The action-adventure game, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, is much more than I had originally anticipated. I expected a whimsical galavant through a fantasy land, which is partially true. What I did not expect was how fantastic the entirety of the game would end up being; every minute detail in the game adds up, truly making it a unique, invigorating experience. There is something so pure about Kena: Bridge of Spirits, which you couldn’t imagine coming from a game that centers around death. Kena, the main protagonist in this story, is a spirit guide. She is literally the bridge that stranded spirits need to pass to the life after–and this is what I believe brought on the title of this game.
Kena arrives to an unknown location, a long forgotten village that has seen unfortunate tragedy hundreds of years prior. The land is corrupted by an evil spirit that wishes to keep all spirits bound to their place of death, instead of letting them move on. She must work her way through the vast fields, forests, ruins, and cave areas to release them from this corruption. Kena accomplishes this by using a powerful, magical staff that once belonged to her father, who was also a spirit guide. Along the way she does meet helpful spirits who assist her in learning more abilities from her staff. Since I’m not one to spoil the whole adventure, you’ll have to check it out for yourself.
One of the most helpful little guys of this land are lovely sprites called Rot. They can be found throughout the game and play a major role in how Kena interacts with the environment. They are also super cute and can even have hats applied to them, adding to their adorable features. The Rot move items, break items, and flip switches. They can also transform into their “original form”, which allows Kena to access buildings and obtain upgrade materials, as well as in-game currency. However, their most important usage is during combat. Rot can combine with the powers from the staff, creating effective damage. This is extremely useful against the numerous mini-bosses that need be fought throughout the game.
Combat in general can be difficult, with certain enemies requiring all skills to be taken into account. This actually makes for a great combat challenge, one that I haven’t come up against since Returnal. The Rot need energy for Kena to be able to use their powerful attacks. In order to obtain this energy during battle, Kena must deal damage, take down enemies, and/or destroy critical parts of an enemy. Early mini-bosses eventually become more widely seen the further through the story you get, so remembering these enemies moves makes it easier to take them down.
Dodging and blocking are crucial to Kena’s survival, but there is some trouble with these elements of combat. Dodging many of the attacks doesn’t really matter, since most of larger adversaries can jump right to Kena’s dodge location. When dealing with a single enemy, it’s not hard to avoid several attacks in a row. It’s when taking on a large enemy, plus the addition of several annoying ankle bitters (which won’t stop respawning) that this becomes a much more difficult task. There is also an attack sequence for one of the main bosses that is rather irritating to avoid, as it just seems to hone in–with very little wiggle room to dodge it.
On the flip side, blocking is not typical at all. Kena will throw up a bubble that will take the next hit. This bubble is not infinite, instead being tied to a type of “stamina” bar. Once that bar is depleted, Kena can no longer use that protection. She can also time her blocks right before attacks physically land, pushing the enemy back or sending its own projectile returning to it. This kind of blocking falls in line with other video games that share Bridge of Spirits genre, but timing needs to be precise because there isn’t a window in which this type of blocking will work. I struggled with this a bit, because I use this specific kind blocking as my main source of surviving difficult combat situations (if it’s available of course). It requires such an exact timing it really can’t be used during certain battles and I just can’t seem to get it down pat.
While there are a few hiccups in the combat system, when combined with the rest of the game, it’s still really special.
Aside from the combat, the game is just overall beautiful. Kena’s movements are fluid and the beautiful blue that represents her abilities brings calm to me, as well as the land. All the cutscenes are gorgeous, crisp, and the characters have a great amount of detail. All the areas you come across have unique characteristics, like ruins, waterfalls, fields, a harbor, and plenty of wooden structures.
It’s obvious that the Ember Lab got inspiration from Japan and Bali, which only adds to the beauty of the game, as well as its calming affect. While the art style is more animated, there is still a level of detail that is greatly appreciated. One of my favorite graphical aspects of this game is that the Rot accumulated are like travel buddies. They can be seen popping up throughout the journey–sitting on rocks, shelves, and numerous other objects Kena walks past–while a small horde of them follows you around. The Rot even go swimming with Kena, and I couldn’t help but laugh loudly when I saw them slowly paddling to me with their cute stubby arms and legs.
The only negative when it comes to graphics is this random stuttering. It happens when passing through certain areas, and I feel it has a lot to do with the Rot that have to consistently be moving around the map. The cutscenes also stutter sometimes, but they quickly recover. I never had a problem with skipping when in battle.
All in all, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a well-rounded game that keeps the game intriguing with the usage of you’re friendly Rots and the amazing combat. The exploration factor is an added bonus, and I never felt like I was just stuck doing the story. You have the freedom to do as you please, and it’s always nice to be able to look for chests or other Rot when you just want to relax and listen to that soothing in-game music. That being said, if you’re looking for a PS5 game play, and you’re not afraid of a challenge, try this game out. If you’re a completionist like myself, there is plenty of space to explore to search for items. Better yet, if you’re into getting Platinums, this is 100% the game for you. For a $40 price tag, this game is totally worth it.