Kena Bridge of Spirits: All Style, No Substance

When this game was first announced during the PS5 showcase back in 2020, I remember getting pretty excited! It looked gorgeous, the gameplay seemed interesting, and it was a wholly new IP! People ignored it, focusing on games like God of War: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. But I kept an eye on this game.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t worth the attention. Hate to say it, but this game was super disappointing.

Let’s start with the stuff I actually liked. For starters: holy fuck this game is pretty! This is one of the best looking games to come out in years! The environments are absolutely stunning, the characters are gorgeously animated, and it all runs at a buttery smooth framerate from start to end! It even works into the gameplay, as you purge corruption that leaves the land black and red and restore it into the bright colorful landscape it once was!

This is going to look amazing even ten years from now, unlike so many other Triple A games

And the music! This soundtrack is phenomenal! It has this tribal vibe that heavily uses wind instruments and percussion and it’s a delight to listen to! Whether you’re simply walking the empty streets of the village or engaging in one of the game’s many boss fights, the soundtrack is a delight on the ears!

Okay… what else? Uh… the Rot are cute! I like how you can dress them up in little hats! Oh, and I love how they’ll sometimes hang out on the environment rather than constantly following you around. That’s a fun little bit of detail.

Unfortunately, that’s where my praise for the game ends. This game is absolutely gorgeous! But the excellent visuals are in service to an emotionally hollow story and gameplay that only becomes more frustrating the longer you play.

Let’s start with the story. You play as Kena, a Spirit Guide who traveled to this village to meditate at the Mountain Shrine. In order to reach that shrine, Kena must set the restless spirits inhabiting the village to peace. Along the way, she’ll uncover the truth behind the tragic end of the village.

The biggest problem is with the story is the characters. If you can call them that. Of the ten characters that are actually in this game, none of them have even the slightest modicum of personality. They never show any real emotion. Their dialogue is lifeless exposition without even a hint of life. The cast may as well be replaced by Wikipedia articles that talk at you.

Kena as a protagonist is super lame. Her backstory begins and ends with “My dad died.” Fucking Batman has a more complex backstory than that! She has no compelling arc, no major emotional struggles, nothing. She may as well have been a silent protagonist.

She is cute, though. I’ll give her that much.

The ending is one of the most unsatisfying I’ve ever seen. We’re treated to one of the most meaningless ‘twists’ I’ve ever seen, Kena meditates, and… cut to credits. Nothing changes, nothing is accomplished, and Kena as a character doesn’t grow. Any meaning the story could have had is made null and void by this ending.

So that’s the story. It’s emotionally hollow, forgettable, boring, and highly unsatisfying. You could skip every single cutscene and you wouldn’t be missing out on much. If anything. Mario games have more complex and satisfying writing than Kena!

Gameplay wise, this game has a lot going on. Some of it is fine! But most of it gets old real quick.

Evil Tree Smash!

Let’s start with the combat. Battle in this game is comparable to God of War (PS4). You’ll face off against multiple enemies, each with their own capabilities, and some massive boss fights. If you want to survive, you’ll need to dodge with perfect timing in the right direction, block at the right frame, so on and so forth. It may not be the hardest game in the world, but it sure ain’t easy.

Unless you’re playing on the lowest difficulty.

That’s my first big gripe: disparity between difficulties. I played through most of the game on the second-lowest and faced some pretty brutal difficulty spikes. But then I switched to the lowest and the game became an absolute cake walk; enemies did little to no damage (the final boss hit me with a laser that literally didn’t hurt at all) and just stood around waiting to die. It isn’t like I changed from ultra-hard to easy mode. Those are the lowest two difficulties and it’s either ‘may as well be playing itself’ easy or ‘become an expert on the game’ hard.

Secondly: the healing system. See, in order to heal, you need to harvest these plants that sit around in the battle arena. This sucks for a few reasons. One: not every encounter has them; if you’re stuck on a particularly hard fight and there are no healing items, you’re fucked. Two: they heal for practically nothing; get hit once and you’re right back to where you were before, if not in a worse spot. Three: it takes up one of your resource tokens, which are already limited enough as they are. Why not just give the player a little healing flask or something?

Your defensive options are also basically useless. Dodging gives you all of one frame of invincibility, so you’ll probably get hit anyways. Your shield is as fragile as a piece of paper, even after you upgrade it. The only viable defensive option is parrying, but the timing on that is ultra precise. And even if you nail it, you could very well be hit by one of the enemies hiding out of the camera.

Not to mention that there are basically no invincibility frames after you get hit. Meaning that your health bar could simply vanish before you can even blink if the enemies all gang up on you at once. Which happens a lot, by the way. It is super easy to get frustrated and very difficult to enjoy yourself.

The enemies are a mixed bag. I like their designs, but very few of them are actually fun to fight. They’re either so weak that you won’t even notice they’re there when you kill them or they have some bullshit mechanic that makes them infuriating to fight. Boss fights are the worst of it; a good 90% of them constantly spawn adds, which is only annoying and takes away from the fight.

Rule of thumb: any boss that spawns regular enemies in the middle of the fight is a bad boss. I already fight plenty of little dudes, just let me fight the giant boss!

Kena has plenty of offensive capabilities to help her along. As you progress, you’ll unlock a bow, a grenade, and a badass dash move. Some moves, such as your heavy strike, bow, and grenade can be power-boosted using the Rot. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much more than increase the damage output.

Pikmin joke.

You’ll be doing more than just slaughtering enemies, though. You’ve also got to solve puzzles and platform! Which would be fun, if the puzzles weren’t piss easy and brainless and if the platforming had anything to make it actually interesting. These are far from the worst aspects of the game, but they are certainly some of the least memorable moments.

In terms of side content, the game doesn’t have much to offer. The closest thing you have to a side quest is the spirit mail. Basically, find an item somewhere in the world, bring it back, and unlock a small portion of the map. This isn’t all that rewarding, though, so it’s really not worth the effort.

That’s about all there is to say about this game. Kena: Bridge of Spirits may be gorgeous to look at, but the story and game those visuals serve just aren’t worth the time of day. This game was super disappointing. If it were anything higher than $40, I’d have demanded my money back. But as it is, I’m just going to be sad.

Why did I choose to play this instead of No More Heroes 3?

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4 responses to “Kena Bridge of Spirits: All Style, No Substance”

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