Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Gameplay 7
Graphics 9
Sound 9

Help a young spirit guide named Kena reach a sacred Mountain Shrine by freeing the spirits trapped in a forgotten village. The game features a combination of exploration, combat, and puzzle solving but doesn’t offer anything terribly unique or original. However, the visuals are beautiful, to say the least, and the soundtrack is exceptionally well done. Even with multiple difficulty settings, the combat can be challenging, and the story is much darker than the visuals suggest. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an impressive debut title, but it can feel a little shallow for players expecting a full souls-like experience.

Gameplay: The combat is enjoyable and challenging, but apart from the Rot, there’s not much that players haven’t seen done many times before.

Graphics: The stunning visuals can put many AAA titles to shame.

Sound: The game features a stellar soundtrack and excellent voice acting

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Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Developer: Ember Lab | Publisher: Ember Lab | Release Date: 2022 | Genre: Action / Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Sometimes, the spirits of the deceased can become trapped and unable to move on, causing them to become corrupted. Thankfully, there are spirit guides who can help free these corrupted spirits and assist them with finding peace. Kena, Bridge of Spirits is the story of a young spirit guide searching for the sacred Mountain Shrine. However, during her search, the young spirit guide discovers a forgotten village filled with trapped spirits. Players must help Kena figure out what tragic fate befell the village and help her set the spirits free so they can move on to the afterlife.

The first thing most players will notice about Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the visuals. The game runs on Unreal Engine 4, and the developers have used almost every trick in the book to make it look like a Pixar movie. Kena will visit a lush forest, dimly lit caves, snowy mountains, and an abandoned village during her quest. Each area is detailed, and we frequently stopped to admire our surroundings. Kena is well-animated herself and has been blessed with a variety of expressions to make her more endearing. However, the game’s real stars are the little spirit companions players can encounter. These critters, called the “Rot,” are simply adorable and will follow Kena around like lost puppies once discovered. Every time Kena comes to a stop, they will crowd around her or begin lounging around if the nearby scenery allows it. The Rot can be made even more charming by equipping them with little hats that can be found and purchased. There are many of these, ranging from mushrooms and flowers to cat ears and cowboy hats. To the developers’ credit, all these are included in the game and not locked away behind microtransactions. Players can also unlock new outfits for Kena by completing the spirit guide trials. 

Behind the pretty visuals, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a story-driven third-person action-adventure. The game has received some comparisons to souls-like titles due to the combat, which features light, heavy, and charged attacks. However, death carries no penalty beyond returning players to one of the generous checkpoints. Kena can dodge or parry enemy attacks, and since she does not have a stamina meter, the combat is very fast-paced. The window for parrying enemy attacks is narrow, though, making it tricky to pull off consistently. 

Initially, Kena can only attack with her staff, but players can eventually unlock new abilities to use in combat. These include being able to turn the staff into a bow for ranged attacks, as well as the ability to hurl bombs at enemies. The game also introduces new enemies that make using these abilities essential, such as flying foes for the bow, enemies that must be bombed first to expose their weak spots, and spirit enemies that must be dashed through to turn them corporeal. This means there’s more to the combat than simply standing toe to toe with enemies and hacking away. 

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a relatively easy game, but it does have difficulty spikes when it comes to the boss fights. Most bosses are not only huge but also very fast and have more range than players might expect. This makes the fights quite epic, and most are multi-stage affairs but can be a source of frustration to players drawn in by the visuals alone. Players must stay on the move during combat as enemies can attack from off-camera, and some have ranged attacks, too. Fortunately, it is possible to play on lower difficulties if players want to focus on the story and exploration instead of combat. Players can also use the Rot during combat to strengthen some attacks or distract enemies. However, using them requires courage, which players can replenish by attacking enemies.

When not in combat, players can run around and explore the vibrant world of Kena. The main story requires players to find masks and personal belongings of the spirits that have become corrupted. However, players are also free to dig through every nook and cranny to find more Rot or gems that are used to purchase hats. In addition, players can discover meditation spots, which permanently increase Kena’s health, and spirit mail, which can be delivered to houses to free the inhabitants’ spirits. The game is mostly linear, but there’s just enough room to explore off the beaten path to make it feel less restrictive.

As players explore the world, they will find more than just enemies blocking their path. The game also has its fair share of puzzles to solve. Many of these require players to light up crystals in the correct order to unlock doors, but a few also require the assistance of the Rot. The Rot can be instructed to move particular objects, which is great for creating stepping stones to reach higher platforms or putting heavy objects on pressure plates. There are even special spots where the Rot can be combined into a larger beast that can attack enemies and smash apart certain obstacles that Kena cannot damage herself. Our least favorite puzzles involved the bombs, which must be used to activate special types of glowing debris. Once activated, these blocks float in the air for a short period and can be used as platforms. However, the orientation of the blocks is not always perfect, so players might also have to use their bow to shoot special crystals that alter the orientation of the blocks. These puzzles can be fun the first few times but eventually become a little repetitive. Players can unlock the ability to have time slow down when aiming the bow in mid-air, which is helpful for puzzles as well as aiming for enemy weak spots during combat.

Exploring can be fun, but as mentioned earlier, the game is linear, and the lack of a mini-map is annoying. We also found the abundance of invisible walls to be a nuisance as it quickly becomes clear players won’t be able to climb up or over anything that isn’t clearly marked. Attempting to do so will result in Kena slowly sliding off the invisible barrier, which feels cheap compared to the polish in the rest of the game.

Ember Lab has done a great job with the audio in the game, and the voice acting is spot-on for all the characters. Despite the colorful visuals, the story in Kena is quite bleak and deals with themes such as loss, regret, and remorse. Due to this, the game also has a very lonely feel, as Kena is the only living person among all the spirits. However, our favorite part is the soundtrack, which features traditional Indonesian instruments and lots of percussion. It is a type of sound not often heard in games but matches up nicely with the themes and overall aesthetic of Kena. We completed the game using a controller and found it to work well enough, although a keyboard and mouse would probably be more precise when using the bow weapon. Our only gripe with the controls is that jumping feels somewhat stiff.

Despite the open-world elements, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a short game, and players ignoring all the optional content, such as collectibles, will be looking at the credits in about ten hours. Players who attempt to find all the meditation spots, upgrades, charmstones, and spirit mail will be kept occupied a little longer, and the Spirit Guide Trials also offer some fun diversions. The game also features a New Game+ mode that allows players to restart the game but keep all their abilities, upgrades and Rot.

Overall, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a fun game and an impressive debut title for Ember Lab. The visuals and audio put it on par with many AAA titles by much bigger studios. Unfortunately, while the Rot is adorable, they feel very underused in the game, and there’s nothing here that players haven’t seen many times before in similar titles. Clearing out the corruption and seeing color return to the gameworld is satisfying, but it is a pity that the story won’t be as memorable as the rest of the game. We recommend the game to players who enjoy challenging combat and want to explore a vibrant game world, but those looking for a straight-up soul-like or something with a lot of originality won’t find it here.

System Requirements

  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS *: 64-bit Windows 7/8.1/10
  • Processor: AMD FX-6100/Intel i3-3220 or Equivalent
  • Memory: 12 GB RAM
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon R7 360 2GB/NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti 2GB or Equivalent
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 25 GB available space
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS *: 64-bit Windows 7/8.1/10
  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 2600X/Intel i7-6700K or Equivalent
  • Memory: 16 GB RAM
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 8GB/ Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 8GB or Equivalent
  • DirectX: Version 12
  • Storage: 25 GB available space

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