Tales Of Kenzera: Zau Review

A Breath of Fresh Air in Every Sense – Tales of Kenzera: Zau

Africa is rarely used as a setting in the gaming industry, especially in AA or AAA titles, making Tales of Kenzera: Zau a refreshing and intriguing experience. This game not only features African biomes but also prominently showcases its culture and language. Following a young shaman named Zau, the narrative revolves around his quest to resurrect his father by making a deal with Kalunga, the God of Death — a premise filled with irony right from the start.

A Unique Afro-Centric Experience

Think back to the last time you encountered an Afro-centric game. Now, try to recall one that was fully voiced in an African language from start to finish. It’s a challenge, isn’t it? This alone gives Tales of Kenzera: Zau a significant edge.

While themes of grief are common in gaming, ToKZ adds unique African twists, true to the cultural perspective on grief and ancestral veneration. Unlike the mourning traditions in the West and Japan, African cultures often view grief as a way to maintain a connection with and honor the deceased. Zau, however, takes this connection a bit too literally in his quest.

Symbiosis with Nature and Spirituality

Symbiosis with nature and spirituality is a central theme in ToKZ, handled with care and authenticity. The first boss encounter, for example, opts for a more maternal, human angle rather than a generic elemental theme. This approach adds depth and believability to the story, making the challenges Zau faces more impactful.

Mechanically, ToKZ is a 2D metroidvania side-scroller with traversal mechanics that require precise double jumping and dashing. The fluid gameplay loop ensures that any failures are due to player error rather than design flaws. One standout puzzle involves freezing water to create a path, requiring precise timing to dash to the next section before being swept away by a current.

Combat and Abilities

Combat in ToKZ features two aspects: Sun (melee) and Moon (ranged). Enemies are vulnerable to one but not the other, necessitating quick switches between aspects. These battles often feel like puzzles themselves, with multiple enemies requiring different tactics simultaneously. Later levels introduce enemies with regenerating shields, adding another layer of complexity.

The combat skill tree, while not expansive, is streamlined to maintain focus and precision. Most powerful abilities are unlocked through the main story, such as freezing water or throwing a spiritual spear. This approach keeps the gameplay tight and avoids the overwhelming choice found in some modern games. Additionally, the absence of traditional collectibles is a welcome change, focusing the experience on core gameplay rather than item collection.

Minor Issues and Atmosphere

A few minor issues include a brief delay in controls after unpausing and somewhat unimaginative music. The traditional African music fits the initial setting but lacks the variety that a few contemporary tracks could have provided. The initial futuristic African metropolis glimpsed at the start left me wishing for more modern influences in the soundtrack.

Despite these minor gripes, the campaign excels in its unfolding narrative and brave exploration of the “five stages of grief.” The denial stage, for instance, sees Zau helping a grieving daughter while failing to cope with his own grief, highlighting his internal struggle and adding depth to his character.

A Near-Masterpiece

Tales of Kenzera: Zau balances an engaging story with precise gameplay, making it hard to choose which aspect carries the experience more. The platforming is exact, puzzles are cleverly integrated, and exploration feels natural rather than task-driven. The game captures the naivete, bravery, and optimism of youth while showcasing rarely seen cultures and settings in video games.

ToKZ is a near-masterpiece, offering a breath of fresh air in every sense. It delves into the stages of grief with a positive outlook, contrasting with an industry often focused on endless misery. DON’T NOD has created a unique and enriching experience that deserves recognition and praise.

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