Lab Zero is best known for their fantastic crowdfunded fighting-game SkullGirls. Fantastic artwork, crazy combos and its wonderful cast of fighters has made it a very popular pick, especially in fighting tournament. Back in 2015, the team successfully fundraised a new project known as Indivisible, a 2.5D side-scroller/RPG hybrid. And what an appropriate title it is. Lab Zero continues to impress with yet another high-quality title.
The hero of the story is a rebellious and energetic teenager named Ajna. After her village is burnt to the ground, she sets off on a journey of revenge. It’s not long before she realizes that she wields the ability to absorb people and store them in her mind, ready to appear beside her in combat. Soon enough, she ends up being tricked into unleashing a once-sealed goddess with the ability to reset all of existence, so it’s up to the hot-headed teen and her band of misfits to save the day. You can expect some great voice acting and writing in this one. The chemistry between each of the main cast of characters makes them all the more lovable and hilarious.
The hand-drawn, 2D animations are exquisite, much like the detailed 3D backgrounds and environments. The art style is very familiar to SkullGirls, so it gets brownie points for that. A lot of the characters have such brilliant and memorable designs, too. A few important cutscenes are animated by none other than anime veteran Studio TRIGGER and American animation company Titmouse, which is mint. The whole experience is wrapped up with an elegant soundtrack made up of exotic and ambient tunes and some elegant sound design, from the slashing of the protagonist’s axe to the ‘ommm’ noise you hear when you save.
Outside of combat, the game plays like a side-scroller. The level layout is akin to Metroidvania games, with numerous branching paths that require a lot of backtracking in order to access some secret areas that can only be accessed with certain special moves. There’s plenty of platforming, wall-jumping and trap-dodging as well, all of which works really well, thanks to its tight movement mechanics and controls. Thing is, throughout a pretty big portion of the game, you won’t be able to revisit previous areas in order to re-access these areas. Save points are quite common, though it would’ve been very convenient if there was a way to teleport to these scattered around the very sizeable maps.
The combat of the game is said to be like Valkyrie Profile (thanks Wikipedia for making me sound smart). It’s not like your traditional turn-based RPGs, however. You can bring Ajna and three allies into battles by attacking an enemy during the side-scroller segment. Buttons and keys are allocated to each character; you can press them while holding the up-and-down buttons to perform attacks on enemies. Charge time (i.e. allocated attack buttons underneath each character) will fill up when neither side is attacking; you can pull off some wicked combos or just get everyone to attack at once with well-timed presses. Enemies will eventually take their turn to attack, so you’ll need to time your blocks to minimize damage. It’s safe to say that the combat is polished and pretty damn fun on the whole.
You’ll be gradually drip-fed recruitable allies to join your team alongside some new abilities as well. Your buds all their own unique quirks and abilities, and they level up along with Ajna, so no one is left useless if unused for too long. It should be noted that there’s no equippable gear, potions or currency to earn, though each character can perform special moves. These moves require Idihi – i.e. an MP bar – which is filled up as you dish out damage, but drains when you take it. The more charge time you have, the more effective your Idihi attacks will be. These fights can be pretty quick-paced and frantic, but you can hold down the Idihi button to slow everything down and pick out which target you’re after next.
The difficulty is fairly balanced, though some of the weaker enemies that won’t put up much of a challenge tend to have some fairly big health bars, while there are occasional difficulty spikes to be found during boss battles. All allies are healed after battle, though you might stumble into battle with an unhealthy party if you keep hurting yourself during the side-scroller sections. At least you don’t have to worry too much about dying. If you fail a battle, you’ll be zipped back a few seconds before it even took place without any sort of loading screen or punishment, which does take away a lot of frustration.
Boss battles are a bit of a mixed bag at times. At first, you’ll be chasing them down in the side-scroller segment of the game. One moment, you’ll be thwacking away at the baddie and dodging its powerful attacks after entering turn-based combat, which tends to be a tad more challenging during these encounters. After taking a bit of damage, the boss will chicken out, forcing you back into side-scroller mode, where you must dodge its attacks and slap it again. Sadly, their designated attack patterns become very rinse-and-repeat, if threatening. To be honest, it’s not enough to spoil these encounters completely, though it’s still a bit of a bummer.
Despite a few dodgy design choices, Indivisible offers a lengthy and thoroughly gratifying experience. It’s an eloquent blend of RPG and side-scroller mechanics, thanks to its solid platforming, expansive level design, and entertaining combat mechanics that are seldom seen in other titles. It will take a bit of a while to get into the meatier parts of the game, where you can fast-travel to different areas with your newly found abilities, though it’s consistently fun from minute one. As expected of Lab Zero, their latest title is of the gold standard.