Kena: Bridge of Spirits Is Cute, Calm, Charming and Chaotic in All the Best Ways
When Kena: Bridge of Spirits was first revealed during PlayStation’s ‘Future of Gaming’ showcase last year, it immediately caught my attention. In a showcase full of big reveals of ‘AAA’ PS5 first-party games, Kena had a certain charm that stood out to me, with visuals that could easily match the juggernauts that Sony was showcasing in that event. More than a year later, Kena has finally released, and I’m in awe of developer Ember Lab’s first game, which plays just as well as it looks.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a charming action-adventure game with a beautiful world to explore along with challenging enemies and puzzles. It’s not quite an open world, although it does feature moderately sized biomes to explore across one large landmass, connected by a central village as the hub area. The game follows a linear story with lite RPG progression elements through collecting XP, along with a standard skill tree. It might sound like a mix of many ideas found in other games these days, and while it is that, Kena’s not-so-secret sauce is its impeccable storytelling.
Ever since the game was revealed to the public, comparisons to Pixar movies ran amok in online discourse, and while the game looked great, there were concerns about whether Ember Lab could actually deliver on its story and characters the way Pixar, or any other highly regarded animation studio, does. Fret not, as Ember Lab’s previous experience in producing animated short films is on full display here. Every cut scene, every dialogue read, every reaction shot from secondary characters is delivered with the utmost care and attention to detail, so much so that I think it could make for a fairly competent animated film.
While Kena’s visual flair lives up to its pre-launch presentation, it’s the gameplay that surprises me more with just how well balanced it is. Kena’s enemy encounters are surprisingly challenging, which is something you probably don’t expect from a game that looks like it’s made to appeal to the widest audience. I died quite often when playing on the normal difficulty mode, although loading back in took barely a couple of seconds thanks to the PS5’s SSD. Combat at the start of the game can be challenging due to the limited amount of arsenal, which grows along with the number of special abilities that you have at your disposal. These include converting your regular staff to a bow along with bombs, all of which can also be used to interact with the environment in either accumulating experience points or solving platforming puzzles.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits PS5 Features
Speaking of the PS5, the game offers a native 4K 30fps ‘Fidelity Mode’ along with a ‘Performance Mode’ targeting 60fps on a dynamic 4K resolution target. I started the game on ‘Fidelity mode’ just to see it in all its glory, and then quickly turned to performance mode for the rest of my playthrough. On that, while the game runs well on both modes, there seems to be a minor lag on the analogue controls, or at least that’s how the response curve seems to be. Of course, that feeling only lasts for a few moments before you get accustomed to it, and when I did, I didn’t have any other complaints. While Ember Lab failed to mention any use of adaptive triggers or haptic feedback when playing with the PS5’s DualSense controller, I can confirm that those features are indeed being used here, albeit sparingly.
One of the interesting aspects of Kena are the boss battles, which will often require the use of special abilities and new weapons as Kena progresses through the story. The game may look really cute, but the boss battles can give casual players a hard time, which often require using a mix of acquired abilities and combat maneuvers.
Of course, a game that looks as good as Kena does can’t do without a photo mode, and the one present here is a joy to use. Ember Labs has clearly made the best of Unreal Engine here with every shot looking ‘cinematic’ in the best way possible, even during the more mundane sections of exploration. The game’s photo mode includes a fun little action “Cheese!” function, which similar to Ghost of Tsushima’s photo mode, keeps the action flowing in the shot with Kena and her companions being directed to look at the camera with certain poses. A lot of my time spent in the game has been in the photo mode itself, which can be used in any instance except when Kena is sitting down with the Rot, her little companions that can be found throughout the world and aid in combat and exploration.
Check out some of the photos from the game taken with the “Cheese!” mechanic along with standard composition:
With all that said, is Kena worth its asking price? On PC, the game is exclusive to the Epic Games Store and costs Rs. 939 for the standard edition, with the Digital Deluxe Edition priced at Rs. 1,179. At those prices, I can highly recommend Kena to anyone who is looking for heartfelt storytelling with fun, if standard gameplay mechanics that shouldn’t take more than 15 hours or so to beat.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits Standard Edition costs Rs. 3,330 on PlayStation with the Digital Deluxe Edition priced at Rs. 4,162. The increase in cost from PC to PS5 is considerably high, where it can get a little harder to recommend unless your preferred platform is console. At the very least, the Digital Deluxe edition’s inclusion of the game’s beautiful soundtrack is a nice bonus along with the usual in-game items.
The game is also set to get a physical release on PS4 and PS5 later in November, although it will only be for the Deluxe Edition of the game.
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