Kena: Bridge of Spirits is our latest cover-story game, and we’ve dedicated 14 pages in our issue to Ember Lab’s adventure title. We’re sure you have plenty of questions about the game, which made its debut during Sony’s PlayStation 5 reveal event. We certainly did, so we spent several days talking with the team and seeing the game in action (on PlayStation 5 hardware!), and we have answers to some of the biggest questions we saw floating around online.
Who is Kena?
Kena is the hero of the game. More specifically, she’s a spirit guide – a person with a special gift who can help guide restless spirits to a peaceful end. In Kena: Bridge of Spirits’ lore, people who have suffered great trauma or who have unresolved business can linger between the physical and spirit world, causing trouble for ordinary (living) people. Kena’s job is to understand what’s keeping them from moving on and helping them reconcile past events.
Does that mean if she dies in the game she will live on in limbo as a restless spirit because she wasn’t able to help other spirits while she was alive? Unfinished business, and all?
Oh. That’s a good question. I have no idea how to answer that. Maybe ask something easier?
How do you pronounce her name?
It’s pronounced KAY-nuh. Whew!
Does Kena talk?
Yep! Her voice acting wasn’t finalized in the demo, but Ember Lab’s chief creative officer, Mike Grier, told us that she has plenty to say. Kena is being played by an actress who also sings on
several of the soundtrack’s songs.
Where are we, anyway?
Bridge of Spirits is set in a fictional place that’s an homage to a variety of different Eastern locations. You’ll find nods to Japan, Bali, and other places in the geographic features and architecture. Kena’s not from the place she explores in the game, either. She had to travel quite a distance to get there. Mike jokes that she didn’t ride her bike over, to give you a sense of how far she’s come.
What’s up with those little guys we saw in the trailer?
Those are the Rot, and they’re an important part of the game – both in terms of gameplay and the story. As Kena travels around, she can find them hidden in the world (think hidden Toads in a Paper Mario game), and they’ll join her. That name isn’t just coincidental. They’re responsible for decomposing things, and the fact that they’ve been scattered is one of the reasons why this region has become tainted with corruption.
What can they do?
Lots of things! Outside of combat, Kena can direct them to move things around to help her. Can’t cross a big gap? Maybe they can pull a broken bridge back into shape temporarily. Can’t climb up to that ledge? They can maneuver a block into position and give her a boost. In combat, Kena can tap into the Rot to distract enemies or infuse her attacks with special power. The Rot are timid by nature, however, and players will have to build their courage by damaging enemies before they’ll enter the fight.
They can enter the fight? Uh oh. Can they die?
Nope! Mike doesn’t want players to see the Rot as a consumable resource; once you find a Rot, they’re part of the team forever. You don’t need to worry about digging tiny little graves or anything morbid like that.
What can Kena do?
She can do lots of things. Besides using her staff’s basic light, heavy, and charged attacks, she can get an upgrade that bends the staff and turns it into a bow. On defense, she can use a pulse ability to create a bubble-like shield around her. It has its own health meter, which gets depleted by enemy attacks. If she times its activation correctly, it will stagger enemies and make them more susceptible to attack.
Some of that sounds kind of familiar. Is this like a 3D Zelda?
If you got those kinds of vibes from the trailer, you’re not far off. There’s definitely a 3D Zelda influence in the game, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering an earlier Ember Lab project.
Is there any kind of character customization?
We didn’t see Kena put on different clothing or get any cosmetic upgrades during our demo. Players can outfit the Rot with a variety of different hats, however. Those can be found in the world, and players can purchase hats for individual members of the Rot crew by spending gems that are also found in the world.
Are there microtransactions?
That sounds really cute. Is there going to be a way for me to capture how adorable my team looks?
If you’re asking about a photo mode, the team shares your enthusiasm. Josh says the studio wants to include such a mode, but they can’t say whether that feature will make it in time for launch or if it would come via a later update.
What engine did they build this with?
Weird question, but Ember Lab built Kena: Bridge of Spirits with Unreal 4. An earlier prototype was built in Unity, but development shifted over to Unreal.
Is this an open-world game?
Nope! You’ll encounter a village fairly early on in the game, and that serves as a hub. From there, you can travel to several connected regions. Think of it as being wide linear. There are secrets to find and things to discover off the main path, but it’s not an open-world game.
What is the advantage of PS5 vs PS4?
We only saw the game running on PlayStation 5, so we can’t offer any side-by-side comparisons, but there are differences between the PS4 and PS5 versions. One of the most notable is the number of Rot that you’ll see onscreen. On PS5, all of them can be visible simultaneously. On PS4, you’ll still be able to collect all 100 of them in the world, but you’ll see fewer of them at a time. They won’t be any less effective in combat or during puzzle solving, but there won’t be as many of them visible at once. Also, the forests and overall foliage is denser on PlayStation 5.
How long is it?
It’s tough to put an exact number on this, because of the number of side activities, but Josh says they set out to make something players could comfortably finish over a weekend.
How much does it cost?
Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t going to be priced at $60. We don’t know the exact price yet, but it won’t cost as much as a traditional full-priced retail game. If you buy it on PS4, you can upgrade the game to PS5 at no additional cost, too.
It looks cute, but is it challenging?
Mike says the team has a lot of Sekiro and Soulsborne fans on the dev team, and while the game isn’t quite up to FromSoftware's difficulty, players will be challenged on the highest setting. On the other end of the spectrum, enemies won’t be able to one-shot you in most difficulty settings; you’ll be able to sustain one final sliver of health to give you a fighting chance against tougher enemies. Ember Lab wanted to make a game that families could enjoy together, whether your family just wants to enjoy the story or is looking for tougher battles.
This all sounds good, but I don’t have a PlayStation. Am I out of luck?
You’re not! It’s also coming to PC via the Epic Games Store. As for when, Ember Lab hasn’t nailed down a specific release date, but you can expect to be playing it within a few months from now.