Severed is a dungeon-crawling action game for the PlayStation Vita by DrinkBox Studios, known for making Guacamelee! and Tales From Space. At its core, it is a graceful combination of the puzzle-based exploration style of The Legend of Zelda with the touch-screen combat of games like Infinity Blade and Fruit Ninja. Severed is a fresh and thrilling experience that every Vita owner should experience.
The player assumes the role of Sasha, a one-armed girl who finds herself in a magical realm. She is tasked with finding her father, mother, and brother, who are scattered throughout the land. Sword in hand, the player immediately finds their way to the first dungeon and begins hacking and slashing their way to glory. From then on, the player explores dungeons, and fights off countless enemies, using their dismembered limbs to strengthen Sasha’s abilities.
The combat system starts rather simple, before growing in challenge and complexity as the player obtains more powers. You attack by swiping across the touchscreen; long slashes are stronger, but take longer, and short slashes are weaker, yet faster. Enemies have distinct points of vulnerability, and have their own unique defensive and offensive tactics. The first enemy you encounter immediately teaches you not to mindlessly swipe at the screen, as it will quickly deflect your sporadic, directionless attacks. Every enemy teaches the player to attack with different patterns and techniques in mind.
Circles at the bottom of the screen indicate enemy position, health, and attack timing. The player is encouraged to focus on a single enemy for as long as possible to fill the Focus Meter. The Focus Meter fills as the player maintains a combo with each hit increasing in effectiveness. The combo breaks if Sasha is hit, an attack is blocked, or if the player changes targets. Once this gauge is filled, the player can sever monsters’ limbs which are used as currency to buy upgrades.
As the game hides nothing, the player always has all the information they need to achieve victory. Combat becomes incredibly deep within a few hours of the game. Most encounters involve two or three monsters working in tandem to confuse the player. Late in the game, four completely different enemies with different buffs will surround the player, demanding utmost focus and skill. While Severed can be extremely hard at times, it introduces new mechanics smoothly, throwing in new challenges one by one without overwhelming the player with too much information at once. The player’s mastery of these mechanics are tested through increasingly-difficult mob encounters and fresh, exciting boss battles.
The player’s arsenal expands with an armor-breaking charge attack, a magic stun attack, and the power to copy enemy buffs. These powers can be further upgraded through three different skill trees. As Severed contains no random encounters, the player must make every fight count. If you fail to utilize the Focus Meter to dismember a monster’s limbs, you are missing out on potential upgrades. This gives an exhilarating sense of purpose to every fight. I found myself consciously working to fill the Focus Meter before killing any enemies and becoming upset if I’d ever failed to sever any limbs. The game gives the player some leeway by allowing them to “buy” body parts by converting giblets, which act as currency. There is an option to grind out monster pieces, but it does not appear until the end of the game.
Exploration is conducted through a first-person dungeon crawl perspective. While the player travels between blocks, they actually have full 360 degree camera control. This allows the player to appreciate the flawlessly animated, vibrant world of Severed. The dungeon designs each have their own gimmicks, such as dimensional portals, poison gas traps, and timed doors. As the player gains more abilities, they can access more areas via breaking rocks, walking on clouds, and unlocking special doors. Each dungeon is littered with secret passageways and optional puzzles. Sasha can find illustrated books which depict cryptic solutions which lead to stat-increasing goodies. These puzzle-filled dungeons can sometimes be complicated but are never difficult to a point of frustration.
Once a dungeon is completed, the player can still return to open up previously accessible passages. Even upon scouring dungeons top to bottom, I still found new undiscovered secrets every now and then. These secret passages are rarely ever just a room with an item in it. Hidden paths often lead into robust puzzles, or even connect into other dungeons as shortcuts.
The story of Severed is relatively simple, and is told gracefully through its art and scarce dialogue. Even though Sasha never speaks, I couldn’t help but sympathize with her character in the occasional cutscene. Her emotions and intentions are depicted effectively with only her body language and facial expressions.
A few recurring NPCs provide more than enough exposition on the world, alongside paintings that depict its history. A talking, two-headed bird provides just enough comic relief in this darkly-themed universe. An old lady driven mad by the world’s horrors helps portray just how dangerous Sasha’s adventure is. Moments of dialogue are few and far between, but they serve well to express the themes of the game.
Severed is a polished experience with very few flaws. One issue is that, since the game contains 360 degree camera control, turning in dungeon exploration can be slow and tedious. This is strange because this camera feature serves only to offer a smooth feeling of looking around a room. This could be solved by an option to speed up the panning speed. Another odd design choice is that the game provides limited health items, yet there is no consequence to dying in a fight. Exploring with low health just means you’ll die quicker in the next encounter, yet such a loss will just place the player in the space just before the encounter. This could have been avoided with a type of checkpoint system, or by causing the player to drop giblets upon death.
It took me about six hours to finish Severed, and there are still a lot of secret areas that I need to explore. My time with it has been rich and fulfilling, with very few moments of distaste or frustration. Severed successfully blends casual mobile game mechanics with high difficulty, beautiful storytelling, and complex dungeon design. It was engaging enough to keep me away from Dark Souls 3. That said, it was simple and accessible enough to cause my girlfriend, who is not into any sort of gaming, to kill the battery of my Vita in a single evening. Never have I seen a game have such an effect.
Severed as a whole is a strong reminder of the PS Vita’s potential. Its unique blend of simple and deep mechanics makes it a beautiful, worthwhile experience. I hope that it will help put the Vita back on the map, bringing with it more developers and consumers. I can see Severed being ported to mobile devices, PS Move, and even VR. If you’re one of the rare Vita owners out there, I implore you to get this game. You’ll be glad you bought a Vita when you do.
Until 6 p.m EST tonight, you can enter our giveaway for Severed. We have a North American and a European code to giveaway. Good luck!
A code of Severed was provided by DrinkBox Studios for the purpose of this review.