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Indivisible is Certainly a Game

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Indivisible is such a weird game. Never before have I encountered anything that strikes such a perfect balance between cool ideas and poor execution, expertly dancing on the tightrope of mediocrity above a pit of failure, never falling but also never reaching the destination of quality. I’ve also never played a game that made me feel so little as this, or failed to hold my attention despite holding my interest. In fact, it failed to hold my attention so spectacularly that despite being very excited for the game leading up to release, since then I literally forgot it existed… more than once. Even after playing it.

I put about ten hours into the game and from what I can tell, I reached just shy of the halfway point. Once the initial honeymoon period wore off, I got very bored, very quickly. Dare I say, I may have even come to the conclusion that the art was the only thing keeping me playing at all. This was all the way back when the game had just come out too, and not only did I never feel the urge to return to the game since then, every time I’d remember it even exists at all would build up some resentment for it, and I even kind of dread playing the game at all now.

So, for now let me cover some of my thoughts from before revisiting the game.

First off let me say that I took plenty of notes while playing this game, and while my memory isn’t clear enough to still understand a couple of the more specific ones, there’s a sad pattern throughout. I had boundless praise for the artwork, voice acting, and character design… and nothing else. There was no other praise, only minor complaints and annoyances. It reminds me of how I felt with Need for Speed Heat, which is… unfortunate, to say the least. Granted, there’s a lot more to like with Indivisible than with that game – for me anyway – and at least it doesn’t make me angry… just kind of disappointed.

It’s just not an RPG. More like a small handful of basic RPG style mechanics. It’s more like a metroidvania, but with none of the best bits of the genre, mostly just the backtracking. The focus instead is primarily on the combat system, but while it’s an interesting system on the surface, it hardly goes beyond that surface level and is quickly trivialized. It gets to a point that if you can time your inputs well enough to perfect parry everything, you can literally just mash all the buttons and win every fight without thinking. Sure, you could keep a combo going or juggle an enemy or synergize your attacks, but none of these things are necessary to win, nor are they rewarding enough to want to do it anyway. The focus is so heavily pointed at input timing that there’s nothing else to do and everything suffers for it. That lack of engagement combined with high enemy HP and relatively low damage output can make the combat feel like a chore, or even a waste of time.

All the unique abilities that characters have feel totally wasted on a system as bare as this. And then there’s Ajna specifically… all the other characters have three attacks you can do, but Ajna has a bunch of extras, and it seems like they switch around completely at random sometimes. I don’t understand her and that gets very frustrating. Also frustrating is that the timing for perfect parries like I mentioned earlier is extremely precise, and sometimes your time to react is extremely low and punishing, and combining that with managing all four characters on all four face buttons simultaneously makes the system easily overwhelming at times. All that said, it’s not a bad system on its own, it’s just bland, which makes it tedious after too long, though at the same time, the pace is fast enough that in short bursts it can be quite fun and intense. What makes it bad is that much of it is not adequately explained, and some of it simply isn’t explained at all, like Ajna. You’re expected to just get the basics of it and know how to handle everything, or use the training function (which you get from a missable optional background NPC that is never mentioned anywhere) and learn through isolated practice, like in a fighting game.

All that is just the combat, so what about the other half of the game? Well, that’s all platforming, and I love platformers… but not this one. It’s slow, feels clunky, and only gets worse as time goes on and you accumulate far too many movement abilities that all work slightly differently. On top of that, some of the platforming is frustratingly precise with frustratingly little margin for error and/or frustratingly little time to move. Some specific areas throw all the obstacles at you and get downright awful to play through. Also frustrating, my biggest pet peeve with the platforming is that for some odd reason, Ajna has momentum… but it’s such a short wind-up from standing to running that I don’t understand why it’s there at all, but just long enough of a wind-up that sometimes when I hit jump too quickly after starting to move, the jump would move at walking speed rather than running speed and I’d fall frustratingly short of my goal. Have you picked up on the frustratingly subtle pattern yet?

Yet more frustration for the pile is that while one half of the game is combat and the other half is platforming, you spend way more time in platforming half, and it’s quite possibly the least fun part of the game, and absolutely the most frustrating. Especially when you don’t know where you’re supposed to go, or how to get there, and the game doesn’t tell you, so you have to backtrack through an entire level to explore another instead… and then backtrack again… and again… and the platforming doesn’t get more fun the second, third, fourth, or fifteenth time, and definitely not the hundredth time.

