Severed is a bit of curiosity in this day and age. DrinkBox Studios, its developer, has proven their pedigree with their last few games, which saw success on multiple platforms. Severed, on the other hand, is debuting on only one platform: PlayStation Vita.
Now, that isn’t a problem in and of itself, but it is noteworthy. The Vita is pretty much dead in the water (in the Western world), and a lot of its upcoming games are either ports/cross-buy versions of PS4 games, or Japanese games that are being localized. In terms of titles (let alone exclusives) developed on this side of the planet, the Vita isn’t exactly attracting developers. And for those who think that Severed could make its way to other more popular platforms, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Granted, this is why I was intrigued by Severed in the first place. I have to commend DrinkBox as a whole; they have fully committed to creating a handheld title, and this is one of those games that takes full advantage of the system’s touchscreen. Ports to consoles isn’t likely, though it could see some life on tablets if the need should present itself.
Severed follows the story of Sasha, a young warrior who awakens in a surreal fantasy world and embarks on a journey to find the missing members of her family. The game drops you into her shoes with no explanation as to what’s going on, though this does provide the ongoing mystery of the disappearance of Sasha’s family, and exactly what world you are in.
While first person dungeon crawlers usually find their way to the Nintendo 3DS, Severed shines on the Vita, but this is due in part to its somewhat unorthodox control scheme. Rather than gripping the Vita with both hands, you’ll instead hold the Vita with one hand situated on the directional buttons (or the face buttons if you are a lefty), to control Sasha’s movement. Curiously, right-handed players can also use the left thumbstick to move Sasha around, but you can’t use the right thumbstick to do the same, and I couldn’t find any sort of option to toggle this. It’s an odd omission to say the least, but the game is still perfectly playable, regardless of your handedness.
Severed unfolds in an interconnected world, with some gating here and there to prevent you from advancing too far. It’s not a Metroidvania in the traditional sense, but there is the possibility to tackle areas and dungeons in different orders in order to reduce play time. The environment is full of puzzles and objects to collect, and the inclusion of keys and other environmental objects draws some parallels to dungeons from The Legend of Zelda. There’s a sprawling map (split up into floors) to consult if you get lost, and there are a few secrets to uncover for those who want to take the time to dig them up.
As engrossing as it is to dig into Severed’s creepy surreal world, the main draw of the game is the combat system, and this is where you’ll spend most of your time focusing on. Like most dungeon crawlers, as you move from tile to tile, you run the chance of running into enemies. However, unlike most dungeon crawlers, you’ll be using the touch screen to do all your battling.
That free hand (that isn’t on the directional or face buttons) is your friend here. Enemies are positioned around Sasha, and while they begin charging up to attack, you’ll have the opportunity to attack them with Sasha’s sword, by swiping them using the touch screen. The longer the swipe, the more damage the enemy will take. It’s a brilliantly designed set of combat mechanics, that offers up more depth than you would originally expect.
You see, enemies have the tendency to harden up and go on the defensive, meaning you’ll have to wait for weak points to present themselves. The direction you swipe also matters, as some enemies defend themselves at key areas on their bodies, leaving other areas vulnerable for a few quick swipes. For example, one enemy defends himself in alternating ‘corners,’ necessitating swipes from one corner of his body to the other. Another enemy is composed of multiple eyes, which open and close randomly. Finding the optimal path to swipe and inflict the most damage with fewer swipes is crucial.
If enemies are left to their own volition for too long, they will begin to charge up an attack, though that can be interrupted by attacking them, which resets their ‘attack charge.’ Still, if an enemy does attack, there is a way to counter, which usually requires good timing and reflexes. Battles are simple at the onset, but as more enemies begin to attack Sasha at once, you’ll have to learn to balance your time between each foe, dishing out a little damage on one enemy before switching back to another before you get attacked.
While there’s nothing prohibiting you from swiping like a sugar-fueled toddler, Severed rewards finesse and patience through a focus meter. Said meter builds up as you land attacks on your enemies, with successive attacks adding more to your meter (through a multiplier). Missing or getting attacked yourself resets this meter, so careful play is encouraged. This focus meter isn’t that important in the heat of battle, but it is necessary to pay attention to it in order to level up Sasha.
You see, if you manage to fill your focus meter before you defeat an enemy, a quick time event of sorts will trigger when you land the final blow. Completing this successfully will allow you to collect the leftover body parts and organs of your foes, which is needed to upgrade Sasha’s sword, armor and other abilities. It might sound odd, but Severed has a fascination with body parts and limbs, specifically those that aren’t exactly intact. Did I mention that Sasha starts the game with her left arm missing?
While its colorful and twisted visuals are a definite highlight, Severed’s biggest success is its unique brand of touch-focused combat, which manages to keep you engaged for the eight or so hours your first playthrough will last, though ardent fans can extend that playtime by uncovering all of the game’s secrets. With a killer soundtrack to boot, there really is no reason not to give Severed a go, assuming you have a Vita in the first place.
This review is based on the PlayStation Vita exclusive, which we were provided with for review.
While a touch-focused first person dungeon crawler might sound crazy on paper, Severed's unique brand of combat is as deep as it is engaging.