Kena: Bridge Of Spirits Review(PS5)
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Developed: Ember Lab
Published: Ember Lab
Release Date: Sept 21st, 2021
*Game provided to me by Ember Lab
''The Spirits Within''
Kena: Bridge Of Spirits is an action adventure explorative game that is developed and published by Ember Lab. Have you ever sat down and wondered whatever happened to the classic explorative adventure games of yesteryear from back in the days of consoles like Nintendo 64 or even at the beginning of the xbox 360 generation with titles like Kameo?. Well wonder no more because the team over at Ember Lab attempts to give us this experience, only on a broader and more realized scale than before. Does this title shine brightly in Ember Lab's first gaming outing or is this title best left to struggle in limbo in the spirit realm? Only one way to find out, so lets go!
Kena, a young Spirit Guide, travels to an abandoned village in search of the sacred mountain shrine. She struggles to uncover the secrets of this forgotten community hidden in an overgrown forest where wandering spirits are trapped. With the world covered in a plague and spirits trapped in limbo, it is now up to her to go on a magical journey to free them all and bring peace back to the land once more.
Oh boy. Where do I even begin with this title when talking about the game play. Its a complex issue, at least for me, because while the game isn't overly complicated in regards to your skillsets, abilities and combat styles, it's still not bare bone either, far from it. So I guess we'll start it off like we normally do and work our top to bottom and giving the ins and outs of everything this title has to offer you as the player from start and to finish and be as thorough as possible. What makes Kena such a hard game to actually analyze for me is due to how the team at Ember Lab got their start. You see they aren't exactly this AAA team with a big industry pedigree, nope, they're actually an independent studio who went viral back in 2016 for their Legend Of Zelda: Majoras Mask fan made film. That's right, this is their first dive into the realm of gaming and judging by the screenshots and trailers, its hard to believe this is the case. Heck, the first time I saw this title showcased by Playstation, I legit thought it was a second party studio working on it, that's how good the quality looked. ''Right, so um, this isn't history class or a video game documentary, so why don't you shut it and dive into the game''. Oof. You're lucky I like you reader or else instead of freeing your spirit like kind hearted Kena does, I'll trap that crap in purgatory for all eternity. But... you're kind of right. Let's hop into just exactly how this game operates.
During the introduction of the game you learn that our hero, Kena, is a spiritual guide who's purpose is to help spirits move on to another realm and be at peace. Basically she's Yuna from Final Fantasy X, only without cool dance moves and the ability to summon giant Aeon monsters. But that's ok, Kena doesn't need the hymn of the fayth to send off these trapped spirits to the far plains, for she has a magical staff that has the ability to do it for her, one that has been passed down in her family for generations. As you push through the opening hour or so of the game, you will be steadily introduced to not only the big baddie of the entire game, but also you will be slowly eased into the basic fundamentals of the game, such as combat and core functionality of how the game is played. When you see the main baddie, it will immediately remind you of something out of Majoras Mask, but he's not a monster in this game, he's just ''the man behind the mask''. I love that song. Kudos to whoever gets that. Once you gain control of your character you will be thrown into battle where you will learn how to utilize your light and heavy attacks, using pulse shield to block incoming attacks and using dodge roll to evade any danger. These are the core mechanics that will be at your disposal the entirety of the game, but they are definitely not the only means for offense and defense. But we'll get into that very shortly. But before we get further into the overall game play mechanics and the other robust nature of the game, I want to touch upon a few other aspects before moving on.
