Review: Severed (PSV)

Title: Severed
Format: PlayStation Network Download (228 MB)
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Original MSRP: $14.99 US €14.99 EU £11.99 UK
ESRB Rating: T
Severed is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Vita download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2016
– Best Action/Adventure (PSV)
– Game of the Year (PSV)
I could start this review with the typical “baiting” statement/question like, “Drinkbox Studios has done it again by creating a highly stylized take on an old genre, but is it any good?” Instead I’m just going to spoil the ending of the review and just state that, yes, it is very good.

Severed is Drinkbox Studios’ take on the very old dungeon exploring genre, (Wizardry, Eye of the Beholder). The twist is Vita-exclusive touch combat since it can only be played via touch controls.

Severed puts you in the role of a young one-armed woman who explores the beautifully designed world on a quest to find her lost family and discover more about herself. The developers poured a lot of love into this portable game, and it shows so very much.

… far more than just a time-wasting minigame …
Gameplay:
It is the unique take on combat that sets Severed apart from just about any other game in this ancient genre. But it is not the only thing that makes it stand out.

On tablets and smartphones, this style of combat has been seen in games like Infinity Blade and Fruit Ninja, where your finger swipes represent the blade of your sword and your slice precision determines success.

Severed is far more than just a time-wasting minigame on a smart device. Admittedly, I had no idea that it was a dungeon-exploring game.

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When I saw the trailer last year, I initially took it as a swipe-fighting game. Having seen those minigames on smartphones, I took little interest. This was despite the stellar reputation Drinkbox has for putting out top-quality products.

Recently though, I was put in my place after discovering that this was a far deeper experience, with a robust exploration and a leveling system. Hell, even the swipe combat isn’t as clumsy or random as games that utilize the same combat technique. Try swiping like a madman as you would on Infinity Blade, and you’ll find death quickly.

… fallen limbs comprise your loot system …
You start off in your home, alone and surrounded by destruction. As you approach a mirror, you discover that you are missing an arm. In order to discover what has happened to your family, you must explore multiple environments and deep multi-floored dungeons, finding items to help you on your journey and becoming a stronger warrior by collecting the limbs of fallen enemies.

Yes, fallen limbs comprise your loot system here, and it makes combat and the moments after each fight integral to your success. Claws, eyes, and tails are collected as a sort of monetary element towards your leveling.

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Certain skills and upgrades in your character’s skill tree require a combination of limbs and as you defeat certain enemies, you are given moments to sever those limbs. Because the game is called Severed after all.

As you progress through your quest, you start to become familiar with which enemy drops which limb. Landing successful hits on an enemy raises your opportunity to land a “finish him!” ending move. At this point you can swipe across given paths in order to collect the pieces of the enemies.

… the enemy attacks …
Because of this, it’s very important to learn an enemy’s pattern because the moment it blocks your attack, you lose the opportunity for that “finishing swipe”. Fortunately, learning the pattern isn’t that difficult, and before long you are timing your attacks to compensate for these blocks.

Enemies aren’t the only ones that can block. Below each enemy is a red circle icon that represents each monster type. A small yellow ring begins to draw around the red icon, and when the circuit is complete, the enemy attacks.

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At this point, you can swipe against the attack to deflect and stun the enemy, affording you seconds to unleash hell on the dumbfounded monster. The other significant purpose of the red icons comes into play when you are attacked by multiple enemies on all sides.

The first time this happened to me it was a little overwhelming. It was challenging enough keeping an eye on one enemy, let alone three – two of which I couldn’t see.

… Bravo Drinkbox …
But that yellow ring let me know when the other was going to attack, so I could quickly switch to it, block its attack, and turn back towards the one I was initially fighting. This allowed me to kill one at a time, allowing me to relieve how many bad guys I had to focus on at once.

Enemies never really attacked at the same time, so I never had to take damage because I was being attacked on all sides. This makes for exhilarating combat, something I swore I’d never feel about touch screen fighting systems. Bravo Drinkbox!

