DrinkBox Studios is probably best known for the metroidvania hit Guacamelee, but while the fans that game garnered might have wanted or expected a sequel, the developers had other plans. Severed might have a similar feeling art style, but this is an entirely different game, centring around the PlayStation Vita’s touch screen for its first person dungeon crawling.
Severed follows the story of a girl named Sasha, who wakes up to the tragic loss of her arm and her family in a world filled with monsters. As she ventures forth to try and find her family’s remains, a creature soon hands her a sword with which to fight what stands in her way, and to help make her stronger and survive in this strange world.
Combat hinges on the Vita’s touch screen, as you use your fingers to slash and parry your way through each fight. You slash in whatever direction you wish when an enemy is exposed for an attack, with longer swipes doing more damage, but shorter and faster slashes usually adding up to a greater total. Blocking sees you swipe towards the incoming attack, with different attacks having different charge times. In most cases you can’t interrupt or deal damage while an enemy goes through its attack animation.
The enemies themselves have various designs with different abilities that can quickly overpower you. At the start the monsters are fairly easy to beat, but the further you get, the more variations the monster designs will have. Most battles consist of two or more monsters, but you have to pay attention to the icons which line the bottom of the screen, since you can only engage and face one at a time.
As an attack is being set up the outer rim of an icon will fill with a yellow line. During this stage you can turn to the monster that is getting ready and either hit to interrupt or get a few shots in before the attack animation plays. When an icon starts flashing red, it’s nearly too late and you need to try and defend from an attack that has already begun. If you’re in the middle of hitting another monster then you’ll take the damage, but you can at least try to turn and block any consecutive shots that may be lined up.
Those icons also tell you what buffs the monsters might have on them. These include defence boosts, health regeneration, speed increase, increased attack power, and magic defence. While most of them can be dealt with effectively, it’s the magic defence that will have you rethinking strategies most often. Sasha gains two magical abilities over the course of the game, with Blind letting you stun enemies and momentarily freeze them in place, while Devour allows you to steal buffs from opponents and equip them for yourself. These require mana to execute but if you come across an enemy with magic defence, you have to fight without these two abilities..
The whole fight system is really easy to pick up, making full use of the Vita’s touch screen. Severed’s encounters only gradually get more difficult, so you should be skilled enough to get through fights, even if you fail a couple of times as you get your bearing and work out tactics. There are exceptions though, where the difficulty increases sharply making a few of the encounters incredibly tough to get through without levelling up the right skills.
Severing enemies is required to improve Sasha’s skills. Each consecutive strike you land fills the focus meter that means Sasha can cut an enemy’s limbs off after their health has been depleted. When the sever screen pops up, you only have mere moments to quickly swipe across the right lines to cut. Failing to do so means you miss out on that limb.
That can hamper your character progress, as monster limbs are the currency used for skill upgrades. Each skill will require a different combination and amount of limbs to upgrade, with three branches available to spend in. Upgrading Attack and Blind is all well and good, but as the difficulty gets higher and higher, you’ll find that you need to upgrade Devour more to deal with the higher difficulty.
Severed’s world is mostly open, but some paths will remain closed until a task is completed or you have the correct power to open up closed ones. Puzzles make up the other part of the game as well, where you’ll have to find the right levers to open doors to advance, which in turn requires finding keys and getting past barriers. These puzzles aren’t particualrly vexing, and mean you’ll get back to the fighting quickly enough.
It’s a world that realised in a fashion that’s reminiscent of Guacamelee’s art style, as though you’re seeing a similar or inspired world from the first person. Though the colour schemes change, many of the environments look the same or similar throughout. Some rooms may contain a statue, painting or broken furniture, but only a handful of areas really stand out and the majority have no real presence at all. The music is well composed and really helps to immerse you into this world, though. Playing with headphones is definitely recommended to fully appreciate the sound work.
There’s also one nagging inconsistency with an ability Sasha gets later in the game. As she learns to walk along cloud paths, fights while on these paths will see Sasha fall through the clouds if you don’t beat the enemies quickly enough, transporting you to a previous checkpoint in the process. However, there’s no such time limit or timer when outside of combat, which just feels odd and occurs without explanation.
Across Severed’s seven or so hours, you get to experience some of the best touch screen gaming around. DrinkBox Studios have created a great game here with an engaging battle system and art style. It can feel a bit too minimalist in its design, and there’s much repetition in the environments, but DrinkBox Studios have created a great game with an engaging battle system and art style. If you own a Vita, Severed is worth getting.