“Each new beginning comes from another beginning’s end” – Lucius Seneca
Developer: Ember Lab
Released: 27th September 2022
Platforms: Windows, PS4, PS5
Available on: Steam, Playstation Store, Epic Store
Engine: Unreal Engine 4
- A moving, truly poetic tale that is not only masterfully narrated but also enclosed in a stunning world built with a high-quality art direction.
- Demanding challenge level on the two higher difficulties. It will test the mettle of experienced Souls players and any general tryhards.
- Great amount of secrets, collectibles and side activities to discover and clear – there’s enough variety to break the main gameplay loop.
- Very good enemy variety, alongside bosses that have evolving combat patterns and unique mechanics in each fight.
- Exciting progression that regularly introduces new utilities and weapons for both combat and exploration. None of them feels redundant or out-of-place.
- Unreliable, underwhelming parry system that isn’t worth the risk in most fights, and lacks proper riposting as a whole.
- Most secrets and side activities feel unrewarding: they grant useless cosmetics instead of XP, upgrades or usable items – which are present but far less common.
- Badly designed final boss that is crippled by filler sections, mob spam and unintuitive mechanics.
Bugs & Issues
- Minor stuttering and occasional frame drops, on a PC that exceeds recommended specs.
- Locked target swapping is clunky, and doesn’t work properly at times.
- 32GB RAM
Content & Replay Value
It took me 16 hours to complete Kena: Bridge of Spirits on Expert Guide (Hard) difficulty, taking extra time to explore all areas accurately and complete whatever side content I could find. All content is linear; despite having a NG+ mode, I don’t really see a reason to replay once finished.
Is It Worth Buying?
Yes. The regular price of 40€ may be a little steep on its own, however, the high overall quality delivered makes up for it. I can recommend buying without a discount.
A solid open-world action-adventure title that, despite a few issues, delivers a quality experience enjoyable by both casual and hardcore players.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits – In-Depth Analysis
Premise, Setting & Writing
Following in her father’s footsteps Kena became a Spirit Guide, her duty guiding the departed’s souls to eternal peace by retracing their stories and helping them move on. The fabled Mountain Shrine is a place of great energy that the young woman sets as her next mission. An early encounter with a powerful spirit and never-seen-before dark corruption soon make her understand this task will be like none she faced before.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is set in a fantasy world heavily inspired by Asian folklore and design, although never referencing a specific culture. Visually exceptional across the board and superbly animated, at times it will seem like playing a Pixar movie rather than a game. The amount of care put into the art direction, world-building and detail-etching are of rare quality, with a quality I’d define world-class without a doubt. Breathtaking landscapes among varied settings are the norm.
While there’s a central plot, the stars of the show are the side stories that narrate life and death of several important village inhabitants. Tales of love, loss, duty and honor that, on more than a few occasions, become dark-themed and form moral gray areas to judge. Between the exceptional musical score and solid narrative, each story is involving and hits right in the feels.
Exploration, Puzzles & Platforming
The world is divided into three large areas that will progressively unlock as you beat the main bosses. Each of these zones is infected by corruption you’ll need to clear to make them more viable, which means defeating hordes of enemies to then destroy their spawns. You’ll have to reach three artifacts in order to piece together the story of that specific zone’s ‘protagonist’, but going out of the beaten path will be rewarded with metric tons of collectibles and hidden chests.
There’s a good degree of verticality and intricacy in the design of each location; you’ll have to take considerable extra time if you want to find all the hidden Rot companions and other hidden secrets. Some of them will even unlock additional areas in the form of village areas, and there’s also a good number of places you’ll only be able to access or fully complete using latter abilities. Platforming includes time-sensitive sections often combined with puzzles, but none of this is overly-complex and is mainly used to showcase newly-acquired tools.
Fights happen in real-time in an action-RPG fashion; don’t be deceived by the cute looks, as on the higher settings Kena: Bridge of Spirits will be as punishing as the most vicious souls-like games, from which several elements are derived such as a dodge-roll, a parrying system and weapon arts/attack combos. It would be far-fetched to call Kena a souls-like though, as there’s no stamina, no penalty for deaths and none of the other genre-specific elements.
Learning enemy patterns, prioritizing the more annoying ones and managing your Courage, which acts as mana to use abilities and spells – gained differently depending on difficulty – will be fundamental to make it out alive. Bosses especially will require you to figure out and leverage their unique mechanics. The influx of new abilities, weapons and passive Charms give a solid variety to possible approaches, that becomes excellent if united with the diverse enemy types spread throughout, and rarely recycled.
Despite some flaws like the parrying system design, the combat feels solid, has good weight, is involving and can be cranked up to brutal levels if one wants. Scalable difficulty, except on the hardest one which disables such a function, ensures that the chance of getting stuck on a difficult boss or fight is low.
Progression & Collectibles
After each fight and from many points of interest (like altars and challenges) you’ll gain Karma, used to improve Kena’s abilities in a dedicated skill tree, with five for each weapon. Some of them will need a global Rot Level to be reached first, achieved by finding these little spirits scattered everywhere in the world, usually in secluded areas. You’ll be able to customize both Kena and the Rot following you with outfits and hats, which provide no bonuses, however. Completionists will have a field day in finding all of the several dozen scattered around.
Challenges, Trials & Other Side Content
The village center houses an altar that enables playing arenas or replaying boss fights with added requirements/modifiers in the Trials. Completing them will award either cosmetics or, rarely, charms. I personally didn’t find these challenges useful in any way, as the few actually viable Charms are found elsewhere and the cosmetic rewards are simply useless unless you’re going for achievements. Cursed Chests trigger a fight with unique requirements each time, and are like a mini-trial with just one additional requirement instead of three.
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