Severed PS Vita Review
As I played through Severed I kept thinking about the first time I played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Mechanically there were many similarities. The dungeons have similar formulas, and one could even suggest that the world is built with the adventure classic in mind. However I was not primarily thinking about their parallel design decisions as I played. Instead, I was reminded of the magical “wow” feeling that a game can produce upon a player’s entrance.
With each step in Severed (it’s more like a leap between squares) I looked around in awe at what Drinkbox Studios had created and my expectations for what the game would serve me shot to the sky. The sound of creating a flame with my blade, the psychedelic traditional rock fusion music by YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN & PANTAYO, and just how good every action in the game feels. I had severely forgotten what I was originally excited for going into this game.
Severed’s world is not something that will fit into a simple category of ‘medieval fantasy’ or ‘science fiction’. Sponge-fungus sprouts everywhere, gradient trees fade from dark shades of purple to deep teal, and eyeballs, eyeballs are everywhere. The first steps that the player takes as the main character, Sasha, ensures that they are pushed off of reality’s ledge into this new environment as they reach the home of her past. Except it isn’t her home. She quickly learns as her memories are whisked in her head like a couple of eggs. Flashes of dragons, corpses and anger all rush across the screen. Sasha’s family has died, and her arm went with them. A demon appears behind her shortly after to inform her that this world she has come to isn’t reality, and if she would like to go back the bodies of her family must be united. This is the beginning of the journey.
The main way that the player traverses Severed’s dark and mysterious landscapes is reminiscient of old RPGs such as Of Might and Magic, or The Legend of Grimrock as a more recent example. Maps are laid out as a grid and the player moves square by square, although it feels more like room by room at times. The big difference between the way that the movement functions in Severed though is that enemies are not moving around the maps at all times. Many enemies are actually placed in specific positions for the player to battle. I believe that there were a couple of fights that may have been randomly generated on the map because I was taking too long to journey through, but because it was indistinguishable from what was specifically placed it was hard to tell.
Once one of these encounters take place the combat begins. Severed’s combat could be called a combination of inspirations that range from action games like Bayonetta to mobile titles like Fruit Ninja. In fact, multiple times I played this in front of people they believed I was slicing bananas for combos. It isn’t bad that Severed has so much in common with Fruit Ninja. Actually, the game makes me wonder why no one used the mechanic in a narrative in the first place. The combat in Severed cannot be simplified to swiping combos on screen though, in fact it is one of the most intense games I have played in a long time.
In each battle there is an enemy with a weakpoint that can be swiped to damage them. This is changed up throughout the game by adding buffs, shields, and other hoo has. We are not just talking about one enemy though, in fact the chaos truly begins with you are surrounded by an eyeball monster, two fungal growths, and a quadranecked bitey-head. They are much more terrifying than my names would make you believe. This hectic combat had me counting while I was doing combat and it checked me to ensure that I would not endulge in damaging enemies too much. So many battles I lost and became incredibly frustrated, and sometimes I would just have to put the Vita down and come back later because it was so difficult. After a while I learned how to deal with various situations though and though I couldn’t go back and do them easy breezy, I would at least have a strategy.
These combat sequences are not all that Severed has to offer though. Battles are only a small part of the bigger dungeon crawls contained within the game and in those ventures there are also character interactions, brain puzzles, mechanical puzzles, and collectables. It would be a huge discredit to the entirety of the game to say that the battles are what make it so much fun. Many times I sat in a dungeon, reading a newly discovered tome in hopes that it would lead me to a secret passage way. Most of them I succeeded in solving, some of them were too difficult to take the time, but every time I solved one it felt very satisfying. These puzzles are an excellent reminder that some games cannot rely on a sole mechanic entirely.
The characters are also gripping throughout in a way that I did not expect. Severed doesn’t go out of its way to tell a story to the player, instead it gives some dialogue, and a peek into what may be going on, then it vanishes. It may sound frustrating in letters but it only made me want to know more. At the beginning I believed that the characters in the game disliked me and they would become my enemies. By the end of the game my heart was in pieces because I knew I wouldn’t get to see those same characters anymore throughout.
This is one of the biggest complaints that I have about Severed. Aside from some puzzle sections, every player in Severed will experience the game in almost the exact same way. Each one of them will take the same turns, go down the same halls, and fight the monsters at the same time. It doesn’t take away from what already exists, I was rarely thinking about it while I was playing. So I am not saying that the fact that Severed is a linear game takes away from the game. However, once Severed has been completed in it’s entirety there isn’t a compelling reason to go back and do it all over again. Drinkbox has done an amazing job creating a world that I want to know more about but despite the tone of curious and vague world they created, everything is ubiquitous.
When I put my Vita down after completing Severed, my emotions felt like soft drink fountains at a gas station. I walked in expecting a fun, unique experience; only one drink. Instead, I left with a suicide of emotions: one that left me relieved, satisfied, at peace, and yearning. This was without a doubt one of the best Vita games I have ever played, without many flaws. Each individual piece of the game does not do anything innovative or new, but together it creates an experience that is unmatched even outside of the platform. I was happy to feel that magical “wow” feeling again, especially as a surprise and I hope that whatever Drinkbox Studios creates next will do the same.