SEVERED: Five reasons to play this beautiful & unique Vita title!
Why did I sleep on Severed? This touch-based title won over critics when it was released in 2016 and yet I sure took my time getting around to it. I loved DrinkBox Studios’ previous work on Mutant Blobs Attack and Guacamelee, but their latest title was left sitting on my Vita for ages. With preorders for Eastasiasoft’s exclusive physical release opening soon, I thought it was about time I gave this game a chance. After hours spent swiping my PlatStation Vita, it turns out that Severed is an amazing experience I wish I’d given a chance earlier.
Here are my five reasons why you should try Severed too:
1. It follows a unique heroine on a harrowing tale
Severed casts players as Sasha: a wandering warrior with a strong sword arm – and only one of them to begin with. Awakening in a broken home to discover she’s missing a limb and her beloved family members, she silently sets out in search of them. The nature of Sasha’s character means we get a unique look at a character type not often represented in games!
Don’t look at the bright graphics and go into Severed expecting a fun family reunion, though. Like the studio’s previous work on Guacamelee, Severed has a strong Mexican influence in the art direction, but the tone is a stark difference. This is a title about exploring loneliness, loss and death as Sasha wanders the underworld and all the anxieties that await within. Because of the art style, Severed doesn’t look especially violent, but it revels in grotesque imagery. The nightmarish visuals suit the bleak story it tells, but there’s always a glimmer of hope there with a strong visual contrast between light and darkness. Severed is presented in a simple 2D style, but there’s nothing out there that looks quite like it.
2. It’s a twist on a familiar first-person genre
Sasha’ quest takes her through the wilds of the underworld to explore tall towers and abandoned villages. Each of the areas flow into each other and are explored by advancing one screen at a time like an old-school dungeon crawler. The presentation is simple, but these dungeons are packed with puzzles and secrets. While they start out as basic switch puzzles, Severed gradually breaks up the exploration with riddles, teleporters and the means to make a two-headed crow regurgitate a key.
There are plenty of hidden rooms to uncover with useful upgrades like pieces of heart. Unlike Zelda’s magical containers, however, Sasha must chow down on the completed heart to boost her health. It’s gross, but a bit of extra HP never hurt anyone.
3. The simple satisfaction of severing
After running into flames scattered around each area, Sasha is thrust into battle. Combat is controlled completely with the touch screen. Simply draw a line across the screen to slash with your sword; the longer, the stronger. Think Fruit Ninja and its frantic touch screen slicing, but careful timing and accuracy are important here too. Enemies also attack, of course, so you need to read their moves to quickly deflect incoming blows. Slashing blindly won’t help; Sasha gathers “focus” as she strings together combos of fast slices without missing her mark. Maxing out her focus gauge in the heat of battle is essential as it powers up her attacks and allows her to sever body parts from defeated enemies – the only way to learn new abilities.
There’s a lot to chop off; the fiends you’ll encounter are covered in claws, tentacles and gaping jaws. There are many varieties of monsters, and the fights with them get steadily more complex as the game progresses. The battles throw more monsters into the mix, too. Since the underworld is such an oppressive place, Sasha is often outnumbered in battle. A ring at the bottom of the screen shows when enemies will attack, so it’s important to keep an eye on their movements and constantly switch targets. It’s satisfying to jump from parrying attacks from an annoying bird to poking at a shield of eyes as you juggle foes – if you can pull it off, at least. Splitting your attention once you’re surrounded by enemies definitely gets very stressful!
Thankfully, exploration is rewarded with new powers that make it easier to manage large groups of enemies by temporarily blinding them with magic or increasing Sasha’s strength. After a certain point, enemies start to carry buffs that boost their speed or power, but Sasha can devour them to raise her own stats. Fights start out simple, but there are eventually a lot of options for each skirmish. The creative encounters were always enjoyable, even when I was struggling through some tough boss fights. Failure always puts you back just before the fight so it’s easy to jump back into the fray.
4. You’re always exploring and getting stronger
As mentioned before, Severed has aunique RPG system where the heroine’s powers are upgraded by collecting broken body parts from enemies. Among other abilities, Sasha gains the power to regenerate health with each slice, devour more buffs and transform giblets into different parts for even more upgrades. With three skill trees to complete, I found unlocking these new abilities to be seriously addictive.
Other new moves are earned throughout the story. As Sasha explores, she gains new powers which can be used both in and out of battle. The way these open up each area and encourage players to backtrack give Severed a similar structure to something like Metroid. Gazing into secret passages and charging attacks to pierce through stone opens up even more of the environment and countless collectibles to discover. My personal favourite upgrade has Sasha walking through the skies, which also leads to some frantic aerial battles before her magic wears off and she crashes back down to ground.
5. The thing is: you aren’t really getting stronger
What makes the structure interesting is that while Sasha grows physically stronger as she explores the underworld, she loses more and more. Not only does she experience more suffering through the story, but she loses some of her humanity with every upgrade. Gazing into mirrors reveals her monstrous form as she equips the body parts of her slain enemies. With an arm that’s been warped into a blade and a chestpiece made of a monster’s jaw, it’s a frightening sight. While she begins to look like a fiend, Sasha still shows compassion in her actions, so what is it that makes her human?
In the end, Sasha has to quite literally cut her losses and accept her fate. It’s a tale about keeping inner strength and courage even in the face of despair as well as eventually accepting and moving on from the past. But it all uses subtle storytelling that’s open to interpretation. The way the story plays into the game mechanics make Severed a nuanced take on that whole “Metroidvania” structure of upgrades and exploration.
Despite the bleak subject matter, Severed is still fun to play. Exploring dungeons and slicing up monsters to borrow their body parts already makes it a unique experience. But it’s the story that really made Severed stand out to me: the way it uses its striking imagery and structure together, all culminating in a memorable and moving finale. DrinkBox Studios’ Severed is a new favourite for me and one of the most unique games I’ve played in the PS Vita’s library. If you’ve yet to experience it, definitely consider giving it a go as well. And if you’re way ahead of me and already played it before, the complex themes and addictive combat make Severed well worth revisiting.
If you are a fan of Severed and DrinkBox Studios you’ll want to make sure to grab the Limited Edition Orders