When Severed was first announced at PSX in 2014 it quickly became one of my most anticipated games. Firstly, it is Drinkbox Studios’s next game following the excellent Guacamelee!, and is a PS Vita exclusive. Being on the Vita, I had hopes Drinkbox would utilize the system’s touchscreen for a unique experience. Secondly, Severed was advertised as a first person dungeon crawler with some RPG aspects added in, a farcry from their previous game. Most importantly, Severed successfully uses the Vita’s touch controls like few games have for an interesting take combat, but sadly the game becomes tiresome and frustrating towards the end.
Combat is exclusively tied to the Vita’s front touchscreen. Swiping up, down, sideways and diagonal will deal damage to enemies and it’s fun to rub the camera as fast as possible, seeing a myriad of tiny numbers appear on the screen. As you progress and grow stronger, specific attack strategies are more viable against certain enemies. For example, a charge attack is better against some enemies while others are more susceptible to quicker and lighter attacks. It’s satisfying to swipe up and down for a few seconds and the enemy’s health is rapidly drained. Landing consecutive strikes without being blocked will fill the focus meter, and once full, Sever will activate which allows you to cut limbs from enemies that can be used to upgrade Sasha’s skill tree.
More enemies come into the fray with different weaknesses to expose and they’re quite varied: one mushroom-like enemy requires you to attack its growing cuspids before you can deal damage to its eye. Another is a bird whose attack meter will fill when you deal damage to it, and once they receive enough damage it will split apart into smaller birds that must be stunned before you can defeat one, killing the enemy itself. The enemy design doesn’t improve much beyond that because throughout the rest of the game you’re only shown stronger variations of these enemies. It’s disappointing to fight the same six or so enemies throughout the seven hour game; their attack patterns become predictable and the fights eventually grow mundane.
The fights themselves increase in difficulty too, but I found it to be frustrating. It wasn’t the difficulty that was annoying, but how the fights themselves progressed. You’re eased into fights with one to two enemies at a time, and eventually three or four. Then, enemies start gaining buffs like increased damage or defense, health regeneration, magic defense and increased speed. It can become overwhelming fighting four enemies at once and having to take care of two attacks within a second of each other. There were certain battles I had to do numerous times because there was no room to breathe and it felt like a rush of attacks every second. I often had to leave these battles for another time because how I was attacking was not working at the time.
It’s a lighter RPG but it fulfills that craving I was hoping for. There are three different skill trees to upgrade and each are especially useful. The base skill tree will increase your defense, damage output and more, while the other skill trees will increase the potency of skills like Blind and Devour. These skills are essential to a fight because Blind allows you to freeze an enemy, and if upgraded, freeze all the enemies at once. You’re able to have more control in a battle which is especially useful for enemies with quicker cooldowns. Devour allows you to remove a foe’s buff, minus magic defense, so you’ll weaken whichever monster and inherit their buffs like defense and health regeneration. These powers add some strategy to fights because it may be worth taking out an enemy with two buffs first, but quickly turning your focus to a monster without any buffs and just unloading on them.
It’s also a first person dungeon crawler, and what I appreciate the most about Severed and Drinkbox’s creativity is how different this game is from Guacamelee! It still retains the colorful art style and Mexican theme throughout, and an incentive to explore; as you unlock powers, they can be used to unlock secret areas that may have heart or brain pieces, and each increase your health and mana respectively. The world has a dark tone and the main character, Sasha, must venture into another world and save her family from evil. It’s not much deeper than that, but the odd characters that see their resolutions fulfilled help keep things interesting.
Severed cleverly utilizes the Vita’s touchscreen in a way not many games do. Though it has some frustrating fights and enemies that eventually become mundane, the RPG mechanics do keep fights fresh to an extent. Its visuals and bleak world work hand-in-hand to present a memorable world with interesting characters. Severed is worth playing for its combat alone, because it does feel fresh, as opposed to a traditional turn based RPG.
+Use of touchscreen
+Dark but colorful world
-Battles become frustrating and repetitive
Brett Woodmansee is an editor for The Game Bolt and he loves RPGs, Chipotle and his beard. For tweets about video games, sports and more, follow him on Twitter.