Severed is a first-person dungeon crawler, not something you see too often nowadays, and exclusive to the PlayStation Vita. Players assume control of Sasha, a one-armed warrior who finds herself in an unknown world in search of her family. RPG-style skill trees and light puzzle elements add depth and variety to the impressive combat system. Stunning art and a haunting soundtrack flesh out what is a legitimately great touchscreen game and among the best reasons to own a Vita.
Touch done right
All interactions other than walking are controlled by swiping the screen. This is typically a cause for worry in my own experience, but never once were the controls clunky or unintuitive. Severed has set the bar for what touch games can achieve on Vita. Every attack was spot on. When I missed it was because I missed, not because the swipe didn’t register. At no point was the system unable to keep up with the action.
You control Sasha’s attacks by slashing at any monsters that get in your way. These encounters begin simplistically and small, but the difficulty ramps up as Sasha faces multiple enemies requiring various strategies to defeat. There’s much more to the game than frantically rubbing the screen, though instances of a friction warmed OLED will be felt. Similarly one-armed enemies can only be damaged when their eye is exposed, but you can buy time by parrying an attack and cutting that arm off. Enemies with four arms will shield themselves, only allowing for attack from one angle. The simple idea of controlling the sword along with the more difficult task of responsive control combine to make the player embody Sasha. I was Sasha in the same way that I am Link in a Zelda game.
Though few in number, boss battles are especially satisfying. Everything you’ve learned is tested, challenging the player to mix every known mechanic to advance. Severed does a great job at teaching the player in a mostly unobstructed manner. Shortly after acquiring a new skill, an enemy encounter occurs to familiarize the player with the newfound ability. Sometimes the action is paused for text to teach you what to do. I thought the forced pauses accomplishing this were unnecessary, but given their inclusion there is never players won’t understand what I had to do to keep moving forward.
Freedom and exploration
Sasha’s skills are improved by crafting upgrades to a skill tree. The parts used come from severing, hence the title, the limbs of killed monsters. This tree allowed me to focus my attention on increasing my melee damage before improving my mana abilities, which I used much less often.
Pots found throughout the world contain “giblets,” which are transmuted into other monster parts at varying costs. Using giblets I was able to brute force my way to stronger powers whenever I felt like I needed a bit of a boost to clear a section. Certain monster parts are more rare, and I was concerned that I may not have enough to complete all skill trees. Near the end, however, I discovered a room that will spawn enemies infinitely, ensuring anybody who wants to acquire every upgrade will be able to do so.
Severed isn’t only about sword vs monster carnage. To explore the map players will have to solve a handful of puzzles, like locating switches mostly-hidden behind the environment, recognizing specific symbols on walls, figuring out what exactly it is you’re supposed to do in the memento rooms, optional end game items to finish the “full” story. None of the puzzles are challenging like something you’d find in The Witness, but they are a fun change of pace and made me stop and think on more than one occasion. Even if puzzles aren’t really your thing, you will find they make for a nice change of pace, giving rest from the increasingly hectic monster skirmishes.
No love for lefties
The only real gripe I have with Severed is the lack of a left-handed mode. The in-battle power-ups are located vertically along the right side of the screen. This forces lefties to obscure the action to reach the power-ups. Furthermore, the right analog stick has no function whatsoever. Simply allowing both sticks to control movement is an easy solution. At the very least an option to flip the left stick control over to the right side, if not mirroring the entire screen, would have been nice. Fortunately you never really need to use the stick and the touch controls at the same time, but the setup makes us left-handed players constantly change how we’re holding the Vita.
Sights and sounds
The art design is very similar to Drinkbox’s Guacamelee, enough so that I questioned if the games were set in the same universe. I have no concrete answer to that question, but the visuals are both beautiful and at times gruesome. Bold colors contrast fantastically with the act of slicing limbs from foes. The accompanying soundtrack by Yamantaka // Sonic Titan perfectly sets up an appropriately melancholy mood as Sasha searches for her family one by one. She is stuck in a hopeless position but does not waver in her determinedness. With minimal dialogue, the music is relied upon to help tell the story.
Severed is a Vita gem and will go down as one of the best titles in the platform’s history. Battles are engaging and keep getting more interesting and challenging as the game progresses. The RPG elements give the player authority over how to enhance Sasha’s abilities. Puzzles provide respite from all the swiping, allowing you to think without being rushed like you are in fights. The art makes you want to uncover the map to completion while the music sets an appropriately somber mood. If you own a Vita, you owe it to yourself to play Severed.
|Publisher||Developer||Reviewed On||Release Date|
|DrinkBox Studios||DrinkBox Studios||PlayStation Vita||April 26, 2016|