You can find this review in full at GBAtemp.net:
Sasha finds herself in a world most familiar—but not the same. With the remnants of her house before her, and nowhere to turn back to, she steps into what remains of her reality. Ruins; charred, burned and broken. A solitary mirror stands amidst the chaos, and in it, a similarly solitary figure. A pitiful glance escapes her tired eyes, soon forcing her to recall the events leading to where she now resided. A terrible calamity had occurred—a creature slaying her family, and taking her arm. She had wandered into this world to take back what remained of her family—and a shadowy denizen would give her the tool to do so. A sword made not of metal, nor any material Sasha found herself familiar with. It was alive—an eye ever-present in its chappe—watching, observing. Into the wilds she runs, into the dangers of this world.
Into the Wilds
From the first step into wilds, everything starts to feel bigger and more impressive. As the player, it’s easy to feel assaulted by the entourage of vibrant, yet dusky colours, almost intimidated by the claustrophobic nature of the foliage surrounding you. This plays to the game’s advantage, creating tones of initial captivity, paired with a sense of grandeur to suggest there is more to the world than you first see—more paths than may first appear. As the game progresses, you find the world opening up to varying degrees, primarily dependent on whether you decide to tackle optional puzzles. Should you leave these aside, the world still opens up to the point where you feel your progress is substantial, whilst retaining the captive tones previously mentioned.
Should you desire to shed the shackles of captivity, Severed offers what felt to me like a treasure trove of optional content; it is in this area the game truly shines. During each portion of the game, you are presented with a new ability. Each ability has a use in combat, explained shortly after obtaining them. While these abilities certainly prove useful, their potential to extend what is quite frankly a limited gameplay experience eclipses any form of battle usage.
The game is clever in forcing you to use these out of combat abilities to progress to the next zone, hiding them behind giant stone doors with the symbol of the required skill. If the player was yet to catch onto how Severed presents additional content, these checkpoints would serve as a push, whispering to the player that more paths may open up if they are willing to explore.
This additional content varies from hidden paths, to unique puzzles, to optional battles much more difficult than any other element of the game. Each offers its own reward, usually one of a brain piece, or heart piece—used to increase your mana and health respectively. I feel these work incredibly well as rewards, if for no other reason than the lack of immediate payoff. To have worked through a puzzle, or have gone back to find an additional route, gives you as the player a slight sense of accomplishment, almost drip feeding it to you. The genius of a reward in five parts is that it actively pushes you towards experiencing more of what the game has to offer, if only to complete the heart or brain, and finally cash in your efforts. This is further supported by the game handing you a free heart piece with no puzzle attached before entering the first domain from the wilds, and teasing you at the start of most puzzles, letting you see what you could have should you take the time to stop—showing you what reward lies just beyond a broken wall.
Optional battles offer perhaps the greatest test of skill, forcing the player to employ strategy simply not required in any other area in the game. Such a sudden spike in difficulty first shook me, but it soon made me realise just how fairly Severed treats the player.
As Fair as it Gets
The game’s very core enforces the idea of fairness, and maintains this ideal through various means. The most obvious of these is the map, and how difficult it makes it to miss something. Through the use of clear symbols, the player is made aware of otherwise easily overlooked secrets, no matter how small. A good example of this would be a single glowing brick in a room, which when pressed, unlocks a hidden path. Were the map not so generous in its information, it would be incredibly easy to simply continue onward none the wiser. Even if you miss it, or couldn’t figure out what to do in that room, the point remains that something can be done, and that you’re more than likely to be rewarded should you return later. While the range of symbols is never directly explained to the player, you intuitively grow accustom to them.
Even without the map, Severed falls back on its fantastic design choices to show the player exactly what is ahead, and what will be needed of them. This comes in the form of stunning landscape shots, as well as the previously mentioned broken walls. Add to this the non-random battles, with fights shown clearly in advance, and you’ll find it hard to debate the clear and consistent nature of the game. It could be argued the game is too forgiving in places, and that ultimately it is to the game’s detriment. This becomes more prominent in the lack of hard mode. With how much the player is catered to, I feel the developers had more than enough leverage to come up with some sort of heightened difficulty setting. This could have been in the form of more difficult battles, additional enemy encounters, or even a change as simple as showing less map information. Severed’s fairness is by no means a bad thing, and allows the player a great deal of trust with it—but it felt like a waste of potential to only offer the player a casual or standard difficulty.
My main concern regarding Severed is the lack of content to bring the player back upon completion. It stands almost as a work of art in its stunning graphics and intricately designed puzzles—that much I can’t deny. But once the artwork is seen, once the puzzles are solved, and the battles done—what is left to do? There is little satisfaction in revisiting an area no longer secret, and little joy in redoing a strategy that took 20 deaths to perfect. Once the game is seen, it is seen.
Severed falls flat in its lack of additional modes to keep the same game fresh. Compare it to a game such as Titan Souls.Titan Souls is quite probably a much shorter experience for most players, but keeps players invested with additional modes and limitations. Sure, you’re fighting the same fight, you know how each boss moves, but the freshly imposed restrictions make you rethink your approach. I understand these are very different styles of games, but Severed definitely felt as though it had untapped potential.
Overall, the game is flawed not by design, but by the limitations of the systems it finds itself available on. The fast swiping on the Switch version left me with a fairly sore case of friction burn, and while I would like to say it has a home on a stylus-centric system, such as the 3DS or Wii U, I would worry for the fragile state of the touch screen after each frantic session. I dare say it would have found a place on the Wii, with a focus on motion controls akin to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but that era has long since passed, leaving me with an ever-irritating “what if” in the back of my mind. It would be easy to suggest I simply slow down, but when the game does such a good job in setting up tense and engaging battles, I soon find myself once again swiping up an inferno.