Kena: Bridge of Spirits developers Ember Lab on stealing the internet's heart and making the most of PS5

Ember Labs is well aware of your adoration for the Rot. They are the mystical creatures seen in Kena: Bridge of Spirits; chibi forest dwellers who look a bit like the offspring of a forbidden affair between a Minion and a Furby. As seen in the latest trailer for the upcoming PS5 game at the Future Games Show – Spring Showcase, Rot will help Kena in her quest to guide spirits over from one realm to the next. 

"Of course, helping people fall in love with the Rot has been a big part of our strategy," admits Josh and Mike Grier, Ember Lab's co-founders. "They have grown to be an integral part of the story, as they are the key to helping Kena on her journey and ultimately represent her growth as a character."

Like everything in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, then, the Rot aren't just there for show, pleasing to the eye though they may be. Indeed, dig beneath the breathtakingly beautiful surface of this brand new adventure, and you'll find a compelling action game that promises a world unlike any that we've seen so far in this new generation of play. 

Good spirits

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

(Image credit: Ember Lab)

"Kena is a novice spirit guide searching for a sacred place of knowledge," the Grier brothers tell GamesRadar+, setting the scene for Bridge of Spirit's story. "She uncovers an abandoned village afflicted with corruption where trapped spirits sow chaos and unnatural decay."

"In the sacred shrines of this abandoned village, she discovers wooden masks created to honor the lives of deceased villagers. The decomposing masks symbolize a spirit’s movement into the next life, but many of the masks remain intact. With the help of the Rot and her knowledge of the Spirit Realm, Kena faces the pain of her own loss as she untangles the secrets of this forgotten community." 

Through this journey, players will explore Bridge of Spirit's various open regions, which Ember Labs drew from its experience as an animation studio to conjure into existence. It's a jaw-dropping vision of a Southeast Asian-inspired fantasy world, invoking the very best of Pixar and Studio Ghibli while standing out as entirely its own thing all at the same time. 

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

(Image credit: Ember Lab)

But this enchanting backdrop is not without its perils. In order to successfully guide lost spirits, Kena will need to defeat manifestations of the corruption holding them back, which take the form of dangerous, animal-like enemies. It's here in these boss battles, according to the Griers, where Kena's combat gameplay comes into its own. 

"Kena can infuse any of her abilities with Rot to defeat enemies in unique ways," they explain. "The Rot can swarm attackers, create piercing projectiles, and even form a shape- shifting cloud to pummel enemies. Finding and growing a larger Rot team enables more powerful attacks and unlocks additional upgrades. Working with the Rot, players will discover enemy weaknesses. Additionally, healing in combat is tied to using the Rot. Players will have to find a balance between delivering a strong blow or taking the opportunity to heal." 

In addition to expanding her army of Rot, Kena will be able to strengthen and upgrade her own combat skills and equipment – such as the energy bow, seen in the game's trailers – to conquer the various corruptions found throughout the campaign. It's easy to worry whether an experience as cinematically textured as Kena might be more focused on quick-time events than moment-to-moment gameplay, then, but that's not the case for Ember Labs' PS5 debut. Its combat promises a deep, rewarding experience, challenging enough to knock us off our feet if we're not paying attention, yet compelling enough to keep us coming back after every defeat. 

Between two worlds

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

(Image credit: Ember Lab)

As a console exclusive to PlayStation platforms, Ember Labs is also hoping to make use of the PS5's next-generation features to make Kena feel and play as good as it looks. According to the Griers, Sony's new console has allowed the studio to "build dense, lush environments", as well as add new layers of interaction to Kena's combat mechanics. 

"As a spirit guide, Kena can transform her staff into a bow. This mechanic takes full advantage of the DualSense adaptive triggers. When Kena draws her bow, players can feel the resistance in the triggers as the wood bends and strains under pressure. In combination with the haptic feedback, the player has an immersive experience drawing a bow."

Better yet, those playing on PS5 will be able to enjoy even more of the Rot at once. With over 100 of the little guys to collect, the PS5 version of the game will "be able to show each of those little guys on the screen all at the same time", including the ones you've customised with collectable cosmetics. 

With a release date of August 24 confirmed, Ember Labs is in the home run of development for Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and while that final stretch is often the most challenging, the Griers tell me that the support the studio has received so far has only motivated its efforts: "It's very rewarding that the community appreciates the hard work and dedication of our team. Their support and interactions have really inspired us to make Kena the best experience possible. We could not be more grateful." 

The final results could mark the birth of a brand new PlayStation icon for the next-generation. I don't know about you, but I'd say that's a prospect worth discovering on launch day when Kena: Bridge of Spirits finally arrives on PC, PS4, and PS5 this summer. 

For more, check out all the biggest new games of 2021 to keep an eye on, or watch our preview of the Outriders demo in the video below. 

Alex Avard

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet!