Severed PlayStation Vita Review
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios Developer: DrinkBox Studios Genre: RPG
Players: 1 Age Rating: 12+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
Either I am getting old, or this game is brutally difficult. It is probably because of my age and my slower reflexes, but what starts out as a pleasant game, easing you in to its story and mechanics, teaching you how to attack enemies, use powers, transmute body parts you collect from enemies and so fourth, suddenly starts getting a bit out of hand, or at least it feels that way.
Severed follows the story of Sasha, a young, sword-wielding warrior who wakes to find her family missing and so ventures out into a surreal world of purple forests, caves made of crystal and many peculiar mazes in an attempt to find them, guided by a two-headed bird, with teeth in place of a face, and a mysterious figure in a cloak.
Severed has some good ideas and takes full advantage of the PS Vita’s touch-screen, with the player needing to swipe here and there in order to attack many foes, choose menu options and so on. The only other buttons used is the D-pad, or optionally, the analogue stick, used to move Sasha around the maze-like areas from a first person perspective. The controls are simple but clever and are very easy to pick up, allowing you to become quickly absorbed in the gameplay.
Except for when you face enemies, that is. The premise of Severed is to combat enemies and sever their limbs in order to combine them and create yourself ever more powerful upgrades in order to go up against tougher enemies. There are many enemies that you will face and they all have their own quirky design and attacks, and whilst the start of the game has a smooth, consistent flow during combat, later things become a little more chaotic. The more you progress, the tougher the enemies become – as is expected really – and they can start regenerating their health, have higher defences, use magic, and have a quicker time to attack, and it is this timer that really starts to bog the game down.
I enjoyed playing the game very much up until about halfway through, when the enemies become a lot tougher. As I have mentioned, it could just be my age and poor reflexes now, but it feels as though the tougher enemies are constantly bombarding you with attacks, and you really need to have the reflexes of a ninja in order to catch the ones that are launching an attack and stopping them from hitting you. Sasha has some advantages in the form of her Mana, and can freeze enemies and even steal their power-ups. However, these powers prove to be useless as you can only use the Mana on one enemy at a time, and even though you would think this would work to your advantage, with the attack times sped up, you will still have three, maybe even four, other enemies to fight against, all dealing you heavy blows as you frantically go back and fourth between each of them trying to deal them damage. Plus once you use the Mana, it is fully consumed and it takes forever to recharge, meaning you are not likely to use it more than once, maybe twice, during a battle, so is not something that is very practical during combat. This is a game where you really do have to rely on your reflexes, and as I have said, mine are in a pretty poor state now.
Other advantages Sasha has during battle include the ability to parry enemy attacks with her sword, and as you are hitting an enemy, each strike will slowly fill up her Focus bar, an ability which is used to inflict greater damage once at full capacity – still pretty useless when you are battling multiple enemies though. The Focus is also used to sever enemies body parts; if this bar is not filled up before you defeat an enemy, you will not be able to collect those all important body parts needed to upgrade Sasha, and it is recommended that you upgrade her as much as possible to keep in line with the tougher enemies, even backtracking if necessary, to find any items you may have missed. Sasha really does need to be upgraded; at the beginning of the game I missed out on exploring a lot of the areas and so missed many items that were crucial for me to progress, so from the very beginning, I would definitely advise to search every nook and cranny as you go.
Another sore point for me about the combat, however, is that when there are multiple enemies, sometimes it can also be difficult to see which enemy will be attacking next. As you are attacking an enemy, with your finger swiping crazily on the screen trying to deplete their health as fast and as desperately as possible, another could be preparing for an attack; a yellow line, indicating the timer, encircles the enemies health gauge as it counts down to when it is going to strike, and with you manically focusing on another enemy to even the numbers, your finger obstructing the screen, you may not see this timer and an enemy will then attack out the blue. This is ten times worse with the tougher enemies as this timer will circle a lot quicker, and if you are not fast enough – really fast – you will be hit by multiple enemies at once, depleting your life bar, ending the battle, with you needing to start it all over again. Another annoyance added to some battles include a timer in which you have to complete the battle within and this only adds to the exasperation of the gameplay.
So at this point Severed has become somewhat of a major frustration for me. I am not a huge fan of games where there is not much of a strategy to enemy attack patterns and where they overwhelm you with attacks, but other than the unfair enemies, there are other aspects of the game that I very much enjoy. The design of the game is lovely; the art style is washed with muted colours and sharp, angular lines being used for the characters and backgrounds. The story is basic with little dialogue and although it is not a stand-out point of the game, it’s still endearing enough, and the game as a whole does keep you interested enough to continue playing on. I also enjoyed roaming around and exploring; there’s secret items to be found that help to increase your Mana and health bars, and you can also slice through vases scattered about here and there to find body parts that can be used to upgrade Sasha, though you do have to be careful which vase you slice through.
There are some puzzles in the game, but it’s not outwardly obvious that they are puzzles, with most requiring you to work out how to open a door, or some other type of doorway, to get to another area. Mostly you will need to pull a lever or hit a cymbal-like statue to get through a doorway; other times you will need to find pieces of an item in order to access another area to explore, and sometimes you may even need to use your special abilities to open new pathways. There are many places to explore and thankfully this exploration isn’t constantly being hindered by random enemies, allowing you to roam at your own pace and allows you some much-needed breathing space after a rather hectic battle.
Upgrading Sasha is also fun, with all the usual elements needing to be upgraded, such as health, how much health you regenerate when you land a hit, how much damage you take, and so on. You can also upgrade even faster when you transmute the body parts you find from enemies; combining them allows you to add further upgrades as long as you have the right amount in stock. And, as frustrating as the enemies are, they all have their own unique design, or variation on an earlier design as their strength increases, and they attack in a variety of different ways. This does keep you on your toes and keeps battles fresh so you never feel you are fighting the same battle twice – well, except when you die and need to start again and again and again…..
Despite some of my gripes with the game, that probably has a lot to do with my age, I still think Severed is a quirky and well-designed little RPG, though I must admit I have yet to fully complete it, but from what I have seen so far, it seems things are only going to get even more intense. It doesn’t offer anything that is truly exceptional, but is still a great title that certainly deserves at least one play through, so if you’ve got quick reflexes and want to put them to the test, I do recommend you to give this a try.