Severed (Vita) review
"A surprisingly complex Zelda-esque adventure that utilizes the strengths of its platform in smart and simple ways."
Severed is the story of a young girl named Sasha, whose home has been destroyed and her family taken by an angry beast. On top of the sudden upending of her life, Sasha has had her left arm cut off during the fracas. Upon discovering the status of your arms, a looming, spectral figure rises from the floor and hands you a sword. This being explains that while this world resembles your own, it is not truly home, but a shadow world where the thing that took family reigns supreme. But if you can find a way to defeat the monster, you will be able to return home. It is a premise as old as time: defeat the big bad creature, save your people, and everyone goes home happy. The characters involved don’t get much personality past the early stages, aside from a two-headed bird that provides some slight comic relief. This is a game is more focused on mechanics rather than plot.
Releasing a game on the Playstation Vita in 2016 is tantamount to insanity, but Drinkbox Studios uses the capabilities of the platform smartly. Combat is handled entirely with the touch screen. Swiping your finger in any direction, and Sasha will swing your sword in the same manner. As well as being an elegant design choice, Severed’s control scheme also holds thematic value. As a result of training she received from her mother (a neat twist on traditional gender roles), Sasha has some experience handling a sword. But she’s far from a master at the beginning of the game. Her growing powers as a warrior mirrors the player’s increasing comfort with the control scheme.
But can’t go around swinging your sword haphazardly and expect to get far. Battles in Severed operate almost like old-fashioned duels, as you and your opponent must wait for the proper opening to attack. Defeating each monster requires patience and focus. Once a small meter at the bottom of the screen fills up, your opponent will wind up an attack. If you successfully block their attempt, the player will have an opportunity to counter and get some hits in. If you do well during battles, creating combos and defending properly, a focus meter is filled up. When it is all the way full, the player gets a nice bonus once you’ve defeated the monsters in your path: for a couple of precious seconds, you have the chance to cut off the designated limbs of your beaten opponent, who is frozen in mid-air while this is happening. The limbs you successfully cut off are used to buy upgrades for Sasha. This mechanic is a darkly inventive way to bring an upgrade system into the game. Using the eyes, hands, and legs of the dead fools that dared to stand in your way of your mission isn’t something you see very often.
This routine of “wait, block, counter, repeat” is fairly simple, but Drinkbox Studios adds plenty of elements to keep the combat from getting too repetitious. There are a large variety of enemy types in Severed that each have their own unique attack patterns, and you regularly find yourself facing multiple enemies at once. Near the end of the game, enemies also come equipped with stat modifiers that can make their attacks more deadly or their downtime between attacks shorter. Managing three or four foes at once can get a bit hectic, but the challenge presented in these encounters present remains enjoyable throughout the game’s’ seven-to-eight hour runtime.
But your sword is not the only way to do damage. Severed also adds magic abilities to your arsenal during the course of the game. These powers allow you to freeze enemies for a few seconds, or steal a monster’s stat bonuses for yourself. These magic spells also have their own upgrade trees of their own.
But there’s much more to Severed than mere fighting. Exploration is an equally important feature of the game. The game bears an obvious resemblance to Drinkbox’s previous game, Guacamelee, but its look becomes more distinctive as you move through the game’s five areas. Each area has plenty of secrets that can help improve Sasha’s abilities, such as breakable barrels that house giblets that can be used to purchase upgrades or The Legend of Zelda-esque pieces of heart and brain that increase your health or magic bars once you accumulate enough of them. There are pathways in each area that are inaccessible until you find magic spells doled out during the story, a la Castlevania. Severed’s influences are clear to see, but the game is so good that it doesn’t matter how original some of the game’s major components are. There hasn’t been a new Metroid game since 2010 (Federation Force is a different sort of thing and by all accounts, a bad game). Konami barely makes games anymore. There aren’t many new games like Severed out there. It’s nice to see another developer do this genre right.
Community review by sam1193 (October 05, 2016)
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