REVIEW – Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a story about loss, forgiveness, and moving on from the Earth realm, it has beautiful CGI cutscenes and promises to be an epic adventure for everyone, and yet behind all that CGI and cute Dreamworks faces, it feels a bit hollow.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits takes place in an unknown land’s village that has been hit by plague and famine, plus some of the spirits are unable to move on from this earthly realm to the next. This is where Kena comes in, a Spirit Guide who helps spirits with their rage and worldly issues to help them pass on to the next life. After encountering a powerful spirit telling her that the Mountain has betrayed the village, she arrives at the town. After that, Kena needs to find and help the three shades move on before going to the Mountain, the source of all the conflict.
Dreamworks smiles, not a great story
The game sets up the conflict between Kena, a spirit guide, and an evil spirit who grudge towards the Spirit of the Mountain as it is unwilling to help the village get through the famine. Kena has to travel to the top of the Mountain and to do that, she needs to help three leading spirits pass on to the afterlife. While also trying to stop the spread of corruption throughout the land caused by the grudge of the Malevolent Spirit that is wrecking the land.
While the story tries to be emotional and sad, it feels forced, as the game is trying to show you depressing things that only Kena can fix, plus at the same time trying to justify the game’s villain being evil. However, it falls flat on its face when a few twists occur, and while yes, the current main villain is spreading corruption, the leading spirit in the whole game is revealed to be an arrogant character who does not do anything for the village. The game tries to handwave it away by saying this is a cycle and nothing can be done about it, but in Chapter 2, a character tries to avoid reliance on the Mountain.
In the end, the story just feels like a lot of tropes and clichés are thrown on top of each other without any careful thought, and it ends up with the villain being proper in the end. It was hilarious for this villain needing a redemption arc when you got The Mountain Spirit not doing anything.
Fight fike in Dark Souls – explore like in Zelda
Kena is a third-person platformer with a mix of melee combat and some use of particular skills, plus you can even parry in with Kena against most enemy types.
Throughout the map, you can find hidden secrets, collect Rots (the cute tiny animals) to level up your abilities, unlock new hats for your Rots, and even complete particular challenges on the map to earn more materials to buy more hats for your Rots. Kena can earn karma through defeating bosses, enemies, and unique time-based challenges. Karma lets Kena upgrade her abilities to perform special attacks and more powerful attacks to dispatch enemies quicker, which is especially handy for particular challenges running on a timer.
Combat is fun and keeps the player on its toes, but the parry system is currently broken due to timing issues that hopefully will get fixed in a patch. However, the melee system starts dull, and it does not pick up once you get through the first main spirit and spend some karma on abilities; plus, you will get your fourth and final primary ability, the Time Bomb. Until that point, I tolerated the combat. Still, after getting all primary abilities and putting some upgrades into them, it became a joy to slow down enemies and kill them with one or two hits or use the Rot Hammer skill to hit them from afar.
Enemies are varied, and there are more than one ways to defeat them, and the more enormous bosses have a few obvious weak spots marked by the game.
One thing that bothered me about combat is how you cannot make mistakes, as the enemy hits hard even on normal difficulty and drops your health quickly. The bosses are even more deadly, and at times I wanted to drop the difficulty down to easy from normal, especially since parrying was not the most accurate move to do against the bosses.
So while there is a childish charm in the CGI and the graphics, the combat is not for the faint-hearted.
All the sights, none of the style
Kena: Bridge of Spirits looks okay, and while the CGI looks beautiful during the cutscenes, the game itself is pretty basic in terms of its looks. A lot of things feel static while playing the game, and the grass does not move; only certain parts of the vegetation will move if you go over them. The enemies look okay, but once again, their art style limits them from their potential to look truly great. Enemies getting hit react naturally and is well done; in fact, you can pretty much cut their attacks short by attacking them mid-animation.
The textures look great up close, but anything that is a bit far away ends up looking washed out and unfocused, plus Kena and the Rot’s art style does not really match the landscape’s art style or the enemies. Kena and the other human characters look like they were taken out from a CGI cartoon, yet the enemies and the landscape’s quality just does not match that level of detail.
However, the combat animation looks superb, and dodging, attacking is well animated; walking looks a bit off, like the character is not walking on the ground but somewhat just above it, in a sort of sliding way.
The music and sound effects are great, and I have no issues with them. The music fits the tone, and every good effect, whether it is hitting an enemy, listening to the rain, the rots movement or singing or Kena moving around in high grass, makes a bit of noise.
In the end, while the animation is excellent, and the CGI cutscenes are superb, the art style clashes with certain parts of the game, and the textures are not always the best, especially when looking afar. Plus, I found it disappointing that the health bars, for the enemies and the main character, were just a simple bar and nothing fancy or stylized in any shape or form.
A bunch of ideas, with no clear vision
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an okay game, with a cute mascot, aka the Rot, and fun combat, but the story, graphics, and some of the design decisions feel like a lot of ideas were mashed together, but there was no focus for the game. The story is cliché after cliché, the graphics are okay, and while the CGI cutscenes are great, they run at 30FPS, while the main game runs 60FPS, it becomes pretty jarring combat is just a mix of ideas, while fun has some issues with parrying.
It is not a full-priced AAA game, but it has a few issues, and I would rather wait a bit until patches and some additional balancing is made to the final game.
+ Large open map with tons of collectable
+ Combat is fun and varied
+ Animation is great
– Art style and graphics are not the best
– Takes a while to become fun, a slog up till Chapter 2
– Story is bad and full of clichés
Publisher: Ember Lab
Developer: Ember Lab
Release date: September 21, 2021