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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (416)

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I Am Setsuna 2.5/5
Assassin's Creed Origins 4/5
Boot Hill Heroes 3.5/5
The Bard's Tale IV: Bar... 4.5/5
The Bard's Tale Trilogy 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale III: Th... 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale II: The... 0.5/5
The Bard's Tale: Tales ... 0.5/5
The Technomancer 2.5/5
Tyranny 3.5/5
Pine 2/5
Victor Vran 3/5
Front Mission Evolved 2/5
Greedfall 4.5/5
The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5

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Indivisible   PC (Steam) 

Divide by Zero    3/5 stars

“Indivisible” is the Indiegogo-crowdfunded 2019 swan song of Lab Zero Games, a troubled Indie development team formerly known as Reverge Labs, the developer of the niche Indie Fighting game, “Skullgirls.” Thanks to some slightly edgy comments made by Lab Zero head, Mike Zaimont, and the to-be-expected response of the diverse team of snowflakes-of-color working at Lab Zero at the time, the studio imploded in the wake of an attempt to Cancel Mr. Zaimont, which instead saw him perform a hostile takeover of the studio, to which the offended parties had no other recourse but to resign. Thanks to this confluence of Cancel Culture and Business Culture, ongoing development on “Indivisible” has been stopped, leaving the game without a sizeable amount of promised add-on content.

But who cares about Twitter drama? Is the game good? Yeeeeaaaaah… No, not really.

Presentation
Whether they’re known by the name Reverge Labs or Lab Zero, the team behind “Indivisible” and “Skullgirls” made a splash with their incredible hand-drawn and hand-animated visuals. “Indivisible” is a gorgeous game with a fantastic Western-Anime art style, fluid animation, bold use of color and style… but a rather inconsistent vision for its world. “Indivisible” falls prey to the anime trope of world-building in which numerous different anachronistic styles are all stirred together into a big mess. So, while there are plenty of remote forest villages and mystical mountains and magical floating castles in the sky, there’s also a steampunk kingdom and a fairly-modern Asian city, filled with neon lights and protected from evil by a Super Sentai hero who rides a motorcycle.

Audiowise, “Indivisible” is quite good. The soundtrack was commissioned from long-time Squaresoft veteran, Kiroki Kikuta (of “Secret of Mana” fame), and features a number of pleasantly-catchy and thematically appropriate tunes. The game is also fully voice-acted, though without any particularly well-known veterans in the mix. The vocal performances are a bit of a mixed bag, with some characters’ delivery notably more wooden than others, but never gets to ‘90s-anime-dub levels of awful, thankfully.

Technically, “Indivisible” isn’t exactly bulletproof, and the fact that Lab Zero is in no state to hammer-out the handful of remaining bugs is unfortunate. I ran into a small number of quirks of all sorts: After a character joined my party, I went back into the room where it happened, only to discover a hostile (and undefeatable) doppelganger of said character lingering. I managed to get stuck under a conveyer belt in the steampunk kingdom, requiring me to reload my last checkpoint. Perhaps most annoyingly, while the game does support Xinput out of the box, I always had to manually tell it to use my XBONE controller from the keyboard menus upon starting a session. So, while I didn’t run into anything game-breaking, I was still annoyed on plenty of occasions. Even more annoying than the glitches, though, are the intentional UI flaws. The map is pretty terrible, and only allows the player to view the region they’re currently in, while the tutorials on how to control the game and how the combat mechanics work are a bit too Spartan, leaving a lot to trial and error.

Story
“Indivisible’s” cold open dumps the player into a climactic battle between a team of four heroes and a mysterious entity. Upon flailing around with little guidance on how to proceed, the good guys prevail and there’s a massive explosion, ejecting them from the base of a massive, inverted pyramid where the encounter apparently took place.

We pick up 16 years later in the small jungle village of Ashwat, where our heroine, a teenage girl named Ajna is lamenting to her pet tapir, Roti, that she doesn’t want to go to combat training with her dad, the village chief, Indr. But she does anyway, getting into a heated family squabble as a result. Indr and Ajna separate in a huff, but before they have a chance to reconcile, Ajna notices that the village is on fire.

Rushing down from the hilltop training grounds, Ajna discovers that her village is under attack by unknown military forces. She watches as Indr faces off against the young invasion commander… and is killed. In rage and despair, Ajna throws herself into combat against the young man, but they’re too well-matched, resulting in a stalemate… but then something unexpected happens: The invasion commander transforms into a mote of light and is absorbed into Ajna’s head!

Ajna interrogates her new mental roommate as to the identity and location of his boss. The invasion commander, whose name is Dahr, reveals that he works for an enlightened leader named Lord Ravannavar, who wishes to unite the entire world. Ajna, being a stubborn, single-minded idiot, decides that her best course of action is to track-down Ravannavar and chop of his head.

Of course, things aren’t exactly what they seem, and it turns out Ravannavar’s ambition is to reawaken an ancient Hindu-style goddess who is capable of remaking the entire world… but only after destroying it. Ajna and her ever-increasing number of mental roommates must put a stop to this!

In general, while the narrative flavor is somewhat unique by virtue of being wholly steeped in Eastern mysticism and philosophy, it is rarely, if ever, unpredictable or interesting. Of course, the single biggest issue with “Indivisible” from a story perspective is the fact that the writing and dialog are some of the most cringe-inducing words I’ve ever encountered in a game. Yes, there is virtue in ‘writing the way people actually speak,’ but “Indivisible” takes this a bit too far, especially in illustrating just what a boorish idiot its heroine is.

