Sasha awakens in a desolate, yet familiar world. Her family has disappeared, and her right arm severed from her body. Equipped with a blade given to her by a demonic being, Sasha must find the ones she loves in order to leave this mysterious realm, and return home.
Severed is the latest game from Guacamelee! developer DrinkBox Studios, as well as one of the few recent titles exclusive to the PS Vita. Despite the small platform it released on, this game shouldn’t be overlooked. Severed delivers a harrowing and immersive experience that demands your attention.
As Sasha, the player navigates a barren land in the first-person perspective, while battling monsters through touch-based inputs. The player must swipe on the touchscreen to emulate Sasha’s blade, parry enemy attacks by matching the angle of their blow, and then punish with counters. At first, the combat may seem like a simple mobile game, but extraordinary depth emerges. As more enemies appear per encounter, combat becomes a strategic balancing act where patience and timing is key. If not careful, Sasha can easily become overwhelmed by numerous foes attacking at once. Additionally, a focus meter will build if Sasha delivers precise attacks, and when full, the player can deliver finishing blows that severe enemy limbs, which act as currency for upgrading sword and magic abilities.
When not engaged in battle, the player will be exploring a vast wilderness and labyrinth like temples through the analog stick or button inputs. There are a number of secrets and puzzles to be found, rewarding those who seek them out with health and mana upgrades. More often than not, solving the secrets in Severed feels as satisfying as those tucked inside the dungeon of a Zelda game.
The marriage of touch-based combat and button-based navigation is what makes Severed feel distinct and substantial. The variation between the two is what keeps this 7-10 hour experience so fresh and enthralling.
While the balance of combat and exploration is what makes Severed shine, it can occasionally become detrimental to the game as a whole. Unlike other titles with encounter-based combat scenarios, like many turn-based RPG’s, those in Severed cannot be skipped. Sasha cannot run away from enemies she is not prepared to fight. This means progression can occasionally stall, especially if you’d rather look for secrets, but the only way forward is a tough fight.
Regaining Sasha’s health is also problematic. After a fight, you can only heal through consuming fruit scarcely located throughout levels. If your health is low before an upcoming encounter, dying is the only consistent way of fully regaining HP. Rooms that can always heal you to 100%, something along the lines of a Pokémon Center or Fairy Fountain, would have been a welcome addition.
Besides the occasionally halted progression, and minor health gripe, the rest of Severed is immaculate. Sasha’s journey is powerful yet agonizing, creating an emotional narrative open for interpretation. The art style is very similar to the cheery Guacamelee! but here the visuals are punched up with 80’s neon colors draped over ancient ruins. The soundtrack is worth mentioning as well, offering a number of atmospheric tracks, and a couple of breathtaking piano melodies. You’d be making a mistake is you mute the fantastic end credits song.
All of these elements work together to create an immersive world right in the palm of your hand.
Severed may very well be the last notably exclusive for the PlayStation Vita (even though we can easily see it being ported to mobile devices), but as it is right now, it truly is unlike anything on the platform, or anywhere else. The deep combat fused with the immersive exploration creates an experience that so few games are truly able to fully realize. Sasha’s journey is one not to be ignored.
FINAL SCORE: 4.5/5
Severed is now available for the PlayStation Vita through the PlayStation Network.