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But as I said before, this game isn’t just about the combat. Exploration is just as important a mechanic as the fun combat system and there is plenty to explore, assuming you enjoy dungeon spelunking.

Dungeons are laid out much as they have been in similar titles for decades. A grid system is used where each block represents a step you take, or a few feet. Severed isn’t only restricted to underground dungeon exploration. You’ll explore forests and other environments as you travel from dungeon to dungeon.

… Enemies aren’t a random affair …
Getting from point A to point B isn’t quite as linear either. Doors must be unlocked, panels must be pushed, and torches must be lit in order to open passages, or reveal hidden treasures.

There is some doubling back after discovering an item that gives you access to previously inaccessible locations, but fans of this genre won’t mind that. I certainly didn’t.

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Enemies aren’t a random affair either. You always see where they are since they are represented by a small white flame in the center of the environment.

This gives you the advantage of deciding when it’s best to engage in combat. For instance, you may want to find a heal fruit before taking on a dangerous enemy. The mix of combat and exploration is evenly distributed, preventing the gameplay from becoming stale in either direction.

… a world that is both dangerous and beautiful to look upon …
Visuals:
Everything I have described above has been done before, with the exception of the polished swipe combat mixing with a true dungeon-explorer. What Drinkbox brings to this arena is their incredibly serene and gorgeous visual design.

Much like Guacamelee!, the world of Severed is designed with a simple color palette that evokes more emotion than anything with a thousand times its detail.

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Every grid step is covered with the most beautiful imagery. From an old ruin silhouetted in the distance, to a small crow perched on a dead tree stump, every piece of art whisks you away to another world. As much as I loved playing this on Vita, I so wish that I could play this on PlayStation 4 with a Move controller and the PS VR headset.

Regardless, even on the Vita’s smaller screen, the simple design doesn’t overstimulate the senses, so nothing is lost in the translation due to the smaller real estate. As such, part of this game’s high score is due to the amazing work Drinkbox has done in creating a world that is both dangerous and beautiful to look upon.

… the desire to play more and more …
It is a testament to say that the exact same game could have been created using the traditional brick dungeons and realistic environments, and it would not have been nearly as impressive.

That’s not to say that the gameplay is nothing without the visuals. That’s just to say that the visuals are so wonderful that they add to the desire to play more and more. The sense of discovery is heightened by the need to see what wondrous environment comes next.

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Audio:
And yet the serenity presented by these beautiful locales goes only so far without the accompanying music. Here we are once again presented with the perfect blend of a new-agey score and sounds that further enhance the immersive experience.

There isn’t much spoken dialogue in Severed, with the exception of a few sound effects that suggest the voice of a character, much like Zelda. Swiping your finger across the screen generates the telltale “whooshing” sound of a sword slicing through the air, and connecting with enemies comes with satisfying impact effects.

… it almost becomes a rhythm game …
In fact, these sound effects play well into the entire combat system in that you almost reach a Zen state where you anticipate how many hits you can land before an enemy blocks. This is in part due to the sound effect cues.

Eventually you are swiping three times quickly, before turning your attention to the enemy behind you, executing a few quick slices, and turning back. Sound plays a huge role in this because it almost becomes a rhythm game.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Many have succumbed to the notion that the Vita is on its way out. I’m not the person to agree or disagree with this statement. But with games like Severed, taking full advantage of the Vita in ways few have, I do believe that there is plenty of life left in this little system.

Severed does what it does so well. It transports you to a world where you must use your actual wits, as a player not just a character, to reach the end. And while your finger is doing most of the work dispatching enemies, it’s your timing and anticipation that wins in the end.

Thus you, as a person, are gaining actual “experience points” alongside your character. On the flipside of the coin, it’s your cunning and patience that rewards you when exploring the catacombs on the quest to find your family.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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