If you have seen the trailers and in game screenshots, then you will know this game is drop dead gorgeous, its mind boggling. The level of detail and care put into the creation of the world and its characters is second to none and you'd never think that this game was created by an indie studio. I mentioned earlier about this title bringing back the feel of classic Nintendo 64 titles, the adventure days of old and that was not an exaggeration or stretch of the truth, not at all, because this game is structured exactly how you remember from titles like Ocarina Of Time. In Kena, the world isn't exactly ''open world'' in the traditional sense like in an Ubisoft game, but more so you have large hub areas that are interconnected by zones with branching paths here and there. While the game doesn't let you go anywhere you wish to go at any time, the zones still feel large enough to give it a false sense of scope that its a never ending world. The game feels way bigger than it really is. So ya ok, the world is ''so big'', big whoop right? I mean what good is having a large and expansive area to play in if there's actually nothing to do in it. Don't worry, the world itself acts as your playground and offers you a large quantity of things to do, both story related and extra side content that empowers to later bolster up your abilities and level up your skill tree. The main concept of the game is a rather simple one, go to an area, learn the history of a spirit you need to help free, collect 3 relics that they need in order to ''pass on'' and then ultimately culminating in a large scale boss fight. Boss fights? Aww yeah, you already know I'm going to be getting into those, however, I will save those for a little later. As mentioned previously in this review, the game utilizes heavy and light attacks as the main focus of combat, but what I didn't tell you is that they're not the ONLY means for combat. What else could there possibly be, you ask? well the quick answer to that question is... Pikmin. Yup. Who would've thought someone would come around and give us Pikmin 4 before even Nintendo did? come on Nintendo, I need it, like now. While yes, I do like to call them Pikmin, their real name however is ''Rot'' and these little beings known as Rot are going to be a focal point the majority of not only the story, but completely change how the game is played as well. Plus you can give them little hats to wear, so cancel the game awards for 2021 because this game now has it in the bag, am I right guys?.
Throughout the world, you will find little Rot's hidden in a multitude of places that range from shrines that are activated with your spirit pulse, hidden under rocks and logs, stuffed inside treasure chests, incentives for completing specific puzzles in successful fashion and even by collecting ''side mission'' key items called Spirit Mail, which tasks you with bringing a piece of mail back to a corrupted house in the main village to clear it of its plague, thus allowing you to collect another Rot. There are over 100 total Rot in the game, that's not a typo, I literally just said 100. But luckily, they never feel as tedious to collect as Korok seeds in Breath Of The Wild do, and your reward is FAR better than a golden piece of poop. Five years later and I still feel like my life was wasted doing that... but I won't lie, I'd probably do it again. I have no life. As stated previously, Rot in this game act like your Pikmin, I say this because not only are they used as companion pieces to your journey, like in those games, but also because they aid you in both puzzles themselves and fighting. When doing specific puzzles such as using your spirit pulse power to light up shrines to unlock a door, a few of them can't be activated because they don't have enough power at its source to continue the link of energy. But by selecting the object, you can tell your little Rot friends to pick it up and move it wherever you tell them to move it. This same principal holds true as well for moving around blocks or other pillars you need to move in order to be able to get to high to reach places. The Rot's react to what you do immediately and are very cooperative and you don't have to worry about them getting drunk and peeing all over the place like evil demon minions in the game Overlord. There's no ''FOR YOU,. FOR THE MASTER'' in this game. That's not all there is to their mechanics either, because every time you collect a specific amount of Rot, you will raise your Rot level. Once your Rot level is higher you will be able to obtain more abilities which involves you being able to tell them to swarm an enemy to temporarily stun them, fill their courage meter which determines how many times you can use them in battle, or when the ability of the bow is unlocked, unleash a Rot powered arrow at an enemy which deals massive spirit energy damage. They add so much to the combat that it actually makes the game play not only more complex, but even more strategy based depending on what scenario you find yourself in.
