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Kena: Bridge of Spirits – One to watch for 2021

Kena Bridge of Spirits caught my eye as soon as it was shown at the PlayStation showcase in 2020. This game instantly gives me Zelda vibes with exploring, climbing, it’s lush forest setting and the combat too. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is very high up there on my most anticipated games of the year and today I am going to go through the reasons why I’ve added it to my watch list, and why you should be excited about it.

First of all, Kena looks like a beautiful game. It has Eastern themes and mythology, and the animation is similar to something Pixar would produce. The characters look cute and the world looks lush and I want to explore it.

Let’s have a look at the description we have so far of Kena, thanks to Sony.

Embark on a captivating adventure featuring a unique companion mechanic and thrilling combat. Immerse yourself in a story-driven action-adventure set in a charming world rich with exploration and fast-paced combat. Play as Kena, a young Spirit Guide travelling to an abandoned village in search of the sacred mountain shrine.

Find and grow a team of tiny spirits known as the Rot who maintain balance by decomposing dead and rotting elements. Enhance your companions’ abilities, create new ways to manipulate the environment and uncover the secrets of a forgotten community hidden in an overgrown forest where wandering spirits are trapped.

As well as controlling Kena, the Rot is also going to play a big part. The Rot is small spirits that act as little companions, but also you can interact with the environment in different ways and they help you to explore. The Rot can also help you complete tasks, move objects, distract enemies and change into different shapes. Much like Breath of the Wild had different powers like Stasis and Magnetism, it appears as if here The Rot is going to help us out with that kind of functionality.

It’s an action-adventure game in 3D set in the third-person. Instead of the regular sword, many game protagonists have, here Kena wields a staff and also magical abilities. Later on, in the game we can upgrade the staff, for example, it takes on the form and function of a bow with a few upgrades so as you progress through your journey you’re going to be able to wield different weapon types.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is set in a fictional location, but it’s not Kena’s place of origin. There’s the main village which has been abandoned due to an event’ hundreds of years ago. As you progress through the game you slowly restore the village to its former glory. We can see in the trailers there are a few other characters, there’s an old man narrating the trailer as Kena is looking for safe passage to the mountains.

The story is also focused on the spirit world. People who have died sometimes cannot pass onto the spirit world and get stuck between the physical and spirit world, for example, if they have been traumatised or feel unfinished. Kena takes it upon herself to help these beings safely transfer to the other side.

Kena has a scar from her hand to her shoulder, which is a cruel memento from a traumatic experience she had when she was younger with her father. The origin of this (and perhaps the one who gave her the scar) will be revealed as you progress through the game. We only have small snippets of the story out there in the wild at the moment, but no doubt we’ll have more information before release later this summer.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is being developed by Ember Lab, a relatively small team of 14 people based out of LA. Previously the studio has worked on animation commercials and in 2016 a short animation of theirs went viral which was based on The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask titled Terrible Fate. The studio then moved into game development by creating a prototype of Kena. Ember Lab started pitching the Kena prototype around to publishing partners and then signed a console-exclusive deal with Sony.

Ember Lab partnered with Vietnamese animation studio Sparx to create the aesthetic. Originally the game was developed in Unity but then shifted to Unreal Engine. The game was developed mainly with PS4 in mind but then Sony provided then with a PlayStation 5 development kit.

In earlier versions of the prototypes for the game, The Rot were the enemies in the game rather than your helpers or friends. Kena initially didn’t feature in the game and when she was first designed and introduced to the game she was a little younger – around 7 or 8 years old. However, the team felt the game would require a slightly more mature protagonist due to the story and themes in the game. After a little experimentation, Kena’s own powers were boosted as she felt a little weak in the first instance, but the team felt the connection between Kena and The Rot was a great feature and that made it into the final version of the game.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits was initially announced in June 2020 at PlayStation’s Future of Gaming event and planned for release in late 2020 on PS5, PS4 and PC. The game was delayed in September 2020 and pushed back into 2021. In January the game’s intended release date was March 2021 but in the recent state of play, it was moved back to August 24th 2021.

There’s plenty to be excited about with Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It really gives me Zelda vibes in a very good way, the action looks fast and the exploration looks fun too. I don’t know if we’re going to see much in the way of puzzles – the gameplay shots have been fairly brief. I’m a fan of the visual style and the whole package looks like it’s coming together very nicely.