You can find Seasoned Gaming’s review policy here
I’m going to be totally honest, Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been on my “must play” radar since it was announced back in 2020. It had a unique art style that looked absolutely gorgeous while also being a third-person action-adventure. Yes, please! That was all I needed to get excited as I’m a pretty simple man. The question then becomes: after a handful of delays, has Ember Labs delivered on expectations? Well, at least my expectations?
Let’s start from the top. This game is unbelievably beautiful. For reference, I played this on the PlayStation 5. What the studio accomplished in terms of visuals is nothing short of amazing. From the aforementioned art-style to the breathtaking vistas, it’s a constant barrage of eye candy from start to finish. Most notable is the outstanding use of lighting. This is especially noticeable in the darker areas where Kena’s staff illuminates your path forward. If you’ve seen any of the pre-release footage or screen grabs, you know exactly what you’re getting. It delivers in spades.
The story that Kena tells is one of relationships. It begins with our main character, who has the ability to “bridge” lost souls to the spirit world, going on a personal quest to a mountain shrine. That’s really all I can say to avoid spoilers, but during the journey, Kena will run into other characters who have “lost their way,” and it’s her responsibility to reconnect them with the spirit world. All of these quests are very well written and can tug on your heart strings in different ways.
Along the way you’re joined by the Rot, adorable little creatures that you find throughout the world who help you along the way. Next to the visuals, the story is the strongest portion of the game. It’s nothing complicated; no huge twists or turns, just beautifully simple.
When it comes to gameplay, you’ve probably played this game a dozen times already. There isn’t anything that sticks out or that breaks any kind of new ground. This is your standard third-person adventure game where you run around smashing enemies with your weapons or taking them out from a distance with your bow. You also get to solve environmental puzzles with a few different abilities but, again, nothing worth noting. There isn’t enough variety in the puzzles, and they quickly become repetitive.
You are awarded experience in a variety of ways, including finishing enemy encounters or opening chests, and you can then use it to unlock power upgrades in the pretty thin skill tree. You also collect gems that can be used to buy different hats for your Rot followers after you find them in the world. They’re solely for aesthetics and have no impact on the gameplay. There are other collectibles along the way, but, again, they seem to be placed merely for the completionists out there.
My biggest gripe with the game is the difficulty spikes. Most battles with the rank and file enemies throughout the game are pretty simple. The boss battles are on a different level. Now, of course, your mileage may vary here. I played on normal difficulty and had no issues until the bosses showed up. They take a different level of patience that is completely absent during the rest of the game. Whereas you can basically button mash your way through the core game, all of the sudden every movement becomes more purposeful. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for many players. It’s just too stark of a contrast for my tastes. The game doesn’t do a great job preparing you for these encounters, unfortunately.
Despite my issues, I still really enjoyed my time with Kena. While it’s a relatively short experience (10-15 hours), it crams in quite a bit for the $40 price tag. While it struggles to nail down what it wants to be at times, you are still treated to a delightful story with some face-melting graphics. Does it break the 3rd person action/adventure/puzzle genre wide open? Not at all. This game is the definition of “It is what it is.” And what it is, is an incredibly solid and beautiful first entry from Ember Labs. That’s all it needs to be.