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When I first booted Kena, I'll admit to some skepticism. It felt very much like any other Unreal Engine game. Here's your character, here's the world. I felt as though I could see through the cracks of it as I maneuvered around the map.
Blissfully, the wizened, jaded part of my gamer soul was soon treated to and sent into the afterlife by our titular hero.
This game clicks in every way. The smooth-as-eggs combat, fun from the start but gradually becoming more exciting as you collect upgrades. The Zelda-esque semi-open-world collectathon layouts, and the dungeon puzzle design. The absolutely brilliant lighting, that shines with a 4K HDR display, and the sweeping soundtrack that will immerse you to the point of childlike wonder if you're wearing a pulse headset.
The story is neither here nor there. It was cute, and optimistic, and inclusive, but I felt like it could've played out without dialogue and I'd have understood everything. Perhaps that's a strength, actually.. there's little complexity, but there's a ton of heart.
There is a new game + mode, and plenty of trials to complete, so if you're loving this world and want to stick around, it gives you the means to do so. But I personally was whisked along by its brisk pace and felt that it respected my time to the perfect degree. By the time I'd completed the game, I felt very little desire to double back and collect what I'd missed. But it is exceptionally rare that a game actually tickles that bone so that's hardly a mark against.
It's a brilliant game, that harkens back to the pre- Last of Us ages where video games were allowed to simply be video games, and AAA development didn't need to concern itself with photorealistic graphics and dark narratives.
Kena is a winner.
I'm not a DMC stan. Aside from taking brief stabs at the original game as a kid, and at a Switch port of DMC3 during the pandemic, I have zero experience with the franchise. And you know.. I was really hoping that this flashy 4K 120fps next-gen entry might convert me. I'm disappointed to say that this game just absolutely wasn't for me. I saw it through to the bitter end, but it was an act of OCD more than anything.
It looks great. It sounds awesome. It's fun, tongue-in-cheek and stylish. Disassemble the thing and it all looks to be perfectly in order! But there's just something about the way it plays.. I couldn't get 10 minutes into a session without finding myself frustrated as all hell. Whether my combos were falling apart thanks to Nero's jilted combat, or I'm playing as V and my panther won't stop getting hung up on environments. The game just kept getting in its own damn way.
I'll admit that a lot of the issues I had with the game were due to my own lack of skill. I looked up some videos on YouTube and sure, people are absolutely cracked at this game. But I don't believe that an astronomically high skill ceiling makes a game good automatically. I shouldn't need to take a set of tutorials into the Void for 6 hours just to make the game interesting for myself. It should be fun to play for everybody - there should be a middle ground between sucking horribly and being ready to compete at a national level.
The game's really a fighting game, disguised as a hack n' slash. (And yes, I understand the ire a lot of this will draw from DMC fans. I can hear them now.. "Has this guy ever even PLAYED a DMC game?!") Fans of fighting games, of intricate movesets and hard to pull off button combos, will feel right at home here. The game absolutely gives back what you put into it. But I was expecting something a little bit more fluid, a little bit more easygoing. And those expectations were dashed.
There's something about the timing of the combos. Having to hit attack.. wait.. hit it again.. wait... then start mashing. The timing of something like that really doesn't line up with the timing of everything else that's going on around you. And the 3D nature of the combat arenas, combined with the finnicky camera, means that your Lock On + Back to Forward + Attack move probably isn't going to trigger every time you tell it to trigger. What is BACK, anyways, when you're lodged into the top left corner of the screen, facing yourself, and getting hammered sideways by an enemy?
Your combo meter, which is arguably the entire heart and soul of the game, is constantly dipping on you. Enemies with all sorts of conflicting attack patterns are converging on you. All you want to do is get into the thick of it and keep swinging. As Dante, that makes it really difficult to pause for something to charge up, or to get into one of your many sword combos that isn't just an endless torrent of swings. As V, who is easily the most frustrating character to play, any attempt to move your character while commanding your demons will result in them cutting their move short, teleporting across the map (away from the badguys) and using a different move you weren't telling them to use.
There is SO much depth and complexity to this game, but I just didn't find that the level design, or the enemy variety, or the AI, or the fluidity of it all, fit together in a way that complemented said depth. It felt like a mush, and I just didn't have the patience to become a pro at the game first before diving in.
To give it SOME props, I will say that once I had Dante unlocked, alongside the bulk of his weapon set, I started having a pretty good time. I was getting the feel for his different stances, and the way each one changes each weapon's move set. I was genuinely impressed by the sheer breadth of options available to me in combat.... theoretically.. but again, once combat actually began, the way it all flowed just didn't seem to want to allow me to let loose.
There are tons of interesting boss encounters. Ridiculous names and designs, flashy animations, funny intro cinematics. And I had a good time with a few of them. But far too often I felt like I was just driving bullets home into a bullet sponge, waiting for it to end, occasionally getting drilled by a seemingly unblockable attack and dying, using a golden orb to rez, rinse repeat until it's over. I was pounding my head through a brick wall by the finale sequence.
Just wasn't for me.
Floaty platforming, zippy traversal and decent gunplay. This is a time trial puzzlebox in the guise of a first-person shooter.
There's an easily achievable flow state that's extremely satisfying to dip into, thanks to the combination of the excellent, pulse-pounding soundtrack and the punchiness of the gameplay. One second you're thinking critically, the next you're allowing muscle memory to take complete hold while your jaw tightens and your face inches closer and closer to the screen.
It's really fun! But it's also not entirely my kind of game. For the first couple stages I redid each level until I had all the medals and the extras, but around the halfway point I just wanted to play.
I'd also be remiss not to mention the brutal dialogue.. which pains me to say, given that I bought this game day 1 based solely on the knowledge that the legendary Steve Blum (the voice of Spike Spiegel in the Cowboy Bebop English dub) was the voice of the protagonist. It's not the VAs fault at all. The dialogue is cringe teenage dating sim shmuck with a sneering sense of humor that would feel at home in the sweatiest of basements. Just not for me.
Game's REALLY fun, though :P