do what should have been a fairly simple procedure. Begin Ajna’s dash, jump while keeping the dash, slide while keeping the dash, then immediately jump while keeping the dash and hit the wall on the other side while keeping the dash so it would shatter. It sounds easy enough, but the precision required to do all these things was unfathomably difficult. It reminds me of games which require you to be on the very tip of a ledge to make a running jump to get to the next platform, but that constantly stutter and refuse to jump unless you’re several pixels before that spot you can reach before falling.
Now, I have been quite harsh to the game regarding platforming, but despite that this is truly a great game with a lot going for it. The colourful graphics and combat system should give it broad appeal, and anyone looking for a decently sized casual RPG will almost certainly enjoy it. I highly recommend this game, and do not think the faults outweigh the unique experience it offers. The intended audience does seem to be RPG players and general gamers, those who are solely interested in fighters or platformers can find better elsewhere.