Tales of Kenzera review: a compassionate Afro-futurist exploration of grief

April 22, 2024
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Of all the Metroidvania elements in Tales of Kenzera: Zau, my favourite are the trees. Simply enough, meditating inside a tree provides a health boost. It’s here the camera pans out to reveal these great, almost magical, natural structures which provide safety, sanctuary and a moment of reflection. Protagonist Zau is a hot-headed and petulant young man desperate to revive his father, but sat quietly in the trunk of a tree, he’s just a boy.

The trees are a key example of how Tales of Kenzera transposes the genre to its African setting, but also where its heart lies: with the relationship between a father and son. The game’s creator, voice actor Abubakar Salim (best known for his portrayal of Bayek in Assassin’s Creed: Origins), has been particularly open about the personal inspiration behind the game: his own experience of grief following the death of his father. There’s even a moving short film released ahead of the game. Yet even without knowing this, Tales of Kenzera itself exudes passion and love.

It’s a story-within-a-story set in the fictional Afro-futurist land of Kenzera, and it tells the tale of desperate shaman Zau who bargains with Kalunga, god of death, following the passing of his father. Zau must deliver three spirits to win back his father and, along the way of his adventure, he learns to cope with his feelings of grief. Kalunga becomes his father-figure guide who speaks in proverbs and commands Zau with stern yet comforting lessons; Zau in return listens, rebels, argues, and accepts.

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