Publisher: Ember Lab | Developer: Ember Lab | Platforms: PS4, PS5 (Reviewed), PC
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is hands down one of my favorite games of 2021 and it should be easy to see why. The game borders between a delightful kid’s film and the realism of a Japanese anime. It starts with a mundane saunter through the woods and ends with an epic bang that would make Miyazaki proud. It’s well-paced and easy to follow with flashes of things to come and constant progression so that by the time the game is finished it provides a complete tale. Kena offers no hand-holding as new types of enemies are thrown into the fray and the discovery of how to win is left up to the player. Going from battle to battle with powerful spirit-infused attacks and clearing the darkness of the manifested regret that covers the land only gets more fun and fulfilling as time goes on. A small drawback is that while Kena seems open world at first, it can be very linear in regards to where to go next while exploring each area around the central village. There is a little back-tracking involved but the ability to easily fast travel respected my time, allowing for a complete run in about 10 to 12 hours.
9.5/10 – Nearly Flawless, Buy Now
I agree with Dalan that Kena goes above and beyond its indie scope. It looks incredible and the soundtrack during boss encounters is nothing short of a chef’s kiss. Unfortunately, I felt like a lot of the action and awesome set pieces were left to beautiful cut scenes instead of happening while actually playing the game. The gameplay isn’t bad, per se, but it didn’t feel as precise and responsive as I would’ve liked. As I neared the end, it became tedious enough for me to opt for “story mode” difficulty just to see how the narrative would ultimately unfold. Indeed, the final encounter was something to behold and bodes well for Ember Lab running it back and making this franchise something truly special.
7.5/10 – Good
Timing…and the Right Price!
I’m glad Ember Lab took the time to get Kena: Bridge of Spirits right. Since the PS5 was announced, Kena was a highly anticipated game originally set to release in September 2020. However, due to COVID-19, it was pushed to March 2021…then August 24, 2021 — with a resounding but understandable sigh after the Cyberpunk 2077 debacle — and then finally released September 21, 2021. A full year after it was originally set to release. But, in no way, does it disappoint. If you have an extra $39.99 to drop on a game, I highly recommend this be at the top of the list.
Smoother Gameplay For the Win
Kena packs every environment with great detail and beautiful visuals to marvel at. However, like Spider-Man: Miles Morales when that was released, you have to make a choice between Quality (high resolution over frame rate) and Performance (frame rate over visuals). I stuck with the latter as it provided smoother gameplay, yet still retained the game’s beauty.
Collectibles Worthy of a Goofy Smile
Ember Lab made it very simple to find all the collectables in a single playthrough, hinting at them along each path and showcasing on the map what’s left to find. Every collectable “rot” I found gave me a goofy, white-toothed smile, and the more I found, the more moves I could use in a single fight, and the larger and more pronounced my summoned elk spirit became. You can purchase collectable hats and masks that the rots can wear allowing you to be followed by an army of cowboy hat-dawning fuzz balls.
Feel the Draw of the Bow with DualSense
Kena provides a solid fighting experience that takes advantage of the haptic feedback of the PS5 controller felt by the heavy swing of the staff and the draw of excessive bow use. For the most part, it was just beating up cursed trees and rocks but it can get chaotic pretty quick. I fostered a special fondness for the unique boss battles.
The abilities obtained in the skill tree are limited, but the difficulty gradually became more challenging as I got farther into the game and those few abilities became crucial.
Dalan’s original review was published October 29, 2021.