Brilliant first title by an indie company. Easy Game of the Year if based on visual experience and story immersion alone.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a third-person action-adventure video game published by Ember Lab on 21st September. This is the first video game created by this company as their work mainly revolves around producing animation content.
This is, somehow, the first action-adventure game I played after all my years of gaming. I mostly play competitive multiplayer games, but finally decided to try a new game genre; one that focuses on exploration.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is available on PC and PlayStation. As I do not own a console, I got the PC version. This game was heavily hyped for its remarkable visual experience, and will definitely test the capability of my new laptop.
DISCLAIMER: There are NO spoilers in this section or article. This is just an overview on the setting of the story.
You play as the girl, Kena. Kena is a spirit guide who wanders around in a world that is the midpoint between the real world and the spirit world. As a spirit guide, her job is to help spirits stuck in this midpoint to move on to the spirit world.
Thus, everyone you encounter in this game has already died. However, their spirits remain because of emotional trauma or having unfinished business. Kena has her personal objective to reach the mountain shrine, but will have to help a bunch of spirits along the way before she can get there.
The world is also filled with corruption and evil spirits, which includes boss fights. There is a lot of fighting for Kena to do in order to cleanse the world and restore it to its former self.
While Kena: Bridge of Spirits has plenty of charming moments like finding Rot companions (the adorable little creatures in the picture above) and traversing the scenic world, the story does bring up a powerful message about how not letting go of grief or forgiving yourself for past mistakes can enslave you and prevent emotional healing.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is not an open world game as some people initially thought. The game is “wide linear”, which means the order of the storyline doesn’t change. You must help a specific spirit before you can encounter the next one.
However, you’re highly encouraged to explore along the way to the next objective for puzzles and treasures, especially when the surroundings are so beautiful and immersive.
One important task you should be doing throughout the game is to look for more Rot companions that can be found in the open.
The Rot help Kena in fights by distracting enemies and infusing into her abilities to make them more powerful. They are also needed to interact with the environment by clearing paths and moving objects to open up paths or solve puzzles. Higher levels of Rot (determined by the number you find) will provide more charges to use Rot abilities, which are critical in boss fights.
You should also build up as many Karma points as possible early on, which are used to upgrade Kena’s abilities. You earn Karma not just by defeating enemies, but also by doing good deeds like restoring statues, completing mini challenges and finding fruit for your Rot.
Other collectables found in the world include hats for your Rot or gems to purchase hats for them. Many of these collectables and optional puzzles are hidden from the main path, but aren’t that difficult to find. You just need to be inquisitive about the world around you.
However, take note that, earlier in the game, you will encounter certain things that cannot be interacted with and paths that cannot be accessed. These can only be done later on when Kena unlocks her bow and bomb abilities respectively.
With regards to fighting, the controls are smooth and the abilities that Kena can use are quite cool. However, some people were deceived by the cute nature of the game and thought the boss fights will be easier. They aren’t.
I’ve beaten the game on normal (second lowest difficulty) and was surprised by the amount of aggression from the bosses and how hard they hit, even from the first few that you encounter. Expect to die a lot while you figure out their patterns and weak points.
You will need to run around, jump and dodge a lot in boss fights to avoid damage. Parrying exists in the game whereby a well-timed shield block will stagger and immobilise the enemy momentarily, but the timing is quite difficult to get down and often times you will mess up and take unnecessarily damage.
Outside of boss fights, you’re mostly fighting groups of smaller enemies that are generally manageable. That said, tunnel visioning on 1-2 enemies at a time will easily result in you being hit in the back or by a ranged projectile, so always take note of your surroundings as enemies can respawn during certain fights.
Overall, combat is satisfying and the boss fights are challenging but not unbalanced. However, you may have a hard time if you’re not used to third-person fighting games like myself.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits feels like a magical experience. Exploring a gorgeous landscape accompanied by pleasant soundtrack featuring traditional Balinese music truly immerses you in Kena’s world.
There is unanimous agreement that the visual quality of the gameplay and cutscenes in this game is on par with a Pixar movie, which I concur too.
There is even a photo mode for you to take nice screenshots during the game. All photos in this article were taken by myself.
But how does Kena: Bridge of Spirits perform on a non-gaming PC? Obviously, for such a graphically demanding game, a non-gaming laptop will not be able to cope if the in-game graphics are set to the maximum.
My new laptop is a Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 that comes with the latest generation Intel Core processor, Intel Iris Xe Graphics (No dedicated GPU) and 16GB of RAM.
With the in-game graphics set at medium and resolution lowered to 1080p, I’m generally able to play at around 25 FPS (Frames per second). In surroundings that are darker or have less scenery, I could achieve 30+ FPS.
There’s no way I can ever experience the fluid gameplay attained from 60 FPS. But 25-30 FPS still provides a smooth gameplay. At below 20 FPS, expect regular stuttering and striking the air during combat even when you’re right in front of the enemy. This is near unplayable especially when the boss fights are already quite difficult.
The surroundings of the game still look good to me with graphics set at medium. This is important because turning your graphics down too low on a game that has such a beautiful world really ruins the experience.
I also find that 16GB of RAM helps because my RAM usage is around 9-10GB when the game is running. So, the many laptops out there that have 8GB of RAM will likely produce a suboptimal experience since the minimum PC requirement for RAM in this game is 12GB.
To conclude, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a true masterpiece with minimal flaws. I won’t be surprised at all if it wins Game of the Year 2021.
However, I can’t recommend getting this game on PC if your laptop is old and uses outdated graphics hardware as the game performance will likely take a big hit.