Review: Severed

Apr 26, 2016

Created by DrinkBox Studios, Severed is preceded by About a Blob, Guacamelee!, and Mutant Blobs Attack. That’s a high quality pedigree few developers can claim. This is important for Vita fans who may be concerned about the system dying a slow death: Severed is an exclusive to the Vita. DrinkBox has created nothing but solid games the past several years and you can expect that Severed follows suit, and may be the undisputed “best game” on Vita. Severed should be a system seller. Perhaps its too late for the little guy [Vita], but as a day 1 owner and huge fan of the device, I’ve found my new go-to recommendation to friends. And I’m hopeful this high-quality game helps prolong the life of the Vita.

Severed_Screenshot_01Severed begins eerily. You walk about a creepy, yet colorful, wooded area and a
re lightly guided on gameplay until you see your reflection in the mirror. Your arm has been severed, and you’ve been severed from your family. Your task is to find them, no matter what stands in your way. Such as a cute flower looking guy that you kill with swipes on the screen using the sword given to you by some kind of demon. But you aren’t a stranger to weaponry. In the games first flashback sequence, it’s revealed that you are Sasha and have had combat training from your mother, a warrior for sure. As part of the tutorial you relive portions of that training, learning to attack, parry and counter attack. But that’s only the beginning of the combat dynamic in Severed. Like the game itself, combat is simple. You swipe the screen to attack with either short or long swipes. Long swipes deal more damage. Later in the game you learn how to deal a charge attack, and you can level any of these up with the severed limbs of your enemies. If there were more to the combat, the dynamic enemies and combat scenarios would become too complicated to enjoy. Furthermore, the puzzles in the environment would add so much stress to you as a player that Severed would suffer. This game is about stacking simplicity with one mysterious story.

In the vein of PC classics such as Dungeon Master, Severed is a tile based dungeon crawler and role-playing game. This means you move from tile to tile on the map and can interact with what’s around you, in that tile, generally on a limited basis. You upgrade your hero (not a party-system in the case of Severed) and solve puzzles to move throughout the dungeons. I’m a sucker for these games. Severed is a mostly linear tale with creative maps from one dungeon to the next. What you’ll find in Severed is a somewhat Metroid-like twist to dungeon crawling. Backtracking is common but not overly complicated. You won’t deal with re-spawning enemies when you are hunting for secrets in one of the dungeons or a key you need to progress. Severed does a great job of guiding you through the mechanics of the world. And they maintain that creepy, mysterious feeling from the game’s introduction. In the game’s first dungeon you’ll find books with cryptic messages and drawings that show you how to find secrets that are critical to your success.

As you progress through the game, RPG elements begin to show themselves. For example, a good kill can result in limbs being dropped by the enemy, which you can use to upgrade Sasha’s skills. The buffs aren’t anything too “game-changing” but they’re very helpful to round you out in areas where you need some help as a player. Early in my playthrough I increased my health but not damage dealt. Later on, as I approached the first boss, I felt over powered – not due to my skills but rather my comfort with the gameplay. Hat tip to DrinkBox for the excellent tutorial they’ve embedded into the first dungeon. You’ll learn the patterns of how the world is built: icons that represent keys, rooms that have secrets, and the difference between completing the objective and fully clearing a map. I love the simplicity here. Backtracking in games is not something I enjoy, unless it’s pretty clear how and when to return to that point. In Severed, a locked progression point (i.e. a door) is marked with one of many symbols representing the world. You need some object or skill with that same symbol to unlock that progression point. Simple elegance. Love it. If puzzles sound complicated or overwhelming, they really aren’t too difficult. Combat on the other hand is where you’ll find more depth and inspiration to continue forward.

Severed_Screenshot_02Enemies in Severed have a lot of variety. As you swipe across the screen feverishly in battle, you’re doing more than randomly scribbling across the enemy. You need to parry, counterattack, attack weak or unguarded areas and control the duration and length of your swipes for maximum efficiency. All the while you may be surrounded by multiple enemies that charge up for an attack at varying paces. I particularly love this element of combat. If you’re surrounded by 2 or more enemies you would benefit from monitoring the red circle at the bottom of the screen. This represents the health and attack recharge rate (in yellow) of your enemy occupying the spaces adjacent to you. You may attack an enemy with high health while you build up your attack focus while staving off some lightweight enemies until your focus is at maximum so that you can sever all of them and collect the loot. Then, you’ll redeem that loot for upgrades. It’s brilliant. DrinkBox did an excellent job of slowly guiding you through this. You learn the basics early and intuit how to manage multiple enemies quickly so you can get off and running into the dungeons.

Let’s talk about upgrades. Do you have enough heart to fight the enemy? Do you have enough brains to navigate the dungeons? If not, have no fear! You can collect individual heart and brain pieces to increase your maximum health and mana. You can be incredibly talented at managing combat and complete the game without ever finding these upgrades. But I don’t believe you can complete the game without upgrading your skills, such as adding critical damage, life leech, and increasing your time to sever the limbs of the enemy. DrinkBox made this pretty simple (shocker). As you collect limbs you can redeem upgrades. If you struggle with collecting limbs you can convert giblets into any of the limbs you require. Don’t think you’ll be farming in Severed – there aren’t any areas for farming as everything is finite in the game. Before battling the final boss I did spend an hour backtracking to all the places in the map I couldn’t previously reach due to lack of a certain item. Otherwise, I mainly played this linearly.

While Severed may not save the Vita from a slow death, it’s easily one of the best games on the platform. It’s mysterious yet familiar and has a flow about it that is redeeming despite spikes in difficulty. I’m recommending Severed to all of my Vita buddies and will probably buy several copies as gifts this holiday season. Severed is available today on PSN for $14.99. A bargain price for an amazing game.