If I had to describe one genre which has come to not only define the PS Vita, but furthermore give me a reason to superglue the little thing rigidly to the palms of my hands, well I guess I’d have to answer: dungeon-crawler RPGs. Sure, the Vita’s strong plethora of delightful indie games have helped shape a lot of the system’s personality and Sony’s high quality, albeit low volume support, has helped round out the catalogue; nevertheless DRPGs have undeniably found a wonderful home on my favourite little handheld. The fact you can carry such dense, heavyweight adventures in your pocket has always drawn me to DRPGs on the Vita like a moth to a mage’s illumination spell.
Severed is one such DRPG to join the ranks alongside Demon Gaze, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, Mind Zero, Stranger of Sword City, Dungeon Travelers 2 and Persona 4: Golden, but it’s somewhat of a black sheep as it’s surprisingly one of the only Western developed DRPGs yet to grace the handheld. Canadian developer Drinkbox have made a bit of a departure from their previous works, as Severed is unlike anything they’ve done before. Instead of their platformer-centric Guacamelee and Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attacks origins, here we have a beautiful and haunting first-person 3D DRPG with a heavy focus on touchscreen exploration and combat.
You are Sasha, a one-armed warrior who awakes in a nightmare, alternate world tasked with finding her family. A rather ominous looking creature is the bearer of the bad news and swiftly disappears into the ground. It’s then up to you to explore the macabre myriad of mazes within the alternate world and track down your younger brother, your mother and your father. Severed‘s narrative is framed in Drinkbox’s signature Mexican style and it almost feels like it’s based on a sort’ve twisted Mexican folk fairy-tale – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Themes of loss, death and the supernatural are often foundations for folk fairytales and Severed really makes these themes its own.
Surprisingly, on the gameplay front, Severed shares a lot genetically with games like Chair’s super popular Infinity Blade series, though players in Severed are given more organic control over the exploration of its world. The combat is real-time and highly touchscreen-focused, but don’t let that put you off, as it is implemented here with great finesse and accesibility. Those dubious about touch-screen controls can put their apprehensive minds at ease as Severed‘s touchscreen inputs are extremely responsive and tactile unlike say, The Keep‘s slighly less reliable inputs on 3DS. Moving around the nightmare-ish world of Severed is mapped to the left stick and as you probably guessed, attacking and blocking is executed by swiping the screen. The angle of your attacks are important as the litany of enemies that you will meet in Severed can all block and counter-attack in their own unique ways. Thus, it is in discovering each enemies’ different weaknesses and exploiting them, that really becomes one of the core combat mechanics within Severed.
Speaking of which, another core mechanic within Severed is the titular severing of the enemies’ peculiar looking limbs. Once the focus meter, which is filled as the player lands succesful blows to the enemy, is full, the player is given a short window at the end of the battle to sever the enemies’ limbs. These different limbs are somewhat unique to each of the enemies Severed throws at you and these act as a sort’ve currency for upgrading your stats and purchasing specialized perks that’ll help strengthen Sasha’s combat abilities. The upgrade trees are deep and diverse and help add a welcome layer of depth to the dungeon-crawler combat.
The presentation within Severed is outstanding. The eerie, haunting score helps complement the creepy, morose world Drinkbox has carefully pieced together. Equally, the environments within the game really stand out, as you make your through the fleshy insides of poisonous monsters – where you have to battle through nasty critters before you succumb to the noxious gases – to crystal caverns where the shimmer of the translucent minerals literally blind you as you explore. The dark and disturbing world of Severed is environmentally rich and the game rewards your judicious exploration with much-appreciated discovery repeatedly.
Severed is a fantastic PS Vita exclusive. If you’re a fan of the Vita then it deserves your attention in particular. Vita exclusives really don’t come around too often, particularly in 2016, and Severed is one of the Vita’s quirkiest and most memorable little dungeon-crawler gems yet. At the end of the day – Vita exclusive or not – Severed is a joy to play, a pleasure to explore and a bloody great game in its own right and because of this, it is very much deserving of your time, money and attention. Viva la Vita!
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