Kena the Bridge of Spirits is the first project in the gaming sector from independent studio Ember Lab, which was known for its impressive short film projects such as Majora’s Mask and Dust, a project inspired by an anime. Well then, Kena is a simply magical title that combines action and adventure with fast-paced, sometimes challenging combat and exploration.
The story is set in a mystical village inhabited by spirits traumatized by events that occurred during their lifetime. Kena works as a kind of bridge to the afterlife, helping the spirits with their disturbances. However, the purpose of this adventure is to discover the sacred sanctuary found on the icy mountain near the village. There is thus an exchange of help between the spirits and Kena, where the lines of text are unfolded by striking cutscenes and voice acting. Another important aspect is the intervention of small characters, called Rot, who help Kena to heal the earth disturbed by a kind of red roots, present throughout the environment, as well as in physical combat against enemies.
Everything around the player is set in a sublime way, from the environment to the unique character design that captivates anyone with its little notes. Such as birthmarks on secondary characters and masks that play an important role in the adventure, but that carries a kind of homage to Majora’s Mask. These masks are the key points for opening new paths, once closed by an evil force. For that, it is necessary to discover what happened to the soul to which it belongs, following in its footsteps, recovering artifacts and memories until culminating in the resolution of the investigation.
The soundtrack complements the entire exploration with a mix of percussion instruments and orchestral notes. The player feels immersed in moments of combat with a prevalence of stronger music and in moments of exploration with calmer notes.
Enemies are spirits corrupted by evil forces that have turned them into giant monsters. There is a little bit of everything, enemies that attack from a distance, enemies that attack in close-up action, enemies that explode, and Bosses. Thus making an interesting and fresh mix, without too much repetition. Fights against Bosses are a lot of fun and always have something new, but most have a common weakness. There are some crystals in different points of the body, which if destroyed with Kena’s arrows apply a high percentage of damage and drop points of “mana” used by the Rot. As mentioned these little fellas help during combat. For this, they need to use a kind of mana points, which the player recovers during combat while attacking the enemy, or if you focus on these specific points on the Giant enemy’s body.
There’s a small skill tree, although without great depth, that allows the player to expand the range of attacks. I would even say that simplicity is what really makes the combat so satisfying. Kena also has an ability that allows her to dodge enemy attacks, a shield with the ability to ignore the attack, or “parry” the attack. This shield is also used to interact with the environment and sleeping crystals.
It is also important to refer to the design of the different locations, or in other words, the level design. All areas are filled with very useful environmental tips that at first glance goes unnoticed. An area that appears to be empty manages to open up in a surprising way. It is thus necessary to pay attention to the small details and using the skills that Kena has at her disposal.
Kena the Bridge of Spirits is definitely one of this year’s big titles. Standing out from the rest by its cinematic style presented both in the cutscenes and even in the gameplay itself, where the sense of depth, play of lights, and weather conditions make the player lose the barriers that separate him from the controller and TV for the shoes, Kena’s body and staff. It really is an adventure that involves the player in many ways.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game for PS5, provided by Ember Lab]