After figuring out just how to utilize these little squirts to your advantage, its time to journey back into the story mode and meet your new friends, Saiya and Beni. Saiya and Beni are two little kids that are just looking for their brother, Taro, and because you saved them from the wooden monster, they seek your help in saving him and freeing him. Oh man. I'll say this right now, spoilers incoming because the story of Saiya, Beni and Taro is absolutely heartbreaking, but at the same time, surprisingly beautiful. When you journey with these two little cute munchkin kids, you see how spunky, happy and energetic they are, I mean heck, they're little wee baron kiddos, what did ya expect?. As Kena, you're trying to get to the mountain shrine to fix everything that is going on and need help finding it, so as a favor to you, if you find Taro for the kids, they will take you there, which seems fair and reasonable. During this first major quest, you basically get an idea of how the rest of the game will be structured. Go around multiple areas and kill plagued flowers that brings the now dead world back to life by either completing puzzles or defeating enemies. Once enemies or puzzles are completed, use your Rot to swarm a flower and then proceed to destroy it using spirit pulse or later on, your arrows, to make them go KABOOM. This continues through each area as you hunt for three relics that you need in order to make the spirits of this game be able to move on in peace so their spirit is now longer stuck in purgatory and limbo. But why is that heartbreaking? well its the fruit of all your work that leads to the conclusion of Taro's story arc. Utilizing Taro's mask, a mask that can only be used after a person is passed on, you can see the world through the eyes of a spirit and uncover secrets that you cannot see with the naked eye. This also lets you see little footsteps of hidden Rots too. As you use Taro's mask, you begin to see what lead to his death, his regrets, his guilt. You learn that when the world became covered in darkness, he was killed in the initial explosion and his little brothers were lost in the storm and he couldnt find them. He searches for days and no sign of them, he gives up and comes to the conclusion they're dead. But then this is where I actually got hit REALLY hard. Upon collecting all his relics, fighting a corrupted version of his soul in monster form and freeing him, you learn that not only has he passed on, but so have his brother as well. Yes that's right. This entire time both Saiya and Beni have been dead. But because of you freeing Taro, now he and his little brother are finally able to rest in peace. So with a heartfelt and sad goodbye with Saiya apologizing to you for not being able to keep her promise to take you to the mountain shrine, Kena tells him ''its ok, you have to go now'' and OH. MY. GOD. Even just typing this kills me. Its so dang sad and beautiful at the same time. Between the voice acting, the atmosphere and the music, it hits every chord in your body and is masterfully done. Now the other stories are really good too with each character having their own plight and struggle, but none felt more tear jerking or heartfelt as Taro's story. But that's just my opinion.
Moving forward through the game will unlock new ways to heighten your combat by meeting characters like Rusu, who watches things from a far and teaches you how to use the magic of your spirit staff to create a bow and arrow. With the ability of the bow and arrow, you're able to shoot enemies from long distances, charge up your shots for a stronger attack, bullet time slow motion jump for precise aiming and even use a Rot spirit arrow by pressing square when one of your Rot courage meters is filled up, which sends a shining light of Rot into your enemy, dealing massive damage or destroying any shield they may be using at that time. Other forms of attack you're also able to unlock through the story, that are actually going to play an even bigger role, are spirit bombs. No, I know what you're thinking. Were not going to yell at the people of earth to ''lend me your energy'' and then take 20 episodes to charge it, not THAT type of spirit bomb, were not Goku. These bombs can be used to throw at enemies and detonated using spirt pulse or by shooting them manually yourself to make an even bigger explosion. They play a large role in puzzle solving as well. Using your bombs on glowing pillars makes them shape shift into walkable platforms that allow you to traverse higher or across ledges you couldn't reach previously. But be very careful because each bomb you throw is on a set timer of around 15 seconds, so if you take too much time, you will fall and have to attempt it all over again. Once you have obtained your bow and arrow and bombs to use, now the combat truly opens up and becomes even more fast paced due to the enemy variety and the game itself forcing you to adopt more than just one fighting strategy. You have to ''diversify your bonds'' as the Wu Tang Clan would say, or rather, diversify your combat style in this case.
At the start of your game the enemies will die in roughly one or two attacks, depending on which difficulty you play on, these difficulties range from Story mode, which allows you to have easier combat and enjoy the story without too much hassle, Spirit Guide which acts as the games normal difficulty, Expert Spirit Guide that is the games hard mode and then finally after completing the main game you unlock Master Spirit Guide, which will knock you on your butt three ways from Sunday. The reason why I just explained the difficulty modes is because depending on the difficulty you play on, your experience will change from either a relaxing time or to an extremely intense time, especially on Expert Spirit Guide or others. But that's not to say things don't get intense in Story Mode either, that's completely untrue because with each new area you unlock and traverse to, the more enemy varieties you encounter that make your battles that much more strategic and hectic. Enemies go from easily beatable, to gaining a shield, becoming immune to physical attacks, being able to teleport, becoming transparent, shoot arrows, turn into wooden dogs, etc. The amount of enemy variety is pretty dang big, and sure, while the enemies do get recycled around here and there, there's always an addition to a main fight that makes it vary in some shape, way or form. Lets say a big corrupted wooden monster is after you, you can't physically do a lot of damage, so what do you do? well you have so many choices. You can either charge up Rot arrows and pick him off slowly until he's dead or go crazy and send your army of Rot to paralyze him in place, then use your spirit bombs to stick on his body, followed by going into slow motion and shooting the bombs that are stuck to his body, giving him a huge amount of damage. These types of bosses are also able to be injured faster by shooting yellow marks on their back that when struck, deletes a moderate amount of health from their bar. The game also introduces to you a skill tree, but I'll admit, its not that most robust one I've ever come across, but its passable to say the least.
