The indie developer Ember Lab has created a title that can be attributed to many comparisons, it does a great job at bridging the past, while also modernizing a lot of the games it takes its inspiration from.
Every now and again during my lifetime, I play a game that I find a myriad of different problems and criticism with. Yet, I still don’t mind them, because I’m enjoying myself so much with the game. Examples of these are many, but one, in particular, was Gravity Rush which I played in 2014 on the PlayStation Vita.
Why I bring that up, is because Kena delivers the same exact feeling to me. I can’t quite put it into words. It isn’t my game of the year, and while I love it, I think there are plenty of better games out there – but that doesn’t matter. Kena might have delivered something more special than that, a feeling I feel like I’m searching for while gaming – almost a childlike spirit and feeling.
I have decided to name this feeling “The Ghibli Feeling”.
The reason for that is because I feel like Studio Ghibli captures the feeling of being a child, the wonders of life, and how the smallest story can be a massive adventure. It’s no coincidence that almost all of their movies star a child, and often have very small and self-contained stories – that still manages to be big, and bombastic at the same time.
The reason for Gravity Rush being special to me was pretty apparent when I stopped to think about it. Essentially, it captured “The Ghibli Feeling” to a tee. The wonderful characters, the charming world, and the fun and amazing adventure that you just didn’t want to end. Why do I bring all of this up?
Well, because Kena: Bridge of Spirits nails that just as well.
From the moment I started Kena, I realized that I had something special in my hands. And by the end of the game, that was the case. The game isn’t a masterpiece, and it could be compared to many games already existing. Yet, it manages to give me that feeling, the feeling I yearn for with most games – and movies as well.
I couldn’t put my finger on why the game was so special after having finished the story, but it dawned on me while getting the Platinum trophy for it. I fell in love with the world around Kena.
The world and its inhabitants (Mainly, the Rot) are so well made and executed – and frankly, every part of the game is made better from it. I realized that the reason I cared so much about a fairly simple story setup, was because of the absolutely wonderfully crafted world. The reason Kena grew on me so much, was because of her childlike spirit coming out at most when interacting with the world around her.
The game just nails that Ghibli Feeling – and it does it in simple ways… By playing on nostalgic feelings.
There’s something about the color palette, running through nature, interacting with cute magical creatures, while also fighting deadly tree monsters. Exactly as the case with Ghibli, the story is small and self-contained, yet big and bombastic. Without going to spoiler territory, after only a few hours of game time, I was crying my eyes out after having finished a quest.
Kena herself really struck a chord with me as well. To push on the entire Ghibli formula – she’s essentially Chihiro from Spirited Away. A tough and strong young lady, that actually is filled with a lot of fear. There’s a moment in the game that oddly enough reminds me of a very famous scene in which Chihiro eats rice, and starts crying her eyes out for the first time.
I cannot compliment the game enough on what it achieves in worldbuilding and art style. Almost every element of the game comes together to make an extremely good package. And that’s without even mentioning how good the combat is, how beautiful the animation looks, and how cool the boss fights are. I think it’s quite clear that Ember Lab is here to stay, based on their first release at least.
I hope this game does extremely well, and by the looks of it – it is. People are stoked about the game, and I see a lot of people sharing my assessment. Being Ember Labs’ first game ever made, and being new into the industry, I cannot believe that they released a game of this caliber.
I vouch for all of you that can, go out and play Kena. You won’t regret it! The game is available on PS4, PS5, and Epic Game Store.