Indivisible Creative Director On Making A Party-Based RPG That Feels Like A Fighting Game

Image: Lab Zero Games

After four years in development, Indivisible arrived last month, bringing the combo-heavy combat of certain old-school RPGs into the modern age. It garnered praise across the gaming world, but it soon became clear that there were a few issues holding it back from true greatness, some of which are still waiting to be addressed. Kotaku recently caught up with the Indivisible team to discuss the game’s launch and what’s on the horizon, including changes to levelling, new characters, and more.

Developed by Lab Zero Games, the studio behind cult classic Skullgirls, Indivisible features a number of gameplay elements that seem more at home in fighting games—juggle combos, throw breaks, high-low mixups—than an RPG, even one inspired by the genre-bucking Valkyrie Profile. Creative director Mariel Cartwright says responses to the game have been generally positive, even if some expected more fundamental RPG mechanics to play a larger role.

Indivisible is kinda in a new category,” Cartwright told Kotaku via email. “We were aiming to make a game with RPG elements, like a large cast of playable characters and an involved story, but also evoke that tense, action-y feeling that platformers and fighting games are so good at creating. Turns out, though, that associating the game with ‘RPG’ as a genre led to a lot of people assuming it would be closer to a traditional JRPG—e.g., lots of items, stats, equipment, and grinding—and those people definitely ended up being the most vocally disappointed, because it simply isn’t that type of game.”

During my own playthrough of Indivisible, the inability to grind felt like the most glaring omission. The game doesn’t include endless opportunities for random battles, as many traditional JRPGs do. Instead, enemies only respawn when the player leaves an area entirely, making it harder to level one’s party effectively. As I played, I had trouble keeping all of my characters equally strong; any fighters who weren’t in my main party would end up falling behind. Cartwright explained that there is actually some experience point sharing going on under the hood, but they’re looking into adjusting that system to ensure lower level characters get some sort of boost.

This will be a boon for post-launch party members, of which there will be several. The Indivisible team are still getting these newcomers ready for release. Antoine and Sangmu, original story characters who were planned for the initial release, had to be held back so that the developers could focus on other aspects of the game. Once they’re released, however, they’ll be placed into the world of Indivisible just like any other recruitable character, complete with their own combat abilities and quests.

“As we got closer to release we had to make a difficult choice: finish these two extra characters, or spend that time improving other parts of the game that we already knew needed it,” Cartwright said. “For Lab Zero, our goal is to deliver the most polished game we can. To us, that means fewer features that are more solid, that we can be proud of, instead of more features that are flatter or might feel ‘unfinished.’ Deciding whether to leave something out is never easy, but it can often be the right choice if the alternative is rushing and delivering subpar results.”

Indivisible is also set to receive a host of guest characters from other games, including Shantae, Shovel Knight, Annie from Skullgirls, Juan from Guacamelee, and more. These party members won’t be as integrated into the world as the original characters, but Cartwright said the Indivisible team isn’t interested in just plopping them into the game without any fanfare either. She promised some sort of “alternate intrigue,” but avoided too many details as to not spoil anything the team has in store.

Indivisible already includes a number of NPC cameos, including one unique character known as The Baz. This whip-wielding muscleman originated as a discarded Street Fighter II character design before getting fleshed out by the Super Best Friends podcast as a pseudo-mascot of their Fighterpedia video series. The Baz would then go on to make an appearance in Divekick, the one-hit kill fighting game developed by the team that would eventually work on the Killer Instinct reboot. Now, The Baz is in Indivisible, too, thanks to a generous donation by former Super Best Friends host Woolie Madden which allowed him to help design a boss.

“Our team knew of Baz from early on, and we used his Divekick appearance as the starting point for our version,” Cartwright explained. “Beyond that, I think we took a few liberties and had fun with the character⁠—we knew him to be over the top and tongue-in-cheek, so we made his personality kind of a tough guy rocker crybaby. He ended up having a larger part in the story than we had initially planned⁠—there’s a scene where we needed a bouncer to guard a club entrance, and instead of coming up with a unique design for just that part, it made sense to use Baz to fill that role. Overall, we think he turned out to be a pretty memorable addition, and we’re glad to be a part of developing his lore!”

Naturally, The Baz can be defeated in just one hit by using main character Ajna’s divekick attack, a neat nod to his history as a Divekick character.

Indivisible has received a couple of notable updates since it launched in October, both of which addressed some of the more glaring bugs and tweaked combat. Lab Zero plans to keep a close eye on the game and make balance adjustments as they become necessary, much like they would with a fighting game. As for future content, the team hopes to explore the enthralling universe of Indivisible once they get the rest of the characters out the door.

“There is a whole lot more to Indivisible’s world, story, and characters that we’d love to share with everyone, and a number of gameplay features that we know would be a ton of fun,” Cartwright said. “We opened the game with a prologue that itself has its own history and lore that we’d love to explore in the future, as well as a few unfinished threads in Indivisible’s main story that we want to continue. We’ll just have to wait and see.”


Comments

    Fingers crossed that Zero-tan becomes playable. From her current cameo in it, she could be a fun kind of potion master.

    “Indivisible is kinda in a new category" says a man who just made an updated modern version of Valkyrie Profile.

    It always kinda irks me when developers think they're inventing something new. RPGs with fighting game mechanics, or at least mechanics borrowed from fighting games have been around for a while. The early Tales games for example, most notably Tales of Phantasia were about timing and combos. Then you have Summon Night: Swordcraft story which is like TOP but with a singular character. Shaolin was a game on PS1 which blended RPG style story-telling and questing with Fighting game combat. More modern examples include Project X-Zone which has similar combat in that you make a party of attackers and then trigger them with timing to perform combos, juggles and chains. Also along the same lines are the Fallen Legion games which had combat based around timed button presses and combos.

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