Severed is a unique game that’s one of the few to truly take full advantage of the PlayStation Vita’s touch screen. You get some games, like Little Deviants, that seem more like a demo to showcase the handheld’s features, rather than a game that takes the time to judiciously decide what does and doesn’t work for the experience at hand. We’ve come to a point where many PlayStation Vita games forgo these special features entirely, to ensure a wider PlayStation TV audience, but Drinkbox Studios was thoughtful with this game, allowing for a touch screen experience that’s practically perfect.
The concept is simple. Severed is a first-person dungeon crawling RPG. People see through the eyes of Sasha, a young woman attempting to save her family from a bizarre, distorted realm filled with surreal, monstrous characters. She begins the adventure as the only survivor; her parents and brother have been abducted. She only has one hand. The other’s been taken from her in the fight. Yet, she’s still armed. A mysterious figure hands her a sword she can use to assault enemies, even severing their limbs to take as her own.
Given Severed’s unconventional control scheme, you’d expect there to be some issues. At the very least, there’s be an adjustment period, where you learn to properly swipe and defeat opponents. This happens immediately after Sasha receives the sword. She experiences a flashback to times when she’d train with her mother. Short slashes deal a little damage, but are quicker. Longer slashes deal more damage, but you might not always have the luxury of such extended swipes. Since Sasha only has one arm, using a shield is out of the question, but she can parry an opponent’s attack by swiping in the opposite direction, throwing it off so she can counter attack. It doesn’t wear out its welcome, but the tutorial also makes sure you’ve mastered these basics before sending you off on Sasha’s quest.
It’s simple enough, but there’s a sense of nuance and timing needed to properly work out attacks. Especially since Sasha will often be outnumbered, facing as many as three foes at once even in Severed’s initial areas. Circles at the bottom of the screen indicate how many enemies are left, with a red circle in the center representing their remaining life. A yellow ring fills around it, showing when one is about to attack. When outnumbered, it’s often about whittling down health to keep the attack gauge from filling or to fend off in-progress assaults. Avoiding attacking when a foe is guarding is key, as to not wear down a gauge that allows Sasha to focus in such a way that she can sever fallen opponent’s limbs.
But it will take time to learn. Which is why it’s so lovely that Severed goes out of its way to allow you to compensate for your own failings. This is accomplished with that severing technique. By taking monsters’ limbs or exchanging giblets for parts, players can upgrade Sasha’s sword and abilities. While some of these are the typical enhancements that increase slash damage, add bonus damage to particular kinds of slashes, and reduce damage, there are some skills that seem designed to make the game easier if you aren’t so good at swiping at a screen.
For example, I’m not very good at Sever Time. I panic, which results in my missing opportunities to dismember enemies. Extended Sever lets you swap arms and eyes for increased Sever Time. It’s always only a few more seconds, but that little bit helps. Even at Level 1, it made a difference. I went from getting one limb from each enemy to at least three, depending on the creature. Drinkbox took into account a problem someone might have had with this unique control scheme and allowed them to make the Severed more accommodating.
The Transmute skill helps with Sever Time failings as well. Severed takes a cue from The Legend of Zelda and offers plenty of pots in its dungeons. When Sasha slashes them, Giblets pop out. Once she’s collected a type of the game’s seven different parts at least once and learned the Transmute ability, she can transform Giblets into any part she might need. Tentacles aren’t as common as hands and eyes in the first few Crow Temples, but four Giblets could easily turn into one tentacle. This let me teach Sasha Life Leech, a desperately needed ability that allows a small percentage of outgoing damage to be turned into health, a little earlier. Even if you aren’t getting the bits and pieces you need from the visible enemy encounters in the field, you can use other resources to get what you want.
Sasha’s Extreme Focus is another helpful skill that can aid people who might not be coordinated enough for super fast and accurate swipes. It lets her deal varying percentages of bonus damage when she’s fully Focused and the skill is leveled up. This happens when you’re careful and methodical enough to not strike an enemy when it’s defending itself and build up the focus gauge. Someone playing it safe and taking their time might not be dealing as much damage as a swifter player, but learning Extreme Focus offers a chance to deliver more hurt when you do get that gauge up.
It’s because of this consideration that Severed is such a successful game. The reliance on the touch screen doesn’t feel like a gimmick, because you have a sense of control over it. If you feel like you need a little assistance in an area, there’s probably a skill to help with that. And it isn’t like the game is pitying you. Learning that ability doesn’t suddenly give Sasha superpowers. It offers the exact amount of compensation necessary to help someone who’s learning the way of the sword (and swipe) out.
Severed is immediately available for the PlayStation Vita.