Tales of Kenzera: Zau evaluation: emotional Metroidvania is a non secular journey

Zau fights a dragon in Tales of Kenzera: Zau.
Tales of Kenzera: Zau
MSRP $20.00

“Tales of Kenzera: Zau is more effective as a moving reflection on grief than as a Metroidvania.”

  • Emotional story
  • Nuanced hero
  • Fluid motion and fight
  • Gorgeous 2.5D environments
  • Linear to a fault
  • Backtracking is a ache
  • Lacking enemy selection

As I sit down to jot down about Tales of Kenzera: Zau, I’m instantly perplexed. My intuition is to open with some knowledge concerning the act of grieving, the painful course of that’s on the heart of Surgent Studios’ debut. The longer I rack my mind for the right phrases to explain it, the extra I come to simply accept that there isn’t any common reality. Grief is a messy emotion that takes every particular person wandering down completely different paths. The solely factor that’s constant about it’s that it’s a journey.

Surgent Studios founder Abubakar Salim adapts that feeling in Tales of Kenzera, a deeply private venture created after his father’s passing. Here, Salim reimagines his personal grieving course of as a richly detailed 2D Metroidvania steeped in Bantu tradition, one crammed with each bodily and psychological battles. It’s a fantastical journey, however there’s honesty in that method. How else are you able to categorical the bigger than life feelings that grief can deliver?

Tales of Kenzera: Zau tells an emotionally impactful story bolstered by inventive design choices that put a bodily feeling to summary feelings. Its struggles lie in its method to the Metroidvania style, as its surprisingly easy construction typically undercuts the winding story of acceptance. It’s an imperfect debut, however that’s becoming for a sport about one thing as messy as grief.

The Shaman’s path

Tales of Kenzera: Zau opens with an efficient body story that grounds its grander story. It begins in a futuristic metropolis, the place a person named Zuberi tends to his late father’s residence. There, he finds a guide that tells the story of a Shaman named Zau, whose story parallels Zuberi’s. He’s additionally misplaced his father, however is coping with it in his personal means; he units out on a quest to revive his Baba with the assistance of Kalunga, the God of Death. That setup makes Tales of Kenzera’s thesis clear from the bounce: Grief is a narrative. While every particular person’s story could look completely different, every comprises helpful knowledge that we will acquire by listening to at least one one other. It’s like discovering the ethical in a fairy story.

It’s simple to see the massive non secular image.

That thought works in addition to it does due to an emotionally sincere story that tackles its topic from a number of angles. Even for those who didn’t know the well-publicized inspiration behind the venture, it’s clear that it was born out of a uncooked, open place. Zau, and the characters he meets alongside his journey, all take care of the levels of grief. The revival quest begins from a spot of denial and bargaining and works its means in direction of acceptance, although it isn’t so inflexible about that course of. The ending of Zau’s journey isn’t absolutely written; the longer term is his to form.

Zau is an ideal hero for that story. He’s an imperfect protagonist who’s given room to be a relatable mess. Early on, he’s brash and egocentric in his quest. The first chapter sees him chasing down a younger woman who runs away scared from him. Completely blind to her worry, Zau finally ends up falling from a rickety bridge and is shipped tumbling down a sequence of waterfalls. It isn’t only a basic online game diversion to pad out the play time — it’s a educating second. He has to climb out from his mistake, coming to phrases with that flaw in his character. Each impediment makes him stronger as he learns what it means to be a non secular healer.

The main character of Tales of Kenzera: Zau stands with two elemental items.

That dynamic highlights one factor Tales of Kenzera does particularly properly. While it offers in common themes about grief, it’s additionally a celebration of Bantu tradition. It examines the particular ways in which the Bantu folks take care of demise, tying that into Surgent Studios’ personal invented lore. Though we solely see a slice of the world inhabited by a small handful of characters, it’s simple to see the massive non secular image. It shapes the best way Zuberi thinks about his personal father’s passing in its body story. Hopefully, that knowledge will attain gamers too.

Let me get misplaced

In the lead-up to Tales of Kenzera’s launch, Surgent Studios made it clear that its gameplay choices weren’t random. Salim says that the studio settled on the Metroidvania format as a result of it mirrors the journey of grief. Players begin in an unfamiliar world and study to get a deal with on it the extra they develop. It’s a sound concept that makes the style really feel extra significant, although the philosophy doesn’t at all times match up with the execution.

Tales of Kenzera is surprisingly easy in comparison with other games in the genre. Its numerous biomes play out in a principally linear vogue, with a couple of quick diversions alongside the best way to seize collectible lore, skill-granting trinkets, and well being upgrades earned from reflecting at a Baobab tree. Biomes don’t interweave and join at a number of factors; every has one single entrance and exit. It’s onerous to get misplaced, not to mention discover very a lot.

Zau wall jumps between red vines in Tales of Kenzera: Zau.

