How Grief and a Deep Love of Games Is at the Centerpiece of Tales of Kenzera: Zau

Summary

  • Studio Founder & Creator Abubakar Salim shares his intriguing journey and his studio’s creative philosophy ahead of the release of their first game, Tales of Kenzera: Zau.
  • Surgent Studios is a collective of talented artists, musicians, actors, and designers who have come together to craft gaming experiences that connect to the hearts of its players.
  • Tales of Kenzera: Zau launches April 23, 2024, for Xbox Series X|S.

Creating a video game is no small feat. It takes time, resources, experience, and many other things to continue tilting in your favor. This is where Surgent Studios, the team behind the upcoming Tales of Kenzera: Zau, currently sits. A collective of talented artists, musicians, actors, and designers who have come together to craft gaming experiences that connect to the hearts of its players.

You may have heard about Kenzera before – it was featured in the recent Xbox Partner Preview broadcast and was showcased during the Game Awards. Surgent Studios is taking a tremendously big swing with their first game, a metroidvania that celebrates the magnificent Bantu and the African cultures, and grounding its narrative around a deeply personal subject that we all can relate to: Grief. This might be why the game is breaking through for so many players ahead of its April 23 release on Xbox Series X|S.

“I always get asked as to why I made this into a game and not lean into where I originally come from, which is film and TV,” says Studio Founder & Creator Abubakar Salim, speaking during a recent preview event. “The truth is my love for games is what got me into acting. Actively stepping into the shoes of these characters and evolving with them made me fall in love with the storytelling.”

Surgent Studios was founded to act as this sort of creative vehicle that, as Salim explains it, is to share stories that connect to the human truth. “We want to tell stories that go beyond race or gender. It’s raw. It’s real. And it taps into what makes us all human. We have a finite time in this world, so we might as well enjoy it as much as we can, right?”

It was on this journey of creating the studio that had Salim find some incredible people from around the world to join his team, from Nigeria, to Botswana, to New York, and Paris. And although Surgent Studios is a small team crafting their first game together, Salim says they have all been driven by delivering an experience that is not only fun but speaks to a deeper thing that makes us human. It was this aspect is what connected them with this project, allowing them to be vulnerable during its creation.

“I wanted to create an experience that honored my father and the ones that we have loved and lost,” he says. “It (Tales of Kenzera: Zau) was inspired by this question that I would ask myself almost every day after my father passed: what would I sacrifice to bring my father back? To hear him again. To touch him. The game is inspired and laced with Bantu myths and legends, mainly from the stories that my father would tell me as a kid.”

Tales of Kenzera: Zau follows a young shaman named Zau who makes a deal with Kalunga, the God of Death, that in exchange for three great spirits, he’ll bring his father back to the realm of the living. Zuberi is the character you will play when you start the game, and he is gifted a book by his late father — this book is his father’s final way of connecting with him – and you’ll learn that it’s through the eyes of Zuberi that you will journey into the world.

“When I was clearing my father’s things after he passed away, there was this book that he left which contained his handwriting. And it meant so much to me. Because it felt as if I was looking at his handwriting, I could almost bring him back to life, imagining him, you know, writing it, and this essentially inspired how we get into this story.”

Telling this story within the metroidvania space, as Salim explains, is because the genre’s rules and structure behave a lot like grief. As a player, you’re thrown into this alien world that you can never prepare for. Yet the longer you stay in it – exploring its various dark and unknown corners at your own pace — you become more comfortable within it.

“It’s the idea that the journey of grief is full of surprises. It’s full of ups and downs. It feels chaotic. You know, a constant music track that you must move to. But if you listen carefully, you’ll find the beat that you can follow to glide through the music,” Salim explains. “With the gameplay, you know we wanted it to be approachable, but you know, not too easy, right? We have challenging traversals, skillful progression, and you know, this combat system that allows agency… we wanted to emulate this dance that you dance to your own tune, essentially.”

Salim explains that it was important to approach Tales of Kenzera: Zau as a coming-of-age story, an evolution of this young kid becoming a young man as the game’s protagonist, Zau, is learning to cope with the loss of his father through the characters he meets and the vibrant world that he engages in. It’s this new version of himself that he discovers where he needs to press on.

“I kind of wanted to try and capture this clash of timeframes and perspectives, that of the son, in the modern space of Kanzera, and that of the father, in the mystical realm of Kenzera. And sometimes there is a clash, but other times there is also this synergy. Again, the father communicating through what he has left behind.”

A key component for Tales of Kenzera: Zau is duality, per Salim. Like, looking how life and death intersect and commune with each other. “Death is treated very differently in regard to the different African cultures,” he says. “There’s almost this constant communication that the living has with those we’ve lost.”

You’ll soon get to experience Zau’s adventure within the world of Kenzera, from its unique perspective of highlighting African culture as well as tapping into the familiar genre that is well-loved by many gamers. Tales of Kenzera: Zau has the chance to be something truly special for everyone who plays it starting on April 23 for Xbox Series X|S.

Xbox Live

Tales of Kenzera™: ZAU Standard Edition

Electronic Arts

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Wield the dance of the shaman. Reclaim your father’s spirit. Pre order* Tales of Kenzera™: ZAU Standard Edition and receive: – a 10% discount – Kalunga's Blessing visual effect variant – 2 shaman points to unlock up to 2 skills in-game – “Soulshifters” digital companion comic A grieving boy begins to read a Bantu tale written by his late father. Adventure into the beautiful and treacherous lands of Kenzera as Zau, a young shaman who bargains with the God of death to bring his Baba back from darkness. With your cosmic powers and untried courage, you advance into unknown mythological lands. Once bursting with life, Kenzera is now rife with lost ancestral spirits. As Zau advances toward his goal, three mighty beings lie in wait, fearsome in their strength yet somehow strangely familiar. Will you embrace the dance of the shaman? Become the warrior shaman – Embark on a poignant single-player story shaped by actor Abubakar Salim’s own experience with grief, discovering how love gives us the courage to press on after devastating loss. As Zau, you must face your own emotions to become a worthy Nganga: a spiritual healer. Own your journey alongside mythical characters and formidable foes from whom you will gain valuable life lessons. The Dance of the Sun and Moon Masks – Wield cosmic powers from the Sun and the Moon to defeat restless spirits in rhythmic combat, from ordinary warriors to the mighty Impundulu or GaGorib. Manipulate time and crystallize enemies using the power of the Moon mask or launch fiery spears with the Sun Mask, all in meticulously hand-crafted animations. Leap, glide, and unlock abilities to advance through the Highlands, Woodlands and Deadlands in this metroidvania-style adventure. Set foot in a mystical realm – Discover a universe inspired by Bantu tales, rich with untold lore of chaos and order, memories of ancient shamans, sacred spirits and fascinating creatures. Journey through mystical 2.5D realms awash with colour and depth, emboldened by multi-award-winning composer Nainita Desai's enchanting original score. Crafted by Surgent Studios, the entertainment studio founded by actor Abubakar Salim (Assassin's Creed: Origins, Raised by Wolves) and published by EA Originals, Tales of KenzeraTM: ZAU takes you on a thrilling emotional journey inspired by the rich myths of Bantu cultures. *Conditions and Restrictions apply. See http://ea.com/games/tales-of-kenzera/zau/disclaimers for details.