Besides showcasing demos of their first hit release Skullgirls at Anime Expo 2019, Lab Zero Games had their upcoming Indivisible ready to play.
Indivisible is an action RPG that follows Ajna as she travels the world and allies herself with new individuals—otherwise known as “incarnations”—she can magically summon to her aid.
Fighting Vs. RPG
Mike Zaimont, design director and lead programmer at Lab Zero, said there were two reasons they chose to switch genres.
He enjoyed Skullgirls, and a lot of people on the team liked its art style, but not all of them were interested in fighting games. That led to the desire to make a game with the Skullgirls art style that would appeal to more of the team.
Secondly, Lab Zero simply wanted to create in more genres and make different types of games.
“Plus we’re all really big RPG fans,” Zaimont said. “We wanted to do something with the genre that hadn’t been done.”
Combining Valkyrie Profile and Chrono Trigger
According to Polygon, Indivisible draws inspiration from another RPG, Valkyrie Profile, as well as Super Metroid.
Zaimont praised Valkyrie Profile for its approach to character and story.
“Valkyrie Profile set the standard for this type of game,” Zaimont said. “If you haven’t played Valkyrie Profile, you have to.”
Zaimont added that Chrono Trigger was another influential RPG.
“We took the branching character stories that make a difference in the world, and the fact that you can fight in the world [from Chrono Trigger],” Zaimont said. He shared that Chrono Trigger is the only game he remembers with combat literally happening on the map, without any scene changes.
“Terrain matters for what you’re gonna do [in Indivisible],” Zaimont said.
He added that Chrono Trigger was also good at differentiating how party members felt during gameplay. It inspired Lab Zero to try to have at least one unique mechanic for each character in Indivisible.
The Anime Expo demo featured party members that felt distinct from each other. They even used different buttons to activate each character.
For example, if you wanted Ajna to act, you had to press the X button; if you wanted another character to fight, you had to press something different, like the square button. Assigning individual buttons to separate characters felt new and different.
Adding an Element of Metroidvania
Lab Zero clearly drew influences for the Metroidvania aspects of Indivisible from Super Metroid.
According to Zaimont, going back to earlier places will matter a lot in Indivisible, describing the game as something that starts off linear, then becomes more Metroidvania as the player progresses.
Zaimont explained that while the team built the game’s platforming aspect first, the plan was always to make Indivisible partly Metroidvania.
“It’s been a Metroidvania from the beginning,” Zaimont said.
He also said that while people play the same character adventuring across changing levels and getting occasional power-ups in platformers, a character in a Metroidvania will change while levels remain the same. This allows for backtracking.
“You’re a different character from when you started,” Zaimont said.
Rewards for Learning
When asked how Indivisible will fit among other recent Metroidvania games, Zaimont said that it already “feels fairly different.” For example, he elaborates on the use of items in the game—or lack thereof.
“There’s actually no gear,” Zaimont said. “We actually decided early on ‘no items.’”
This would influence other aspects of the game. Zaimont said that player skill matters more than anything else in Indivisible. He explained that it’s not about improving a character, but about learning how to play the game well.
Fighting games are similar in this respect. Zaimont talked about games rewarding players for time spent or for learning, using MMOs and fighting games as examples.
An MMO rewards players for how much time they spend on the game, like building up an inventory of weapons or leveling up a character. On the other hand, fighting games reward players for learning how to fight better. Zaimont described fighting games as having a more level playing field, where only the player changes.
Lab Zero wants to reward player learning in Indivisible and translate this sense of a fighting game to an action RPG. You shouldn’t have to grind to beat a boss in Indivisible like in other RPGs or even MMOs.
Playtesting in Action
People lined up at the Lab Zero booth during Anime Expo for a shot at the Indivisible demo, which essentially featured a nice mix of platforming exploration and combat under an ATB system.
Able to watch everyone play the demo, Zaimont commented that he was able to see how well people will do in the game. He can even see them improve as they’re playing, like figuring out how to use guards.
“Really gratifying to see that happen,” Zaimont said. “You sort of hope it will happen, but don’t know if it will.”
Zaimont shared that Anime Expo has been a good place to get public feedback like this.
“It’s actually been really nice. I look at this as our best chance to talk to fans,” Zaimont said. “They’ve been nice enough to give us a panel every year. I’m the opposite of a people person, but even I enjoy this.”
Studio Trigger Lends a Hand
Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia) is behind the opening sequence for Indivisible, and also appeared at Anime Expo this year to showcase their new movie, Promare. (Trigger also worked with Titmouse to animate the Indivisible sequence.)
“Several of our artists actually knew someone who turned out to be Trigger’s U.S. rep,” Zaimont said. “We were trying to figure out what else we could do for the campaign, and every one of our artists were giant Trigger fans.”
Zaimont noted that though Trigger is “scheduled out for years,” once Indivisible was funded, partnering with the studio proved pretty seamless.
“Getting little sketches of Ajna from Trigger…I don’t even know how to describe it,” Zaimont said.
Indivisible won’t be the first game opening that Trigger has animated. The famed Japanese studio also created a sequence for the platformer series Shantae.
Collaborating with Secret of Mana Composer
Lab Zero Games is also working with composer Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana, YIIK: A Postmodern RPG) on Indivisible’s score. Zaimont said Kikuta has been a pleasure to work with, and also described the collaboration as “fanboy-fulfilling.”
He praised Kikuta for nailing the mood in Indivisible with only screenshots and gameplay footage sent by Lab Zero.
Lab Zero even sent Kikuta samples of his previous projects, asking for something similar to his prior work. Zaimont said he would always create work that was not only reminiscent of his past music, but also recognizably Indivisible.
“He’s phenomenal, I’ve never worked with anyone else who could do that,” Zaimont said.
Enjoy a clip of the 🎵 Main Theme 🎵 from the Indivisible OST. pic.twitter.com/ulhRXYIBCB
— Indivisible (@IndivisibleRPG) June 12, 2019
Though it has had a somewhat tumultuous development history, Indivisible in all its hand-drawn glory is scheduled for release on multiple platforms later this year.