Developer: Game Republic
Release Date: September 20, 2005
Buy 'GENJI: Dawn of the Samurai': PlayStation 2
What's that? You've forgotten what one was like? Never seen one before?
That's fine. Get this game, and find out just how awesome they must have been.
Genji has its roots in Japanese culture and history, though not on the Tales of Genji novel like so many people think. The evil Heishi possess Amahagane, small objects which give them god-like powers, and they've used it to wrest power from the aristocrats and take over most of Japan. You are Yoshitsune, the son of the chief resistor of the Heishi, and with your own Amahagane, you've sworn vengeance against the evil organization. Along with a quite… large partner, Benkei, you impart on a quest for power, skill, and to save the ones close to you.
The fighting in this game revolves around an ability called Kamui, which allows the player to slow time to the point where, with correctly timed button presses, you can sidestep the attacks of every single opponent in the game, and deliver a devastating counterstrike. It proves fatal to normal enemies more often than not, and for bosses, it drains their energy bar significantly, and gives extra item bonuses. Since the game is an action-RPG, Kamui also provides experience bonuses.
The Kamui system is what provides the game's atmosphere through the gameplay, and elevates it from simple hack-and-slash. The tate-derivative system (first seen in Shinobi and Nightshade, yet made infinitely more accessible here) turns Yoshitune and Benkei into lethal killing machines. Finesse and efficiency suddenly go hand-in-hand, and this is what gives Genji its irresistible can't-put-it-down charm.
Along with the Kamui system, both Yoshitsune and Benkei possess their own unique fighting styles. Yoshitsune is a pixie, with fast slashes and superior jumping and combo ability. Benkei, on the other hand… hits things, and they fall down. As a side note, what makes the Kamui system so beautiful to witness is that even a monster of a man like Benkei is proven to have some agility within him.
There's no denying the production values that went into this baby. Genji is a beautiful, beautiful game. Great care has been put into everything from the environments (you can see down to the last detail of foliage and rock formations, and there are even water effects) to the character models themselves. Some of the game's cut scenes are done with the graphics engine, but most of them are rendered in beautiful, top-of-the-line CG. From the elemental effects onscreen, to the Soul Calibur-esque light trails given off by swung weapons, to the sakura petals which fall continuously in the pause screen, Genji does everything in the PS2's power to visually immerse you in its world.
The sound is no different. Authentic Japanese instruments and melodies permeate every minute of the experience, and none of it feels forced or out of place. In addition, the voice acting is entirely in Japanese, with subtitles - there's no English-dubbed track anywhere. While I normally find the lack of a dub job jarring (I know, I'm weird), it completely works here. A world so distinctly and utterly Japanese in its roots probably shouldn't be messed with all that much.
As much as I've been raving about the game, it, like most, aren't perfect. The first nitpick I've got is with the enemy AI. It's passable - there are times when I feel like I'm fighting a true enemy; however, there are just as many times when I feel like I'm playing Dynasty Warriors, chopping away at moving pieces of meat. For a samurai game where technique is everything, this can be detrimental to the game's atmosphere, and its difficulty level. Ninja Gaiden this ain't. Oddly enough, there are times when this brain-dead AI results in lucky hits for them.
The other nitpick I have is with the Kamui system itself; it's a bit unbalanced on the risk vs. reward side of things. Should you miss a Kamui, yes, you take some damage, but it's easy to recover from. However, should you land one, especially on a boss, the amount of work required from you just went down by anywhere from a third to a half. The technique is powerful, looks awesome, and I'm glad it's in the game, but when it renders most bosses as helpless as grunts, a little bit of balancing may be in order here.
Because of such things, some people may complain that this game is too short, or too easy. I can't fault them. Between the AI, the save points, the fighting system which makes you quite powerful with a minimal time investment, and the Kamui which, once mastered, makes you nigh-invincible, the game can be beaten in two to three days. Even with the game's secrets and additions, you won't be spending a whole lot of time with this title, unless you attempt the Difficult Mode, but that's another story entirely. That mode cripples most character enhancement abilities to the point where you have to get by on pure concentrated skill, and the game darn near does become Ninja Gaiden.
The thing is, roller coasters are also short, but the thrill is in the ride. The same can be said here.
If you're into Japanese-styled games, samurai, or just hitting things until they fall down, you need to play this game. Through its immense playability that never gets too complicated, Genji is just another one of those games for people who play video games. At absolute worst, this is Rental of the Year for 2005.
Move over, ninja. Samurai are cool again.