Kena: Bridge Of Spirits

Year: 2021
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Adventure
Review Date: 1/4/22
Rating: ***

Kena is a young spirit guide who comes across an abandoned village on her way to a mountain shrine. The once prosperous village has been overrun with a poisonous corruption and dangerous creatures roam the land. It's Kena's job to cleanse the corruption and bring peace to troubled souls who cling to the physical world and can't cross over to the spirit realm. Three extremely strong spirits must be freed from their bonds before peace and balance can be restored.

The first thing you notice when you start playing is that Kena is the only living being in the game. Are there no other people in the world? Did she alone survive a great catastrophe? She is aided by a group of woodland sprites called "rot" (a terrible name) that she collects throughout her journey, and the only characters she interacts with are spirits who disturbingly pop in and out of existence. It's all rather unsettling. As Kena collects more rot, her skills improve and her power increases, which allows her to tackle more dangerous foes and obstacles. Unfortunately, the game isn't very fun to play, and while I enjoyed exploring the world, combat is a drag and I never became comfortable or proficient with the controls. I finally gave up after about twelve hours because I had seen almost everything on the map and I just didn't care anymore, which is unusual for me.

Presentation wise, the game is beautiful and the world design is bright and colorful. The character design immediately evokes Pixar's sensibilities, and while Kena looks really good, her crooked mouth and rubbery mouth movements are an irritating distraction. The wide-eyed rot are cute, but not particularly endearing. You can buy various hats for them with jewels that you find, but that's the only thing that currency is good for in the game. The voice acting ranges from good to mediocre, with Kena and Toshi representing the best performances. The rest of the cast tends to fall into that strange category of ESL actors trying to perform with American accents, which seems to happen a lot. The music is pleasant, although not memorable, and doesn't loop or transition very well. The controls are smooth and responsive for the most part, although there's an annoying lag in camera movement. Things also get a little weird during combat when the camera forces you to focus on the enemies that are closest to you, and won't let you look away. While combat isn't overly demanding, it's also not any fun and you want it to be over as quickly as possible. Timed challenges and shooting challenges are infuriating and require far more precision and dexterity than I'm capable of, and I eventually gave up on all cursed chests and target practice rewards. I really wanted to enjoy "Kena," but the gameplay and story weren't compelling enough to keep me engaged, and the increasing difficulty and tedium left me frustrated.