SpiderMonster

Day of the dead

The hardest part of reviewing Severed wasn’t adjusting to its unique touch screen combat, or the old-school room-by-room adventure game movements you have to make. It was finding my damn PS Vita in the first place, and then locating its charger because the battery had run out long ago. You see, Severed is the first game I’ve played for the Vita in 15 months. It’s a system that suffers from a lack of original, non-JRPG software. But the folks over at DrinkBox Studios—who also produced the last original game I played on the Vita, Guacamelee!—continue to impress, showing the potential the handheld always had if others had simply kept with it.

Severed is a dungeon crawler that sees players take on the role of Sasha, a girl whose life has been ruined by unexplained circumstances. Along with losing her family, she has lost her right arm, and is now drifting through a sort of Limbo-like world. A mysterious force, however, grants her a sword, a chance at escape, and possibly redemption—if she can unite her family in this mystical realm and conquer her demons made manifest.

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Much like Guacamelee!, Severed touts a colorful, abstract art style that permeates the game world from its environments to its characters, but instead of seeing it from a side-scrolling perspective, this game is set in the first-person. The bright colors interestingly enough act in direct contrast to the game’s dark tones and macabre enemy design, giving off a vibe that should leave you just uncomfortable enough to always be on your toes—but not so much that you’ll ever want to stop playing as you hunt for Sasha’s family.

That said, the game really only scratches the surface of its deeper themes of life and death, leaving a lot open for interpretation about the beginning and end of Sasha’s story—and the various characters she meets—than some might like. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the game’s short length; it only took me five hours to complete the story’s three temples and find about 70% of the game’s hidden items/power-ups. Short as it may be, though, Sasha’s adventure through a pseudo-underworld should leave you wanting more, and that’s not really a terrible thing.

Even though Severed is played in the first-person, your control over Sasha’s movement is limited. You can spin Sasha in full 360 degrees when she enters a room to look for items and switches against the walls, but she always remains in the center of the room and can only truly move in the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) if there is an open door. While this limited control might not sound appealing, it actually makes it easier to remember where to backtrack to (along with the game’s map, of course), participate in combat, and allows you to better focus on the puzzles presented to you.

Portal

The puzzles have a Legend of Zelda feel to them, particularly in the game’s three temples, which make up the bulk of the game. In them, you’ll be required to find hidden switches, the missing pieces of broken keys, or alternate paths to get items past magical barriers that won’t allow you through with said item in your possession. This extra wrinkle to the exploration that comprises most of Severed’s gameplay helped keep me interested when outside of combat.

Combat is really where Severed tries something new, and it acts as both its shining star and its greatest hindrance at times. Players must swipe their finger vigorously across the Vita’s touchscreen to symbolize Sasha slashing her sword. Regular attacks are used in conjunction with special powers that freeze enemies, rage moves that increase Sasha’s offensive power, or charge attacks. You’ll also fill up a focus meter while in combat, which allows Sasha to perform brutal finishers that have her lop off enemy body parts before finishing them for good. Collecting these body parts is critical to the game’s upgrade system, which our heroine can use to strengthen the different powers she will come across during the game.

SkullMonster

Besides trying to get more body parts for upgrades, fighting enemies is never a dull moment because you’ll face an ever-changing hodgepodge of characters with different strengths and weaknesses. This means your tactics will have to change as fluidly as the foes you face, keeping you moving and your strategy changing from battle to battle. As you progress through Severed, though, battles will become more frantic. As many as four enemies can attack at once, while Sasha can only attack one enemy at a time. Complicating things further, she can only parry—not block—incoming attacks, meaning timing and bouncing between enemies becomes critical to your strategy. While this provides an extremely involving and fun balancing metagame to combat, it can feel like things start to fall apart when the touchscreen itself fails you. There were many times where, in trying to keep up with the speed of what the game required from me to make it through each battle (especially late in the game), the touchscreen would often misinterpret my swipes, or my haste would lead to the inevitable human error more frequently.

This aspect only becomes more heightened in the game’s three major boss battles, each one larger and more epic than the last. You’ll be swiping so frantically you might burn a hole through your Vita if you’re not careful as you’ll be parrying attacks from every angle and using every new trick you come across in order to overcome the monstrous guardians found in Severed. Each one serves as a fitting culmination, however, to each of the story’s major acts.

Severed is a perfectly capable dungeon crawler. It’s gorgeous visuals will draw you to it like a moth to flame, but its combat—an idea perfect for touchscreens—is what will keep you going, even if it becomes occasionally frustrating. There may be few great reasons to dust off your PS Vita nowadays, but Severed definitely appears to be one of them.

OneArmedMonster

Developer: DrinkBox Studios • Publisher: DrinkBox Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.26.16
8.5
DrinkBox Studios pushes the boundaries on the Vita’s unique hardware once again. Although from a technical perspective it occasionally lets them down, Severed’s unique combat system and beautiful art style carry the day on what is a fun, if not short-lived, dungeon crawler.
The Good Beautifully designed world filled with creative puzzles and fantastical creatures.
The Bad Swiping the touch screen can be inaccurate at times, especially in more frantic battles.
The Ugly Beatable on one decent length plane ride, and the people sitting next to you on said plane don’t take “I’m fighting a dragon” as a valid excuse as to why you keep accidentally elbowing them.
Severed is a PS Vita exclusive. Review code was provided by DrinkBox Studios for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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