Severed’s fun is cut short by boring status effects and long fights.
Twisted and bright, Severed’s world is strange, beautiful, and largely remains a mystery by the end. This first-person touch-screen action game isn’t really big on its story, which would be fine if it its combat didn’t lose its appeal halfway through the six-hour campaign. I wanted to enjoy Sasha’s adventure through this bizarre world, but it’s an unfortunately shallow journey.
Sasha finds herself in some other world after her family is murdered and is tasked by a toothy monster to find their corpses before they’re eaten. There isn’t much more to it than her going out and finding her family in order to return to her own world, but its simplicity is fine as the focus is more on Sasha coping with their death.
Severed is eerie; the bright forests and shining caves are offset by red skies and creepy monsters. The three temples have cool themes and are littered with traps, simple puzzles, and the first two temples give some context to the monster’s vile actions. As wonderful as it was, I wish developer Drinkbox Studios would have answered more questions about the world to make it feel less random and arbitrary. Why does that monster help Sasha in the first place? Is this world a resting place for the dead, or merely imagined by Sasha to help her cope with her grief? Still, it was interesting to explore.
Bright forests and shining caves are offset by red skies and creepy monsters.
It’s a shame that in order to appreciate their design I had to consciously remind myself to look at the center of the screen when not solving a puzzle or in battle. Severed’s first-person perspective makes it difficult to focus on walking. I mostly watched the minimap in the top corner of the screen to find which direction I need to go – not exactly the most fun way to play a game. Looking at the center screen and moving between rooms too quickly made me feel nauseous because of a weird fade transition. This made backtracking for secrets and collectibles a little tiring as I ran through cleared temples.
One of my favorite moments in Severed was when, while trying to get a collectible, I pulled a switch and fell through the floor into a pit of about six fungi coral monsters. I was constantly turning and damaging them to keep them from growing their spores that’d blow up in my face if ignored, and it took me a few seconds to figure out my plan of attack.
Severed steadily becomes more challenging as you encounter more enemies in a single battle and new enemies with different defenses and attacks. It was exciting to learn the attack patterns and discover weaknesses. Some enemies charge their attacks, while others are passive until they’re attacked or randomly decide to strike. Managing the new information can be hard at first, but is easy to learn.
The manic slashing approach can have significant repercussions in combat.
Thankfully, taking the Fruit Ninja-style manic slashing approach has significant repercussions in most situations. Severed requires you to be tactical with the touch-based slashing combat. Enemies do a ton of damage, and blocking their attacks is the key to surviving fights. Attack monsters as they block and Sasha is briefly stunned. This sometimes gives enemies the opportunity to get a hit in, and when you’re dealing with three or four enemies, that one mistake can cost you the battle. Time management is key, and it was satisfying to harvest my foes’ body parts for crafting when I was victorious.
Battles usually last no more than a minute or two, and Severed is better off that way because longer fights are both tedious and physically difficult to play. The second boss fight in particular seemed to drag on forever, and while that’s usually not a problem with most games, having to constantly swipe is tiring. I actually had to pause and take a short break because of the discomfort of furiously rubbing the Vita screen.
After defeating the second boss, you gain a cool ability to steal status effects from enemies, though due to its high mana cost, you can only use it once or twice in a fight. Monster can get faster attack timers, more defense, higher attack, magic resistance, and health regeneration from a skull monster that, after charging for a short period, emits a random buff that’s shared with all of its allies. The skull monster provided another dimension to fights as it doesn’t attack, but it’s existence stopped mattering once enemies started appearing with buffs, with or without the skull monster.
By the end I was facing three or four enemies with multiple buffs. I’d enter the fight with a sigh, and end it with a sigh. Severed leans too heavily on buffs to make fights more difficult instead of utilizing its untapped strengths: traps, environmental dangers and enemy variety. Occasional rooms filled with poison or blinding crystals had potential, and though most of the late-game enemies are variations on early ones, they still introduce new tactics that make them feel refreshed. Their varied attacks and defenses felt played down as the buffs stole the focus of late-game battles.