Indivisible review – A quirky, fighting game-inspired Metroidvania

Indivisible feels like it is a game made personally for me. Three of my favourite game genres are RPGs, fighting games, and Metroidvanias; Indivisible is a Metroidvania RPG with a combat system and character designs that draw a lot of inspiration from fighting games. (Coming from the developers behind Skullgirls, this shouldn’t be a surprise.) It’s a mashup of ideas that works surprisingly well, and, coupled with a lighthearted story that never takes itself too seriously, makes for a game that is a joy to play.

Basically, it works like this: outside combat, Indivisible works like a typical Metroidvania. It’s a 2D side-scrolling platformer, with large maps full of intertwining passageways, many of which can’t be accessed until you unlock the right abilities. As you work through the game and gradually discover new tools, you become able to explore and more parts of the map and access places you couldn’t previously—like platforms that are just out of reach until you learn the high jump move, or floors that can be broken, but only once you learn a dive kick.

When you run into enemies, though, Indivisible switches to a semi-turn-based combat screen. Each of the four characters in your party is assigned to a different button, and pressing the appropriate button makes that character attack. You don’t have to wait your turn to attack as such, but each character has a limited number of action points they can use, which gradually fill up over time.

Where Indivisible starts to feel like a fighting game is with the attacks themselves. Each character—of which there are plenty—has four basic attacks: a standard attack, a high attack, a low attack, and a special move. The specifics of how each of these works varies from character to character, but the general idea is to use this variety of options to build juicy combos and to cut through enemies’ defenses with a mixture of high and low attacks.

Blocking is also an essential part of combat in Indivisible. A character who’s being targeted by an enemy can’t attack, and pressing their assigned button instead puts them into a defensive state to reduce damage from the incoming attack. While you can just hold the button down to defend against most attacks, the far better option is a “Clean Block”—timing the button press just before the attack lands, drastically reducing the damage received (and, for some characters, triggering other unique effects). 

The result is a battle system with a remarkable amount of depth. Even with the most simple characters, there are plenty of ways to creatively combine their attacks to dish out the big damage. It’s not just a case of creating an optimal combo and then just running that over and over again, either—an attack string that works well against a grounded enemy may fall flat when used against a flying enemy; an especially aggressive but linear combo may not work well against an enemy that likes to block a lot.

Similarly, the variety of characters themselves bring a wealth of options for tactical, creative encounters. There’s around 15 characters in total you can recruit, which broadly fall into expected archetypes (heavy hitter, quick and nimble, spellcaster, support, etc), but still manage to all feel completely unique. Ginseng and Thorani, for instance, are both healers, but how they actually go about healing is wildly different—Ginseng has a basic party-wide heal that you can power up with their other attacks, whereas Thorani can’t actually heal anyone directly, but her attacks leave puddles of water behind that will heal any other characters that run over them.

The trade-off to all the deep combat system is the fact that Indivisible can be surprisingly punishing. If you don’t master Clean Blocking and figure out the most efficient use of support characters especially, you’ll soon find even regular enemies ripping through your party’s health bars. Meanwhile, foes tend to need a lot of hits before they’ll finally go down, so if your combos and party synergy aren’t on point, encounters can be a slow and lengthy affairs. 

Boss battles are another matter entirely; not only do they have massive health bars and hit like trucks, but they’re usually broken up into segments with short platforming challenges in between. That’s a neat idea on its own, but they also really drag out the boss fights, and if you should die at any point, you can look forward to starting the whole thing again.

Indivisible‘s other problem is that it just doesn’t explain itself very well. There are a lot of intricacies to the combat system in particular, but the tutorials tend to under-explain key things, or just skip over details entirely. This is most apparent in the lack of any sort of comprehensive move list; when a new character joins you, you get a brief overview of some of how some of their attacks and abilities work, but rarely does this cover everything available to a character. When most characters have some sort of unique mechanics baked into their move sets that don’t lend themselves to understanding through simple trial and error, having some sort of in-game reference that actually tells you what each attack does would go a long way.

Still, don’t let that put you off. Once you wrap your head around its intricacies, Indivisible‘s deep combat becomes incredibly satisfying. Perfectly blocking a string of attacks from an enemy and then blowing them up with a finely-tuned 50-hit combo is always going to feel good, and all the more when you know you’ve damn well earned it.

If that’s not enough, the story and characters are sure to keep you hooked. The plot itself is a familiar tale of destined heroes trying to save the world, but the colourful nature of said heroes is enough to keep things fresh and entertaining. The main character, Ajna, is a hot-headed adventurer who tends to act first and think never, but she’s also a genuinely good soul who’ll always go out of her way to help people. She’s joined by the likes of a pirate queen who’s brash and boisterous until she meets a cute girl, and then suddenly becomes impossible shy and awkward and an extremely, hilariously morbid shamaness, to mention but a few.

The characters are exactly the sort of weird and wonderful bunch you’d expect from the people who made Skullgirls, and through them, Indivisible delivers a charming, lighthearted story of world-saving and self-discovery. Coupled with classic Metroidvania exploration, gorgeous artwork, and a deep (if somewhat obtuse) combat system, and you’ve got a thoroughly enjoyable game.

Recommended


The publisher provided a copy of this game to Shindig for reviewing purposes.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.