Lab Zero Games - Tested on the Nintendo Switch in 2020
It was some time back in 2014, when I heard of a new game that has been pitched with a prototype. It was said to be a game that combined the battle system of Valkyrie Profile with some platform gameplay similar to Rayman, hand drawn visuals and music by Hiroki Kikuta, composer of famous Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana.
So I downloaded the prototype, and it was a really pleasant experience. It was a bit hard, especially towards the end, but overall it left some quite good expression. The game, Indivisible, was eventually crowdfunded and in development from 2015 onwards. It was finally released in late 2019 for consoles and PC, and eventually for Switch in April. Since the Nintendo Switch is the console of my choice, I purchased in on that platform.
And boy, was this a disappointment at first. The game featured a huge bug after the first third of the game, where a battle was virtually unplayable. This had been fixed on the other platforms, but not on the Nintendo Switch. I quit the game in disappointment, but then, Lab Zero submitted the patch - and was closed immediately afterwards. Any further development was ceased, even if there had been plans to include additional characters in future updates, such as Shovel Knight or Shantae.
But it turned out that the head of Lab Zero Games, Mike Zaimont, was a rather unpleasant fellow who allegedly did not only sexually harass other employees, but then refused to face the consequences, which caused the company to be dissolved. However, the game created here has nothing to do with the shenaningans of a boss gone haywire.
Indivisible really is what has been promised. It is an RPG that has the combat system of Valkyrie Profile (at least a very similar one), is a sidescrolling platformer like Rayman outside of the battles and has music from Mr Kikuta.
The game follows Ajna, who is raised by her single father in a remote village. He was a hero from the past who trained his daughter relentlessly, without her knowing why exactly he was so harsh towards her. Eventually, her village got raided by the forces of Ravanavar, the leader of the ever so power-seeking Navar Empire, and her father killed by a young general called Dhar.
Ajna faces Dhar, and after a hard fight, she absorbs him into her head. Dhar can leave her head sometimes, but is otherwise stuck inside. Ajna was full of hate and anger towards the man who killed her father, but was stuck with him, at least until she faced Ravanavar. But when they finally met the leader of the Navar Empire, things turned out quite differently than they were looking to be at first.
Along the way, Ajna met various other people (and absorbed them into her head), and eventually they are on a quest to save the world. I won't spoil any more here, since the story is quite interesting and told in a funny, witty but also very warm-hearted way. If you really feel like spoiling yourself - we have a very spoiler heavy screenshot gallery. But be warned it's really full of !
As already mentioned, combat is very similar to Valkyrie Profile. This means that Ajna can put up to three of her friends into party. Every party member can attack using one of the controller's face button - for the switch, the upper character is controlled with X, the left one with Y, the right one with A and the bottom one with B. The buttons can be used for attacking (optionally, along with d-pad up or down) or defending when an enemy attacks. Successful attacks or blocks fill up a so called "Iddhi"-meter which can be used for even stronger attacks.
Some attacks from enemies can only be blocked or dodged if the button is pressed at a very precise moment. Messing up blocking can lead to lost battles, even against weaker enemies. Generally, Indivisible is not a very hard game, though. It has some difficulty peaks in some boss battles, and is especially hard on players in the very last battle.
Outside of battles, Indivisible is very much a 2D platformer. The areas are huge and exploration can be expanded as the game progresses by getting new abilities. Ajna can utilize various tools to get to areas inaccessible before, and she will also gain more abilities to jumpo higher or perform various tricks in the later game.
The platforming borrows some elements from games like Super Metroid, but also classics like Duck Tales or some aspects of Celeste. Platforming can be tricky at times, but Lab Zero managed to place checkpoints and save points so frequently that the situation rarely gets too frustrating. Controls for the platforming parts are very responsive and leave little to be desired.
Aside of platforming and combat, Indivisible does not have much gameplay elements seen in other RPGs. Towns are there just for decoration and a relaxed moment in between dungeon exploring. There are no shops or inns (in fact Ajna often jokes around that she does not like money). The leveling system is pretty easy, only Ajna levels up, and her companions with her. Although party members that are more often part of the regular party do get stronger than party members that are rarely used.
Around the world, there are gems scattered around called "Ringsels" that can be used to increase the party's defense or number of attacks per turn. These Ringsels can be hard to find sometimes, and leveling up everything to max is quite a challenge.
At any time, Ajna can enter her inner realm, a place inside her mind where all of her companions are when they are stuck inside her. They often refer to it as a place in Ajnas head.
The roster of party members is quite diverse and tries to motivate players to play around with various party setups. Every character plays distincively different.
The characters are hand drawn and quite detailed and good animated, the background is in 3D. The game offers some beautiful scenery at times and runs on the Switch mostly in 60 FPS. Only rarely does the framerate drop, but for people who don't like dropping framerates, there is an option to lock the framerate at 30 FPS.
Music is done, as mentioned, by Hiroki Kikuta. The game has a southeast Asian / Indian theme to it, and the music often resembles these regions of the world.