In Kena: Bridge of Spirits, you have some adorable companions, The Rot, who help spirit guide Kena by doing everything from lending a hand in combat once they build up their courage (aww!) to assisting her past various environmental obstacles. Your goal is to find these little critters throughout your travels and unite them, slowly bonding with your adorable army who offer strength in numbers and follow you everywhere you go. While the Rot have their own mysterious background that we won’t dare spoil, we did unearth more about their creation and role. Here’s what you need to know about your biggest asset that comes with a huge dose of cute!
Getting By With A Little Help
The Rot are responsible for decomposing things, something that plays into the game's themes of regrowth and the cycle of life. In fact, during your adventure, expect to see red corrupted areas, which Kena can cleanse by sending out the Rot to break it down and give new life. “There’s this theme of things both being broken and coming together but not in the same way, explains designer Jessica Kernan. “You can never completely fix something that’s been broken; however, it can still take on this new life.” This helped the team decide to focus on bringing the Rot together to do things, instead of assigning them out separately as we’ve seen in series like Pikimin or Overlord. They did experiment with the latter, but it just didn’t feel right. “When we tried versions where you split them, it felt like it was counterintuitive to [the message],” Kernan says.
“One big goal for me that I kept saying was I don’t want to micromanage these guys in combat,” adds chief creative officer Mike Grier. “Pikmin is keeping the guys alive and making sure they’re not getting killed.I think a lot of people also think that the Rot are going to die in combat. Once you collect them, are they going to live forever? I think that was an important pillar for us. I think that speaks to what Jessica is talking about, bringing them together. As you collect them, you have more guys and you’re assembling this family of Rot, but we didn’t want them to be killed and be this currency that you’re managing in combat.” To set the record straight: The Rot are permanent. You don’t have to worry about losing any of your buddies in combat.
You can collect around 100 different Rot throughout the game, and they’ll provide you with various benefits. “[We were] always wanting the player to feel like it’s a collaborative relationship between Kena and the Rot,” explains designer Casey Holtz. “How can you make them feel like an extension of Kena or a partnership where you’re helping them get somewhere to do something that she can’t do by herself? The idea is that half of the power is Kena and half of the power is the Rot, but together they can get through this adventure.”
While the Rot can handle corrupted areas and find creative solutions to overcome obstacles such as blocked paths, they are also a great asset in combat. Well, once they get enough courage. All it takes is inspiring them with your prowess on the battlefield. “We have a system called Rot courage, where these enemies and these corrupted spirits are scaring the Rot, so whenever you go into battle your Rot go into hiding,” says chief operating officer Josh Grier. “But the better Kena performs, the more courage they gain, and the Rot will join back into the battlefield.”
Once these little cuties get brave, they can come together to lunge at enemies to distract them, giving Kena the upper hand so she can target weak points or sneak up for a deadly combo. The more Rot you collect, the more abilities you’ll unlock and they’ll help more in combat. Mike puts it matter-of-factly: “The more you have, the more things you can do.” However, they aren’t there to steal Kena’s thunder and do the heavy lifting; they mainly supplement her skills. This can best be seen in her special abilities, which Rot power can be infused into for cool modifiers, such as supercharging her arrows to penetrate multiple foes or turning her heavy melee attack into a hammer-like blow. At the very least, the Rot always have your back, which really helps cement your special bond with them.
Creating Cute Moments
Look, Ember Lab knows the Rot are charming, and went through great detail to get them just right. At one point, Josh joked about making cute characters as part of the company’s calling card. “I know we had a lot more stylized, more youthful, fatter characters in some of our commercial work, but nothing quite like the Rot,” admits animation director Hunter Schmidt. “It was really important to me that they jiggle and they feel really loose. We worked hard to make sure that no matter how you manipulate the rig, there’s always some preservation of their volume. If you squish them down, they automatically widen. Their arms shift around, and it’s all kind of automated so an animator doesn’t have to worry about it. I worked with our rigger on that.”
So far, it looks like all their design work paid off; these creatures draw you in with their wide eyes, innocent looks, and inviting smiles. From your first encounter, the scene is set; you’re going to fall in love. “This first Rot that you collect is kind of unique and kind of ends up being the leader of the group,” Josh says. “He kind of rests on Kena’s shoulder as she’s running around and they have a special connection. He’s always going to be pointing out things for Kena to do throughout the game, so he’s a really helpful character and is kind of our character embodiment of the whole group of Rot, because all the rest of the Rot look similar except for size differences, so we really wanted to put some personality on him.”
The team has also worked to put in quiet little moments where you can just bond with them. There’s no affection system or anything, but it’s there to just take in their adorable presence every so often. “My angle on the Rot has mostly been focused on charm and trying to make sure that you have moments where they’re so cute and I want to cry,” says designer Liz Fiacco laughing. “I’ve been trying to seek moments like that, where you can build a little relationship and it’s kind of fluffy, but hopefully memorable. It’s mostly about trying to give the opportunity for the player to express what they feel toward characters in the game. What’s nice about slow moments is that it allows you to have the same space as these characters.” Some of these tender occasions include having the Rot gather around Kena if she sits, or if she directs them to go somewhere, watching them do cute hops to their destination.
And if that wasn’t enough for, you can unlock hats for your Rot with gems you find the world. This is purely a cosmetic thing, but who doesn’t want to put a pumpkin-topper or fisherman hat on these furry friends? We’ll be showing you a few of these in a feature tomorrow, so stay tuned!