Developer: Game Republic
Release Date: September 20, 2005
Developer Game Republic – not to be confused with the similarly-named defunct video game magazine – has a Capcom executive on board. Equally interesting is the fact that they are creating an action game that has more than one similarity with a popular Capcom brand by the name of Onimusha, as just about every preview for Republic's first release, Genji: Dawn of the Samurai, has already informed you repeatedly. The man in charge of Genji is no other than Onimusha collaborator Yoshiki Okamoto, who is looking to make sure that Capcom is sore and sorry for his departure.
After playing Genji, one of two things can be said of his personality: he has either a good sense of humor or happens to be one of the more cocky game developers this side of Itagaki. Though Genji has many aspects that separate it from its obvious roots in Onimusha, it still invokes vivid thoughts of that series. Genji is more stylish and action-packed than Onimusha, yet, at least in the preview version, is devoid of much of the personality that made the Onimusha trilogy so outstanding to its fans.
Of course, the main reason gamers eat up action games is for, well, the action, and Genji clearly has the one-up over its predecessor. Attacks are based on rhythmic combos which must be discovered through trial and error, much like the systems employed in popular action titles like Dynasty Warriors and God of War (the latter of which had some Street Fighter II master players on staff, and clearly Capcom also has a strong connection to that game – past experience at work here, kids!). As the combos mount – meaning consecutive successful hits without the hero being damaged – the player is graded Devil May Cry style, albeit with more serious descriptors of the accomplishments. Multiple weapons were equippable for both of the two playable characters, all of which had slightly different handling, which, when combined with jump combos and two different attack types, makes for a healthy amount of breathing room when devising the most appropriate attacks for each situation.
And what situations they are! Enemies charge in relentless waves, surrounding the player often in strategic positions that best allow for heavy damage. During the three preview missions, none of the battles were intensely difficult, but great showings were made in terms of AI quality. Enemies will make desperate jumps to especially devious vantage points and attempt to attack during your weakest moments. Of course, any attentive gamer who has spent any amount of time with a shockingly difficult title like Ninja Gaiden could easily learn which situations to avoid in order to keep enemies at bay, but for the average gamer, or even a distracted hardcore action freak, making it through every single wave of enemies unscathed will prove to be a bit of a task.
Added depth is found in the rewarding experience system. Higher combos mean more experience points, so those who wish to get their hands a little dirty and master the game will have a great incentive to brush up on their baddie-bashing skills. This, along with item usage, is similar to an action RPG, but don't be fooled; there is nothing here that would warrant the term RPG.
However, the most crafty of players will be completely disappointed by the inclusion of the inevitable gimmicky "Win Button." By, well, killing lots and lots of bad dudes, players can charge up their Kamui, some sort of vague chi energy/representation of samurai awesomeness. When enough power is hoarded up, the L1 button activates a mode similar to the tired bullet-time mechanic, except it makes things even easier. As enemies attack – usually one by one, as they are so shocked by the aforementioned samurai awesomeness, if you consider that an adequate explanation – the square button pops up a few seconds before they connect. If pressed during the lengthy time the icon flashes on the screen, the aggressor will be dramatically and often acrobatically dispatched with a single attack. While these sequences are a visual treat thanks to the top-notch animation and beautiful, stylized character models, they end up playing out more like the "gameplay" sections of a Sega CD FMV "adventure" (pardon my misuse of quotes) than a standable mechanic in a serious action game.
In the final version, in-between missions for story development, mindless conversation, and, most interestingly, item shopping, will take place in fully-realized feudal Japanese villages. The small sampling of this aspect of the game that was present in the preview version – only short, mostly one sided conversations were allowed in these areas – was a bit thin, but the towns were still impressive in scope, and will surely be improved upon once buying and selling is a usable feature.
So far, Genji seems to be a worthy successor to and competitor against Onimusha. If the final version has a more grand scope (mostly in terms of the story), we just might have a new, worthy action franchise ready to continue into the next generation of consoles.