Tales of Kenzera Interview: Abubakar Salim on Exploring Grief and Humanity Through Gaming

April 4, 2024 by No Comments


Tales of Kenzera: Zou is set to be a monumental Metroidvania title that lands with an almighty splash later this month. It is the first game from Sargent Studios and was creatively spearheaded by Abubakar Saleem, who came forward with the game’s development out of a beautiful desire to pay tribute to his late father through the medium.

I had the good fortune to sit down with Salim and learn about the love, honesty and dedication that poured into Tales of Kenjera: Zhou: it came into existence as a launchpad for a multimedia universe built on the most solid principles: authenticity, individuality. , and Core, the guiding concept Being human.

Here is the full video interview:


The Origins of Tales of Kenzera

Sargent Studios is made up of an entirely remote team that has learned how to work together during one of the industry’s toughest times. From compiling Salim’s critical eye during development to joining forces with Electronic Arts under the EA Originals label, Sargent has drawn strength from Tales of Kenzera: Zhou.

Abubakar Jau’s introduction at the Game Awards in December 2023 was nothing short of inspiring and deeply honest. I commented that the actor (and now creative director) wears his heart on his sleeve and shows an emotion rarely seen in the industry, and he assured me that this is what Sargent is all about:

It’s a very emotional moment because we’ve built it from the ground up – it’s our first game, it’s a new studio… it’s so much more … no matter how big we grow, how successful we become, whatever – it always has to come from the heart. Being honest and speaking from the heart and authentic that always captures the moment. Same games, right? It is an art form.

See: Abubakar Salim introduces Tales of Kenjera

Tales of Kenzera: Zhou is a stunning 2.5D ‘Metroidvania’ title that tells the story of a heartbroken and grieving shaman who tries to retrieve his father from the clutches of Kalunga, the god of death. It’s a game with stunning visuals, a catchy soundtrack, and some deeply satisfying combat and puzzles, but above all it’s crude And real.

It was largely inspired by Abubakar Salim’s struggle with the loss of his father. It’s something we touched on during our conversation, and I learned how those themes are drawn into Tales of Kenjera: Jau, which doesn’t rely on dark imagery to represent death, instead favoring vibrant, colorful, and vibrant imagery :

When my father died, the world was spinning – and the world was bright and beautiful if you really looked. I remember that feeling, I wore rose-colored glasses when my dad was alive, and then as soon as he died, it wasn’t part of the plan, it almost felt like they were torn off – everything just seemed to change. A notch up, and the sounds are louder, things are moving faster.

So I really wanted to capture this element of crazy energy, this craziness, but give the player enough control that they can play to their own beat to a degree. Where I leant.

You’re right, a lot of games that think about grief, they think about sadness, they think about death… But in some cultures – in Africa, it’s celebrated. Most of the time death seems like this bad thing, but in some places, it almost seems like the next step. This doesn’t necessarily negate the sadness of things that you feel and I want to sum up with this.

Building a universe

While speaking with Abubakar Salim, I was struck by the themes of authenticity and honesty that he and the team at Sargent wove into Tales of Kenjera: Zhou. It’s a game created and written by childhood friends – but it’s much more than that. It is an immersive tribute and memorial to one’s father and, as Salim explains, a ‘tribute’ to ‘children’s versions of ourselves’.

Watch: Tales of Kenzera: Zhou Official Gameplay Reveal Trailer

Inspired by his experiences growing up, Salim explained that this was the first step in building an entire universe using a framework that focused on storytelling and concept all the time. being human being:

Tales of Kenzera is a universe that I’ve built from all these stories to be able to tell them in a way that respects the medium in which they’re being told. So, for example Zhou TV may not show or it should not be a movie, it should be a game. But there are also stories that should have been a movie or a TV show or another game.

I have a plan with it – I have an idea with it and where I want to go with it, and some beats and all that stuff, it’s all rooted in this idea of ​​human truth, this idea of ​​what makes us human, and that’s what really excites me about storytelling. Zau is literally just an entrance, you know? This is an entry point, but it is very important.

Tales of Kenzera: Zhou is told almost entirely from Salim’s point of view, which influences him and reminds him of his father and his family. It’s set in a world rooted in Bantu mythology, which is deep, rich and a perfect foundation for the story, but in this case the journey is more important than the setting, Salim explains:

It’s about the journey of grief and trying to tell it in the most authentic way possible, and it can be Greek mythology, Norse mythology, whatever, whatever it is. From my point of view that is a big reason why it was born from Bantu. You know, these are inspired by the stories my dad used to tell me and where I grew up and the cultures I was exposed to.

Also African myth, Bantu myth is crazy man!

Tales of Kenzera: Zavu will be released on April 23 on PS5, PC, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch. It was recently revealed that it will drop on PS Plus on day one, which is a huge win for subscribers.

I’ve openly admitted to Salim that I’m not a fan of the Metroidvania titles, but Tales of Kenzera: Zhou completely grabbed my attention and held it tight. I can’t wait to explore the full world built by Salim and his team at Sargent and embark on this journey built with so much love, honesty and care.


For more Insider gaming coverage, check out news on PlayStation Showcase next month

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