There are execs and cons to that method. For those that discover the maze-like nature of Metroidvanias intimidating, this can be a a lot simpler entry level. Its focus is extra on crafting clear platforming challenges and puzzles which might be satisfying to clear. There’s a fluid pleasure to clambering over tree branches or dashing between tree stumps which might be completely positioned over toxic water. A concise set of additional talents provides some sensible puzzling to traversal too. When I get the flexibility to freeze water with an arrow, I’ve to make use of my mind to freeze waterfalls, turning them into surfaces I can wall bounce off of. With quick, clean motion that’s simple to regulate, gamers can zip to the subsequent story beat.

That misplaced friction, although, appears a little bit counterintuitive to the emotional journey the style is getting used to parallel. There’s by no means a degree the place I really feel like I don’t perceive the world round me. It’s uncommon that I even hit a path blocked by a capability I’ve but to search out. Instead, I’m capable of observe a marker on a clearly outlined map and traverse each impediment with the abilities I’ve from the bounce. Many targets, like discovering keys wanted to open locked doorways, have me finishing a platforming gauntlet after which backtracking by means of all of it once more to get again to the place I got here from.

It all feels a little bit stiff and neatly outlined by Metroidvania requirements.

My toolset grows as I acquire the flexibility to launch off of grapple factors or smash by means of blocked partitions, however the world doesn’t speak in confidence to me the deeper I get. It feels extra like I’m enjoying a linear 2D journey sport with a set path. It’s nice at delivering that, however it all feels a little bit stiff and neatly outlined by Metroidvania requirements. That feeling doesn’t pair so properly with the comparatively complicated journey.

Though the construction doesn’t fairly match the story, Surgent Studios excels in the case of creating richly detailed 2.5D environments. Rather than enjoying on the style’s tropes (grassland, fiery cave, ice world, and so forth), Tales of Kenzera takes gamers to extra thoughtfully constructed areas that every have their very own appear and feel. Wanderer’s Path is a vivid and sunny beginning space that’s constructed for introductory platforming. It seems like house, a secure space that retains me in my consolation zone. Later, I discover myself within the a lot darker Wildwood, a tangled forest lined with hidden traps and a foggy backdrop. It feels extra harmful and unsure, paralleling the grief arc because the initially cocky Zau turns into extra weak in his emotional journey. I could also be exploring slender paths, however I can really feel the depth that exists past these lovely landscapes.


Combat has its limitations too, however it’s ranging from a a lot stronger basis. Zau’s moveset revolves round two masks that he can flip between on the fly. The Sun masks lets him pull off customary hack-and-slash combos with a fiery twist, whereas the Moon masks lets him fireplace off arrows from afar. I can change between these expertise immediately in battle with the faucet of a button, making a fast-paced interaction between long-range and close-range assaults. Surgent Studios refers to that dynamic as a “dance,” and that concept absolutely comes throughout in quick, balletic fight encounters.

There’s some shocking depth to all of it that reveals itself as Zau acquires extra powers. By the ultimate few hours, I can fireplace a flurry of arrows at a flying critter, hit it with an ice shot to freeze it in place, launch a spear at it, bash into it with my wall-smashing bash, and spend some spirit vitality to hit it with a pillar of flame. That’s overkill for one measly enemy, however that degree of self-expression makes a seemingly easy system really feel far more complicated.

This is the sort of marriage between play and which means that each studio ought to try for.

The solely letdown right here is that there aren’t a variety of nice alternatives to indicate off. Tales of Kenzera includes a pretty small variety of monsters that reoccur in arena-like battles scattered all through the map. The solely added twist is that some creatures have elemental shields that require the suitable masks to crack, however there’s not a lot technique past that. Thankfully, the journey has a concise eight-hour runtime to match its small scale.

There are a number of spots the place I can really feel that Tales of Kenzera is a debut sport, however others really feel like Surgent Studios is already smart past its years. Combat and motion are each extremely clean, rising to match a lot greater initiatives like Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. Though what’s extra notable is how nothing right here feels prefer it’s merely enjoyable for enjoyable’s sake. Every resolution connects again to both its exploration or grief or its tribute to Bantu tradition. From a memorable soundtrack drawing on African custom to trap-filled biomes meant to evoke anxiousness, that is the sort of marriage between play and which means that each studio ought to try for.

Zau fights enemies on a bridge in Tales of Kenzera: Zau.

While the journey doesn’t at all times mirror its private journey as strongly because it may, I attain the suitable vacation spot by the tip of Tales of Kenzera. Once I attain the ultimate problem, I really feel like I’ve absolutely come into my very own as I easily zip by means of platforming gauntlets and crush the ultimate boss with ease. I’m left with a way that the brash, sloppy Zau really has grown in his journey. He hasn’t simply discovered to simply accept his Baba’s demise, however gained the power to hold ahead and develop into his personal as a Shaman. It’s as a lot a pivotal coming of age story as it’s a somber reflection on grief. When one chapter ends, one other begins. Tales of Kenzera reminds its gamers to maintain turning the web page even when it seems like their story has reached its conclusion.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau was examined on PC and Steam Deck.

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