Report Card: Kena Bridge of Spirits

Letting go is one of the hardest things we do in life. Accepting a loss, coming to terms with things we may never have, saying goodbye to loved ones, there are many ways in life that we all experience the feeling of allowing something or someone to leave us. But letting go is a vitally important part of each of our journeys. The frailty of all things brings value and perspective to the things we still have and if we allow ourselves to truly embrace that simple truth we can celebrate the act of letting go no matter how much it may hurt.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits approaches these concepts and more in a thoughtful, charming and thoroughly beautiful video game. The titular character, Kena, is a spirit guide, one who possesses a strong connection to the spirit realm and those who dwell there. Kena arrives at the outset of the journey at a woodland village which is absent of any signs of life. A great tragedy has befallen this village and Kena is there to help by aiding spirits who have been unable to move on to the great beyond. Kena will come across many residents of the village on her quest, some friendly, some dangerous, but all are spirits who are but a whisper of a memory of the village which sits at the core of the game.

The storytelling in Kena is thoughtful and reflective. As Kena makes her way from location to location and as she meets more spirits, you the player are shown many different perspectives on the thought of life, death and the hereafter. Characters will reflect on their stories and the moments and people who mean so much to them. While some of the tales may be tragic or heartbreaking on the outside looking in, they are often treated with a sense of peace and presence that communicates that while our Earthly lives may one day end, our importance in the world is larger than the dust we leave behind.

From a gameplay perspective Kena plays like a blend of classic 3D platformers with a taste of challenging strategic combat not traditionally found in other games of this ilk. Kena will explore caves, mountain tops and abandoned ruins as she levels up her abilities through combat and the implementation of her skill tree. Equipped with a magical staff, Kena will eventually become armed with a bow and also gravity bombs that can both be levelled up with stronger attacks and abilities, which you will need to overcome the games incredibly challenging boss characters. The game does a fantastic job of making dual usage of each of Kena’s weapons as well so that you are not only using them for combat, but also for environmental puzzle solving. For example you can use your bow to shoot far away triggers, or hurl your gravity bombs to manipulate the terrain in order to make areas passable. Nothing is wasted in Kena: Bridge of Spirits and I was very impressed with how necessary each ability felt, and how smoothly the game onboards you as a player to learn a new skill and put it in your arsenal as a necessary tool.

Perhaps the most important gameplay mechanic to aid Kena in her journey are The Rot. Rot are small shadowy forest sprites which you discover all around you on your quest. These small creatures will join you if you can find them hiding and the more you accrue the more they benefit you from a gameplay perspective. Kena can command The Rot in a multitude of ways much like how your weapons serve dual purpose, The Rot can hold down enemies, be used as a charge attack and even carry key items for you much like the Nintendo classic, Pikmin. Just point your Rot at something you need moved and they will follow orders like a tiny army of adorable critters who are just waiting for their next command. The game leans into how cute The Rot are as well by offering customization of your little friends in the form of hats. You find little hats for The Rot hidden in each level and after discovery of a new style you can purchase them for your Rot to wear in the game. From hollowed out acorns, to pumpkin lids, to unicorn horns, you can give each Rot in your squad a unique look that adds to their charm.

While there are a lot of ideas and gameplay elements in Kena, freshman developer Ember Lab does a fantastic job of making sure each piece of the puzzle fits exactly as it is supposed to and all of it comes together to create a wonderful experience that seems to hit all of the right notes of a year-end blockbuster. I found myself challenged, enthralled and charmed to no end by the 8-10 hour adventure and when the credits rolled I found myself not wanting the journey to end. I suppose it is the tell tale sign of a wonderful journey if when you find yourself at the end of it you just don’t want to let go.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: