You enter a beautiful forest at night with the only light visible to you being the moonlight shining through the trees, a dozen dull blue crystals scattered throughout the distance and the reddish glow of an angry spirit waiting for you to get closer so it can grow legs and attack you. No Idea what’s drawing you into this situation but since you’ve come this far, you might as well help. You are Kena, a spirit guide on a journey of discovery both for herself and the lands she finds abandoned.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the debut project from Ember Lab, a California based company with around 20 employees with a history in animations and shorts. This third person Action- Adventure game is releasing today on both PS4/PS5 and The Epic Games Store. For this review I will be talking about the PS4 and PS5 versions, Ember Lab said there is a day one patch coming to fix some issues on the PS4 version so if any issues I had are addressed I will update this article. And Now onto the review.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits follows young Spirit Guide Kena on a journey through this overgrown forest and the towns that got swallowed up in its hauntingly lush path. The story is surprisingly mature. Without spoiling anything this game has Kena helping various spirits cross over which is usually a dark subject matter (think Bloober team’s The Medium) but here it’s used to showcase how kind Kena is. Kena interacts with the spirits in a handful of ways either directly through conversation, indirectly through spirit mail that when found in the environment needs to be dropped off at specific houses in the main village and a section of land becomes available for you to cleanse. The last way is with the Rot, the soot sprite-like creatures you find and collect all across the game, their purpose starts simple with them only being able to clear corrupted parts of the forest that evolves into them being extensions of your weapons during pivotal battles.
Kena starts the game armed with nothing but her family’s staff that is able to pulse magic to nearby crystals and deal light and heavy attacks. As the journey goes on you will level up your combat skills to include Rot based powers and even earn tools like a spirit bow and bombs that can be useful in combat and also in the puzzles you find across the forest. Throughout your journey there are a handful of things you can collect to fill out your time when you’re not in combat. There are the various Rot creatures spread out across the forest each one getting its own unique cutscene when found. You find various chests that offer hats for your Rot, Karma which is used for upgrading your powers or these shards that can be used at Rot hat Carts to customize your pint sized companions . There are also Cursed Chests That require you to complete a combat challenge like defeat the enemies under a certain time/ without getting hit for a prize.
I Played Kena on both PS4 and PS5 and both versions of the game are gorgeous. The PS4 version looks great. I didn’t notice any glaring issues with its performance, not even a big frame drop during combat sequences. There are some difficulty spikes during mini bosses and level bosses but that seems to be true in almost every action adventure game. I did have a weird issue where I got a quest item (a mask that shows hidden Rot and collectibles) and when I went to use it the screen locked into the blue detective vision and wouldn’t let me disengage it nor interact with anything else. Also, as it currently stands there is no Save migration feature available so if you don’t finish the journey on your PS4 because you want to try it in 4K you will have to start over. This isn’t a deal breaker because the game is short and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Originally, this was slated to be a PS5 Launch game, so it feels like an odd omission.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a beautiful game, Ember Labs decided against many of their contemporaries and opted for a more cartoony look as opposed to the Uncanny Valley stuff you find elsewhere. This makes it feel like you are playing an interactive Pixar Movie. Everytime I entered a new area, I had to admire the incredible details in the far distance. The PS5 Version of Kena boasts a Performance mode 60 FPS at 4K and a Native 30 FPS at 4K. Bridge of Spirits also has an expansive photo mode in the middle of battles you can pause the action and customize cute pictures to share to your PS Activity log. I’m not a big photographer in video games but I constantly ended up taking pictures of the Rot popping up around the map trying to keep up with Kena. Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bombastic soundtrack. As you traverse the landscapes the soundtrack just booms and pushes you forward. In addition, if you enter a corrupted area it muffles itself until it’s almost a whisper. I used the Pulse 3D audio headset but also had an enjoyable experience with my tv speakers.
Kena Bridge of Spirits is a great first venture into game making. Ember Labs has crafted a tightly crafted beautiful, engaging action-adventure game. If i didn’t know this was their first game I don’t think I would be able to tell. Kena is a wonderful protagonist and her plight to help every spirit she comes across is in my top 10 games list for the year. The Rot creatures are cute photogenic helpers that I can’t wait to decorate my media room with if they ever introduce merch. As we start the back half of the year only more games will be released and some will eventually lose their unique identity to their genre. I don’t see that happening with Kena. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is Available on PS4 and PS5 and PC (through EGS) currently for $39.99 There’s also a Deluxe Edition that comes with the soundtrack and a skin for both your staff and a Rot creature for $10 more.
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