'Kena: Bridge of Spirits' Voice Actor Compares the Game to an Emotional Pixar Movie

Upcoming PlayStation title Kena: Bridge of Spirits will surprise players with its "depth, intensity and emotion," according to one of the game's lead voice actors.

The Video Game Equivalent of a Pixar Movie

For those who don't know, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a fantasy-adventure title developed by the small team over at Ember Lab. The independent developer has a background in visual effects and animating computer-generated commercials for the likes of Coca-Cola, Hisense and Major League Baseball.

For the past 10 years, its output has been consistently strong, with the VFX artists showcasing a real talent for creating lush environments, designing appealing characters, and capturing lifelike details. It therefore makes sense that its debut game would manage to grab everybody's attention with its beautiful visuals, frequently drawing comparisons to the works of Pixar.

Indeed, outlets like GamesRadar, GameRant and IGN have all referenced the legendary film studio when covering Kena and it's not hard to see why. On a surface level, the game shares a lot in common with Pixar's best offerings, such as its expressive facial animations, charming side characters and vibrant scenery.

Even those involved with the production of Kena have been making the same analogy, including Canadian voice actor Tod Fennell. Speaking to Newsweek in an exclusive interview, the performer said: "It has a really comforting style. Yes, there is that RPG kind of vibe, but it's almost like a Pixar movie in terms of how it looks and feels."

'Kena: Bridge of Spirits': Screenshot
With its cute characters and polished visuals, 'Kena: Bridge of Spirits' has drawn many comparisons to the works of Pixar. Ember Lab

A Deeply Emotional Experience

Fennell lends his voice to the lovable spirit Taro in the upcoming release, a character who was briefly glimpsed in the recent Tribeca Spotlight presentation.

Providing some context on how Taro fits into the wider narrative, Fennell explained: "Kena is a spirit guide, right? She is trying to free these tortured souls and [Taro] is one of those."

According to Fennell, achieving emotional catharsis is the motivation behind everything that you do in Ember Lab's game. Whether you are exploring the picturesque world, solving puzzles with the adorable "Rot" creatures (think of them like Mogwais from Gremlins mixed with Spirited Away's Soot Sprites), or fighting against enemies, it's all in the service of the exact same goal. That being to help others.

Fennel elaborated upon this further, saying: "Every spirit in the game has two forms. There is the [hostile] boss form and then, once you have defeated that version, the original will emerge to be healed. So, when you beat Taro's boss, you will then get to see him as he truly is, and he will explain all [his] pain and suffering to you."

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Screenshot 2
According to actor Tod Fennell, players are going to be surprised by the level of emotional depth found in "Kena: Bridge of Spirits." Ember Lab

On that note, Fennell adds that the Pixar comparison isn't just because the game looks pretty on the outside. He argues that it's whimsical, child-friendly exterior belies hidden depths, much like you would find in something like Inside Out or Toy Story 3.

"Kena is helping [the spirits] move on. It's very beautiful and these characters all have real injuries. I was really surprised by the depth of the emotional storytelling.

"You see how people can struggle to handle their pain and where that can go if you do not deal with it properly. I think players are going to be surprised by the level of depth, intensity and emotion here."

About Tod Fennel: The Actor Who Plays Taro in 'Kena: Bridge of Spirits'

The progeny of two theater veterans (his father was in the Canadian production of Cats), Fennell has been a performer ever since he was a child. His parents, who owned a dance school, enrolled him in acting classes from a very young age.

After cutting his teeth on the stage, he quickly transitioned into television work and scored guest roles in shows like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark. He eventually managed to secure a regular part too, in a rebooted Lassie series that aired in Canada.

"Yeah, I spent a lot of time interpreting what that dog was meant to be saying," joked Fennell when looking back on this big break.

He had his first taste of voice acting when he did a few commercials on the radio, before later graduating into video games. While he technically performed in franchises like Prince of Persia and the Batman Arkham games early on, you won't recognise him from any of those appearances, as he was basically used for the temp tracks.

Talking about this, Fennell said: "I was doing those vertical slices for internal use only. You know, they would use my voice for when they were pitching the game or when they wanted to show off a work-in-progress. My first actual role was in Rainbow Six Vegas, where I voiced some of the guys who just get shot in the head."

Yet from this humble beginning, Fennell has managed to rack up an impressive list of credits, working with companies like Ubisoft and Eidos. Among other things, he has had major roles in Assassin's Creed III, Monster Hunter Stories 2, and Far Cry: New Dawn.

Looking to the horizon, you will also get to hear his voice in titles Rainbow Six Extraction, House of Ashes and, of course, Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

The Rot in 'Kena: Bridge of Spirits'
The rot are adorable creatures that will accompany Kena on her quest to heal the spirits of this whimsical fantasy world. Ember Lab

Introducing Taro in 'Kena: Bridge of Spirits'

Going into more detail about Taro, Fennell said: "The boss version is aggressive and comes from a place of anger, but somebody else did that voice. The version of Taro that I play is injured and his pain can be traced back to a time when he was much younger. So, I made my voice a little more vulnerable."

Although he could not reveal too much about the character's backstory, he did explain that a big part of Taro's arc is learning to come to terms with loss. "His pain comes from a place of grief, so I tapped into times when I myself had felt that emotion.

"I lost my own mother when I was 23, which is far too young. When something like that happens, you feel a combination of anger, vulnerability, sadness and guilt. Guilt because you feel like you should have done more. I tried to wrap all that into the character of Taro."

What really impressed Fennell about the game was how it takes its time to explore this complex material. "We were really given the opportunity to express all those deeper layers. You know, the cutscenes are not like 10 seconds and then they are over. You are rewarded for going through the process of freeing the spirits with a proper narrative about how they came to be."

According to Fennell, this emphasis on storytelling was also reflected behind the scenes. In particular, the voice actor was surprised by just how much time he was afforded to get to grips with his character.

"With some other games, you might have to get a thousand lines out in 4 hours or whatever, but Ember Lab gave me a lot more time. I got to do take after take to make sure I got this right. When it is a smaller studio, and everyone is more accessible, you can do that kind of thing, even on a lower budget."

You will be able to find out for yourself if Kena: Bridge of Spirits warrants all the Pixar comparisons, when the game is released on PC, PS4 and PS5.

It was originally scheduled for launch in August, but was recently pushed back to Tuesday, September 21, so that a bit more polish could be applied.

Combat in 'Kena: Bridge of Spirits'
Although it generally has a comforting tone, "Kena: Bridge of Spirits" will still feature moments of peril and intensity. Ember Lab