There are a lot of great games coming up for this year and much of next, so it can be difficult to really drill down on any one game and totally wrap your mind around it’s potential. Many of the more highly anticipated games of 2021 are huge, big-budget masterclass AAA games, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with paying attention to those, but there are plenty of other games that are perfectly positioned to come out and surprise us. These games might not be getting the most google searches or generating the most interest at the moment, but that doesn’t preclude them from being outstanding experiences necessarily. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is clearly one such game. While there is no doubt that it has some stiff competition, and it may not surpass the likes of Horizon Forbidden West, it still could have a great shot at being one of the biggest games of the year.
For one, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is keen on bringing a fun, vibrant look to the action adventure genre that we just plain don’t see enough of. While most games in this genre tend to concentrate on realism and ultra high-fidelity in-game assets, Kena seems to be striking a noticeably different balance on that with a look that I wouldn’t quite call “cartoony” as it is clearly detailed with tons of modern post-processing, but it might remind one of Overwatch before, say, Horizon. This isn’t necessarily an objective positive for the game, but it is something that will help the game stand out among what is sure to be a healthy plethora of action-adventure games that are sure to come out this year. It will stand out on digital store fronts and on physical store shelves and that could easily lead to bigger sales and more general popularity down the road.
Kena herself, the world she inhabits, as well as the little creatures who follow her called “the Rot” are all drenched in style, so it’s looking like a very appealing package visually that is sure to compliment Kena’s other facets. Supposedly some of the artists behind this game also worked on a fairly popular fan film of Majora’s Mask called “Terrible Fate” that set the fan film community on fire for its stunning look. So given that the team of Ember Lab has so much talent behind it in this department, it should be no surprise that we’re in for a feast for our eyes here. It also doesn’t hurt that the story revolves around Kena being a spirit guide who spends her life helping spirits caught in between realms move on to the next phase of their existence. This of course opens up lots of opportunities for interesting and compelling story threads to be rampant in the game.
The glimmers of Zelda in this game’s DNA don’t stop there though, as the game is clearly designed in a similarly fantastical fantasy world full of secrets, exploration, and magic that Kena must use and confront to restore her world. The overgrown flora, saturated colors, and expertly designed world all seem to beckon to anyone even remotely interested in these sorts of fantasy settings, and while we don’t quite know how the world is set up quite yet, this look does lend itself well to semi-open world, segment-driven exploration. So assuming that’s the direction they go into, we could be in for a game that not only grabs our attention, but is more than capable of keeping it. This is not looking like a game that you’re just going to get through and put it away. There will be totally missable secrets to uncover, story threads to tie up, perhaps even totally optional areas and quests to explore. It doesn’t look like it’s focused on outdoing open world fantasy games in terms of overall scope, but it does appear to be aiming at matching them in terms of quality and general intrigue, if not exceeding them in that regard.
None of the outstanding visuals or lovingly created characters would mean a whole lot if the gameplay didn’t bring something outstanding to the table though, and it looks like Kena: Bridge of Spirits is aiming to knock this element out of the park as well. The game will have a combat system that we’ve come to know in this sort of game. Expect the fairly predictable light, heavy, and charged attacks to work how they generally do in most action games. Expect upgrades that allow Kena’s staff to become a magical bow, as well as a shield that Kena can generate with her pulse ability to protect herself from attacks for as long as that shield can hold out. And expect a healthy variety of interesting enemies to use this combat system on to dispose of them in the game’s fast-paced combat. Kena is definitely checking all of the boxes in the combat department, but perhaps in doing so might be creating a bit of a blind spot for itself if it doesn’t do much else with it. We’ll have to get our hands on the game to know for sure, but we can clearly see from the footage that’s already been released that the game will be at the very least totally competent in this area.
Speaking of doing something a little different, Kena isn’t just approaching the action-adventure genre so it can check off all the action-adventure boxes. Ember Lab also have a few tricks up their sleeves with the help of “the Rot” a collection of little creatures that we don’t know a lot about yet, but we do know they can be very helpful for Kena in various situations. They seem to be mostly geared towards being a puzzle solving mechanic, which would be fine if that’s all they really are, but here’s hoping that Ember Lab does more with them than that with perhaps getting them involved with combat and/or the overall narrative in interesting ways. The potential is certainly there for that.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits does not appear to be a game that is trying to out-dazzle Horizon Forbidden West, nor is it trying to overpower God of War: Ragnarok – and wisely so – but it does appear to be aiming at taking some major liberties with the action adventure genre and nudging those predictable mechanics in a new direction with quality graphics, Zelda-like storytelling and world design, some solid combat, and perhaps a dash of Pikmin-style puzzle solving thrown in for good measure. Whether or not those ingredients add up to being more than the sum of their parts or just equal to them will largely come down to execution. There is nothing wrong with not being the most inventive game of the year, in fact, most of the best games ever made aren’t even close to inventing their genre, but rather stand on the shoulders of similar games before them while adding in their own flavor. But there is no denying that the potential is certainly there for Kena to not only be one of the biggest games of 2021, but also a new iconic character in video games that we end up learning more about and wanting to see more of for many years to come.
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