The more you level up your rot level, the most skills you can obtain based off your skill tree and each ability in the game such as your staff, arrows, bombs, spirit dash, rots themselves, etc all have multiple selections to choose from. Selections such as a Rot hammer that infuses your staff with Rots for a powerful blow, a stronger shield so you can parry easier, start battles with 1 courage meter filled, carry multiple bombs, etc. Use these in conjunction with one another to create some crazy combinations such as melee attacking, dodging, slowing time into a fused rot arrow shot, tossing a bomb and detonating it with spirit pulse, all within seconds of each other. It makes combat so much more intense and enjoyable when utilizing all your weapons to their fullest potential. Using combination attacks will also be very vital for the boss fights. Each boss fight becomes more extravagant than the last. With a fight against a plague mage who is fast and agile, a giant wooden fox rot monster, and all the way to a gigantic corrupted Rot monster who has the most intense boss fight of the entire game. With16 of these bosses available to fight in total, you will not be able to relax for very long. This will make your journey through both land of the living and spirit world in the game, feel like totally different experiences than they normally would be playing otherwise. But what do you do when you actually finish the game, is that it? well, depending on what you did your first playthrough, there's a yes and no answer to that, considering there is sort of a collectathon environment to this title. Even Swiper would be jealous with how much collectible goodness we can grab on up. ''Oh Maaaan''. Sorry swiper.
After completing the main game there are still multiple difficulty levels to playthrough, but the fun doesn't stop there with those options because there are hundreds of collectibles to find hidden around the vast world. These collectibles range from finding hidden treasure chests that either grant you another Rot friend, currency to buy more hats from the shops, cursed treasure chests that put forth a time limit where you have to kill a specific amount of enemies within 1 minute or less in order to receive an reward, collecting 100 Rot friends in the game to unlock all abilities and finding and obtaining all hats in the game for your Rot friends. Along with all the collectibles, you also have other avenues to entertain yourself by finding mini game spots hidden around the world that involves you stepping on a platform and activating flying sprouts that if hit in a fast enough fashion, will reward you handsomely, as well as shoot glowing crystals on trees to chase the pattern within a time limit to complete the mini game. Finally there are ''sorta'' side quests in this game, if you can consider them that. These require you to find ''spirit mail'' and return them to a household in the main village that is corrupted by plague. Upon returning their mail, the house will be free of the cursed plague and goodies will await you inside. This can easily add 4 or more hours to your already 12-15 hour playthrough. Over 20+ hours if you choose to be a completionist and platinum the game. Which I'm actually working on currently.
At the end of the day, Kena: Bridge Of Spirits was an experience I wasn't expecting to have. Now I've been looking forward to this game since it was first revealed and ever since I saw it, I had always thought it looked like a Disney Pixar film, but I still wasn't expecting it to look this good with its final product. Nor was I expecting it to have such an emotional impact on me personally by tugging directly at my heart strings. There is just so much charm, heart and creativity that literally oozes from this title that it's extremely hard to believe that this is Ember Lab's first shot at creating a gaming experience. Is it a perfect game? absolutely not. The game can be a tad bit linear in areas where you wish you could cut across or climb to save time and there's an issue here and there with your character not registering with a hit box on a platform, causing you to slip off like its a slippery slope, when it isn't. This can cause you to die every now and then and it can get a little annoying. However, with the games amazing music, superb voice acting, combat that ranges from simple to intense, boss fights that make you think on your toes, puzzle centric areas that makes you think what to do next, a fully realized beautiful world, the great utilization of Rot's as weapon and companion piece, and the restoration of the classic feel of adventure games of old, makes Kena: Bridge Of Spirits, my personal favorite game of the year so far. Which you don't hear me say too often. So with all that having been said, my verdict is clear. GameNChick says BUY NOW.
Interested in purchasing this title? check it out below https://store.playstation.com/en-us/concept/10001235/ https://www.epicgames.com/store/en-US/p/kena-bridge-of-spirits