But the game was billed as an RPG, and more often than not, the thing that carries an RPG is its story. Problem is the story with Indivisible is serviceable at best and downright boring at worst, and worse yet, Ajna, the protagonist, is not likeable. She’s charming for the first hour, but she’s just so dense, selfish, and insensitive, and never seems to grow even a little bit. At that pace, if she has any growth at all, it’s going to happen right at the end of the game, and that’s not a good thing. Even worse still, while many of the other characters are plenty likeable, they’re very flat and never get more than maybe a paragraph of interesting development or interaction. They’re just kind of… around… along for the ride for some reason, doing what they do just because. I’m not invested in the characters, least of all Ajna, and I’m not invested in the world, so there’s nothing compelling me to see what happens next. I’m sure this is part of why the game became so forgettable for me, because at one point I didn’t even realize I hadn’t beaten the game when I was reminded of its existence until literally checking the footage and not seeing rolling credits. Much like the combat, however, none of this is really bad on its own, it’s just very simple. What makes that bad is that by billing the game as an RPG, the expectation is anything but simple.

All of that weighs heavily on the final product to be sure, but when I said I had nothing but praise for the art and design, I wasn’t exaggerating. The art is genuinely beautiful, the animations are staggeringly well made, the designs are fantastic in their own unique ways, and the voice acting is wonderful. It’s a bit strange to point out, but I also really like the various accents characters have in this game, because all too often games give their characters either a generic American accent or a generic English accent, and while Indivisible absolutely has some of those, there’s also so much more, like Ajna herself – the character who probably speaks more than anyone else – having an Indonesian voice actress using her natural accent. There are some flaws sprinkled around in the voice department, like Kushi’s lines being recorded way louder than everyone else’s, like the voice actress was a millimeter away from the microphone and not using a filter, but the charm really shines through, and you should know that I rarely have anything to say about voice acting in the first place because it’s really far down on my list of priorities for a game. If only the same could be said about the music… but I have nothing more to say about that.

The problem is that art alone can’t carry any game, especially not a game like this. Even a visual novel, a type of game that’s literally nothing but text and pictures most of the time with a couple buttons to click occasionally, can’t be carried on art alone. Great art can push a game even higher than it stands without it, and bad art can hold a game back severely, but it’s never the main driving force, never the primary source of enjoyment. But with Indivisible… it is.

Indivisible feels like an interactive art book with a prototype of a game tacked on.

I didn’t play Skullgirls because I don’t play fighting games, but I still adore Skullgirls from a distance for the incredible art and design. If I were to pick up that game and play it entirely because of that, I would be very quickly disappointed because I’m really bad at fighting games and don’t have the desire to put in the time to get better at them. Then I saw the same developers with the same art team talk about making an action-RPG with platforming called Indivisible, and I got really excited. On paper, it was going to be all my favorite things about video games. Good art, good story, challenging, fast paced, stylish, and full of things to explore and enjoy. In practice, while all of those things are technically present, nearly all of it failed to follow through, stuck on that dreaded tightrope, merely a threadbare collection of frameworks for disparate elements that happen to be very shiny and pretty, seemingly unaware of just how much is missing, how much farther they could have gone in any of their multiple directions, and how detrimental that truly is.

The part I hate the most about all of this, the one thing that hurts the most, makes me the saddest… is that even after all of this complaining and all of these flaws, all of this missing content, all of these unmet expectations… I’m still happy with my purchase. I’m still happy to support the developers. If I had backed Indivisible on Indiegogo, I wouldn’t have been upset with what I got. The game is not bad… and that’s the problem. It’s JUST not bad. Maybe this is naive of me, but it seems like so many of these things could have been easily solved with just a little bit more time devoted to them. It feels almost like the game was made in an echo chamber where everyone thought this was all great and perfect, with no critical input or even prior experience to direct them otherwise, or even going so far as to have been a pure lack of respect for the genre they chose. And yet… going from a fighting game to this with nothing in between, and having it turn out as good as it did? That’s actually impressive, if anything. It just unfortunately also makes Indivisible, for me, another game better appreciated from a distance, like Skullgirls.

I wrote all of that before revisiting the game. Then I went back in an attempt to finish the game, and I couldn’t keep going anymore after three hours. I don’t know how close I was to finishing the game, but that was enough to assure myself that my thoughts still held true as much as I wish they didn’t. Perfect parry timing is a bit more forgiving than I remember, and that’s the only aspect I can say that about. It makes me sad to think about what could have been compared to what was ultimately delivered, but at the same time, what’s done well is definitely good. The game is not bad. I hope to see it used as a learning experience and a stepping stone towards something new, so that new project can reach far greater heights than Indivisible could.

Indivisible feels unpolished, unfocused, unfinished, and misguided. I’m okay with that if it means Lab Zero can try again.