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Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review – An Emotional Journey

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is a 2.5D metroidvania game developed by Surgent Studios and published by EA Originals. The game launched on PC and consoles on April 24 and weaves a touching narrative with engaging combat and exploration. You play as Zau, a young shaman grieving the loss of his father. Driven by love and a touch of desperation, Zau strikes a bargain with the God of Death to retrieve his father’s spirit from the mythical land of Kenzera.

The story is revealed through environmental details and Zau’s exploration of a Bantu tale written by his late father. Scattered throughout Kenzera are remnants of a civilization lost, hinting at the world’s former vibrancy. As Zau delves deeper, he uncovers not only the secrets of Kenzera’s past but also the reasons behind his father’s venture into this perilous realm. The story is a touching exploration of grief, acceptance, and the enduring power of family bonds. Along with a brilliant and rich soundtrack, the story resonates on an emotional level, making you care about Zau and his quest.

The combat in Tales of Kenzera: ZAU reminded me of that found in Batora: Lost Haven where you have two powers that you can switch between at will. Wielding the sun and moon masks, the sun will do more damage to orange healthed enemies, while playing as the moon will do damage to blue-healthed enemies. There are light and heavy attacks as well as dodging and double jump. While wielding moon powers, you can shift to phase through waterfalls and later freeze them to make them a wall you can jump off and up. Some enemies have a mix of both health types so you need to dance between the two depending on the situation which kept the combat active.

As you progress through Kenzera’s highlands, woodlands and deadlands, you will unlock new abilities that not only add strategic depth to combat but also serve as keys to unlock previously inaccessible areas of Kenzera. This Metroidvania style of revisiting previous areas with newfound abilities does not feel like a chore and if anything it’s exciting to be able to progress further where the path was previously blocked which scratches my completionist itch. The world itself is beautifully designed, enticing you to explore every corner with the promise of new secrets to uncover.

Lush landscapes teeming with life give way to imposing ruins that speak of a glorious past. However, be aware of lost spirits and formidable creatures that lurk around every corner, making exploration both rewarding and tense. The art style is striking, creating a world that feels both breathtaking and brimming with danger and gave me memories of playing Ori and the Will of the Wisps for the first time. Dotted throughout this world are the Baobab trees where you can replenish health but also reflect on Zau’s memories, strengthening his resolve and unlocking additional segments of his health bar.

While Tales of Kenzera: ZAU excels in many areas, it’s not without a few shortcomings. The metroidvania map can be sprawling and confusing at times, especially early on. I seem to always run off in the wrong direction, but you don’t know it’s the wrong direction until you hit a block that you can’t pass yet. Thankfully with the various traversal methods, it doesn’t take long to get back on the right path. Additionally, early fights in the game are relatively straight forward to get through, however some later enemies have the ability to drain your health at range. Given some enemies regenerate their own health if left alone too long, I hit some frustrating battles where I wasn’t making progress and dying often. This is likely just a me problem but worth mentioning.

Overall, Tales of Kenzera: ZAU has a great mix of emotional storytelling, engaging combat with a rhythmic twist, and a stunning world steeped in mythology. The gameplay is lively by switching between two powers, though some fights are drawn out depending on particular enemy types. The voice acting is superb, and the core themes of grief and perseverance are well-handled such that I appreciated Zau’s emotional journey. I both dread the inevitable time that I will have to deal with these feelings too, but also take comfort in how Zau and the developers behind it handled this particular journey.

This review utilised a Steam key provided by EA and Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is out now on Steam, Epic Games Store, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch.


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