Reviewed: October 7, 2005
Released: September 20, 2005
Genji: Dawn of the Samurai is the latest action-slash title to arrive on the PS2, and despite the obvious comparisons to games like Devil May Cry, Genji accents its combat with some of the most authentic and gorgeous oriental presentation values of any game I have played this year.
Genji features an eclectic cast of excellent characters starting with our hero, Yoshitsune and his companion, Benkei, a seven-foot monk whose formidable appearance would send most enemies fleeing in terror. Together, you must save Japan from an evil warlord who plans to acquire and use Amahagane, mystical stones of great power, to rule the land.
Fortunately, Yoshitsune is also able to wield the power of the Amahagane and by using their essence you and Benkei are able to upgrade your powers and abilities as you progress through this challenging, and entirely too short adventure.
Genji oozes with authentic Asian flavor from the stunning visuals right down to the perfectly scripted Japanese dialogue. There are no bad English dubs here, so you will need to read the subtitles if you want to know what is going on.
The game is structured around several chapters, each of various lengths that take you across a nice world map whose size is limited only by the scope of the story. You can navigate the map and explore lush 3D levels engaging in fast and furious combat, watch a brilliant cinematic, then move on to the next level and repeat.
Throughout much of the game you are allowed to pick either Yoshitsune or Benkei, which certainly does give you some freedom of gameplay style and adds to the replayability even though the story and the end results always play out the same. Only a few levels require one character or the other for obvious reasons.
Despite the obvious power of the hulking Benkei, itís easy to see that the game and the controls where designed for the fluid and much faster swordplay of Yoshitsune. Youíll wander the levels and engage in short spurts of combat, which admittedly gets a bit repetitive about halfway through the game. You can even lull yourself into a pattern and quite easily complete entire levels without taking any damage.
There are some interesting time manipulation tricks in place that allow you to use Kamui to slow down time and execute a critical strike with a single button press. It gets pretty predictable, no thanks in part to the thuggish AI and straightforward attack patterns. The only saving grace for combat is the well-executed boss battles that feature some of the more interesting boss creations of recent memory.
Genji is one gorgeous game although the glitz can be a bit deceiving at first. The first 10-15 minutes of the game are some quality cinematics that look deceptively like game-engine graphics. It really gets you pumped to take control of the character and start kicking butt.
But once the gameplay actually does kick in there is a noticeable change in overall quality. Donít get me wrong Ė the game is still gorgeous but just not as gorgeous as the cutscenes that are interspersed throughout the adventure.
Character design is outstanding and the motion and combat animation is so fluid itís like poetry in motion. A lot of detail has gone into all the characters with some extra-special attention going into Yoshitsune. Itís a much more graceful rendition of Devil May Cry action.
The levels are breathtaking with both indoor and outdoor environments that are lush and alive with foliage, water, falling leaves, snow, and an interesting artistic treatment to the other-dimensional realms.
The camera works for the most part, both while exploring and in combat. There are some nice effects when you use the Kamui power, but these quickly get repetitive, and it would have been nice to have some more effects to keep us guessing.
Nothing beats a great soundtrack and Genji has one of the best. This is the type of music that you would find in a movie like Hero, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or some other Asian epic. Not only does the score fit the visual style and story elements, it cues to the action and totally enhances the gameplay experience.
Sound effects range from the repetitive sounds of combat to the naturalistic sounds of the environments that bring these virtual worlds to life with stunning detail. The Dolby Pro Logic II surround mix creates a rich aural world to immerse yourself in.
Kudos to the designers for not caving in and dubbing the dialogue in English. All too often these Asian import titles lose all their flavor due to a poor dub and as much as I hate subtitles in my movies, I hate bad voice acting even more. I might not understand the language, but it still makes the game exponentially more believable.
Genji is a short game clocking in at 6-8 hours for the casual gamer and hardcore players can probably polish this off in 4-5 hours. Other than the boss fights there isnít much here to challenge you once you get the combat system and timing down.
And while you could go back and replay the game focusing on whichever character you didnít play the previous time, other than some slight changes in tactics, there is no substantial reason for doing so. The game, story, and conclusions are all the same.
There is no multiplayer but Iím not sure how they could have worked that in anyway, so regrettably, until this title falls into the $20 budget realm Iíd have to recommend a rental rather than a purchase unless you have some spare cash and are looking to amass a large library of games.
Genji: Dawn of the Samurai is like the candle that is burning on both ends. It burns bright and fast but is ultimately over way too soon. It is still a remarkably entertaining and challenging experience while it lasts.
And even though the gameplay gets repetitive and even predictable, the authentic Asian presentation of gorgeous graphics, epic music, and fantastic sound combine to make a game that is definitely worthy of a visit.