Character development feels somewhat flat as well. Though Ajna does grow and change as a character throughout the story, much of this personal growth feels forced, as do the reactions of other characters to these new outlooks. “Indivisible” features a fairly sizeable cast of supporting characters, who join Ajna and live in her ‘inner realm’ while traveling together. While a handful of these characters feel like they belong in the narrative, a large number of them (not even including the ridiculous menagerie of add-on characters who were cut during development and scrapped when the studio imploded) feel like they’re just ‘there’ to give the player more characters to collect. Each supporting character also has a ‘personal quest’ the player can undertake to resolve some trouble of theirs, though none of these quests are particularly involved or interesting.

“Indivisible” lasts somewhere between 20 and 30 hours, depending on how much time the player spends backtracking and how many personal quests they wish to complete for companion characters. This is a pretty good length for this type of game, but “Indivisible” really doesn’t have the narrative quality to keep things interesting the entire time.

Gameplay
“Indivisible” is a rather unorthodox mashup of Metroidvania platforming and stripped-down RPG battle system that vaguely resembles the original “Valkyrie Profile” from the original PlayStation. While exploring the 2D, sidescrolling, interconnected maps that make up the game world, the player will have access to an ever-increasing array of mobility skills that allow Ajna to reach greater heights or circumvent dangerous obstacles. Unfortunately, the pacing at which these mobility skills become available leaves them few and far between in the game’s first Act, but then dumps more and more of them on the player at a feverish pace during Act 2. As a result, navigating around the early game environments with only a few skills is tedious and frustrating, whereas navigating the crazy end-game platforming segments can feel a bit daunting, as the player won’t have had much practice with the late-game skills.

“Indivisible’s” platforming has an RPG-style battle system awkwardly duct-taped onto it, causing the player’s active party of up to four characters to disembark from Ajna’s mental realm whenever she touches (or preemptively smacks) an enemy while platforming. Combat occurs in-place without a screen transition, which can lead to some awkward scenarios where enemies are situated in such a way that nobody in the party can reach them with attacks, or in such a way that the enemy will fall into a pit when it moves, or in such a way that the party’s default formation will have one or more of them standing in poison and taking constant damage.

“Indivisible’s” combat mechanics are of the menu-free variety. Instead, aping the novelty of the original “Valkyrie Profile,” each character in the active party is assigned to one of the controller face buttons (ABXY), and pressing the corresponding button while a character has at least one charged attack meter will cause them to perform one of their attacks. Furthermore, seemingly inspired by Fighting games (probably “Skullgirls”…), each character plays differently and has a unique gimmick. A given character’s fighting style determines what happens when the player hits their attack button, and also what happens when the player holds up or down on the d-pad while hitting a character’s attack button. Unfortunately, none of these combat capabilities are tool-tipped or illustrated in the minimalist combat UI, requiring the player to read about each character from the party menu (before combat) or just mash buttons and figure things out on the fly. The entire party also shares an Iddhi Meter, which is a measure of Ajna’s cumulative spiritual energy. Landing hits on enemies generates Iddhi, while blocking (which is accomplished by holding a character’s corresponding button or the L Bumper to block with all four characters at once) consumes Iddhi. Consuming the entire Iddhi Meter allows Ajna to cast a full-party revive/heal skill (which is only valuable early game when the Iddhi Meter is short and easy to fill completely), while other characters can consume variable segments of the Iddhi Meter to power-up their attacks (and this, unfortunately, is never properly explained in-game).

The biggest problem with “Indivisible’s” RPG mechanics isn’t the fact that the UI is vague and minimalist or the fact that numerous mechanics aren’t explained properly. It’s not even the fact that it’s impossible to manually change enemy targets, nor the fact that character stats are largely invisible and represented by x/5 ‘stars.’ No, the game’s single biggest flaw is the balance. Early on, battles drag on-and-on over numerous turns, with characters beating on enemies with far too much health, while those same enemies beat on the player’s party, dealing little damage of their own. Some side-quest mini-bosses are easily accessible in the early game, and they will absolutely wreck the player’s party, ones-shotting every character that doesn’t perfectly time their block, and leaving those that DO perfectly time their block with a single hit point, while possessing an order of magnitude more health than the player’s entire team. This occurs, oddly enough, because, instead of growing visible character stats at predictable levels, at certain points in the story, all of the characters’/monsters’ stats just have an extra 0 tacked onto them. So while early game characters and monsters will have hundreds of hit points (the only actually visible stat), mid-game characters have thousands, and end game characters have tens of thousands. But none of this really makes any difference in the way battles work, since every character has their entire skill set from the get-go. It’s truly mindboggling that these balance issues didn’t get called-out in playetesting, where early game trash encounters take several turns to clear, but end-game mini-bosses are all toast in a single round with no real strategy involved.

Lastly, I’d like to call out one final flaw that afflicts far too many amateur/Indie games: The final boss encounter doesn’t use the game’s normal combat system. It doesn’t even use the game’s normal platforming system! There is simply no excusable reason to do this!

Overall
“Indivisible” left me sorely disappointed. While it is a beautiful treat for the senses, the abysmal writing, annoying platforming, and laughably-unbalanced RPG-style combat system show that nothing is right regarding this game’s under-the-hood workings. While it’s still pretty far from “bad,” it’s still an unpolished mess of good intentions that didn’t – and will never – pan out.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5

 

 


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