Genji is the first game from the new Japanese development studio Game Republic and has been developed by ex –Capcom employee Okamoto Yoshiki who worked on the hugely successful Onimusha series. Genji is based loosely on the Japanese literary classic "the Tale of the Heike" and is a 3rd person hack and slash adventure set in 12th Century feudal Japan.

There are a number of heavy hitters within this genre of game including God of War and Devil May Cry so does Genji measure up to these titles or does it fall flat on its face?

Story

You take on the roles of Yoshitsune and Benkei – the former a lithe, dual sword swinging samurai the latter a powerhouse club swinging warrior monk, who are both trying to gain a measure of revenge on the evil Heishi clan – to accomplish this they must take control of the magical Amahagane crystals and stop them falling into the hands of the Heishi.

As previously stated the story is loosely based on "the Tale of the Heike" – unfortunately my knowledge of Japanese literature is pretty much non-existent so I don't know how closely or how far it strays from the story (my guess is quite far though). Several cut-scenes throughout the game push the story forward and while the story does hold the game together there is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking in terms of story. The cut scenes themselves look good but don't really grab hold of you or make you particularly care about the characters in the game. While not bad the story is pretty much collect magic stones from each boss you beat until you are strong enough to beat the big boss.

Graphics

The first thing you notice about the game is that it looks stunning – the main characters are beautifully drawn and smoothly animated and the backgrounds and lighting effects are a sight to behold, from the grass blowing in the wind to the cherry blossoms floating around, the colour palette utilised in the game is spot on and the water effects are amongst the best seen on the PS2 and really demonstrate what the aging machine is capable of. The graphics and style perfectly convey the feeling of feudal Japan and look like they have been picked from an art gallery. Truly superb.

Sound

The sound throughout the game is decent; you have the choice to see the cut scenes in Japanese with subtitles or English voice acting – added especially for the European version. While the English voice acting is passable you get a much more authentic gaming experience with the 'real' Japanese voices – the English version feels a little bit forced.

The music is appropriate to the game setting and situation – from exciting battle music to the more tranquil sounds when stock up in your more peaceful village.

Controls

The game is fundamentally a hack and slash game – square is your basic attack and circle a more powerful special attack. You also have a variety of blocks, jumps and dodges to help evade your enemies' attacks. The set up feels pretty intuitive and controls are responsive throughout.

In addition Genji has another facet to its fighting style which differentiates it from other games in the genre. The Amahagane crystals that you collect throughout the game allow you to make use of 'Kamui' – this is essentially bullet time for samurais. As you fight and dispatch various evil minions your Kamui meter fills up. When full you can unleash your Kamui – this slows time and can be used in two ways; either you continue fighting with a speed advantage over your foes making them easier to disembowel or, you wait until they attack and right before they hit you a signal flashes on screen indicating the timing to hit square – if done correctly you unleash a deadly one hit kill which, if there are sufficient enemies can be chained to massacre a screen full of ninjas with deadly precision. When you master this skill it is hugely satisfying. Using Kamui is pretty easy once the timing is learned for each type of standard enemy but it can also be put to good use on the bosses through the game, in some cases it is the only way to defeat certain bosses. Again this is a case of timing your attack just before the enemy attack lands – while easy for normal enemies the window is much tighter for the bosses and also if you are hit in Kamui mode you take twice the damage. Hence boss fights can be frustrating as you are only focused on timing your Kamui attacks correctly.

Gameplay

Genji is pretty much your normal hack and slash game with a few extras/ideas thrown in. The Kamui mode is a nice addition but not necessarily anything new – bullet time effects have been used in loads of games ever since the release of the Matrix. While this works well in the game I found it to be a double edged sword – while it makes killing normal enemies ridiculously easy some of the boss fights become frustrating – not because they are particularly difficult but because every fight becomes a case of learning the timing of attack and hitting Kamui in the right window. Most bosses will check out after 3-4 Kamui attacks whereas if you try to kill them using the normal attacks you will be slashing away for about 10 minutes!! Therefore there is no point even bothering and the fight becomes a case of waiting for the square signal to flash onscreen and hitting it at the right time. I think that the boss fights should have been made more balanced toward the normal fighting mode.

The game also introduces a role-playing element whereby you gain experience as you defeat more enemies and are rewarded for high hit combos and Kamui combos – this levels up your character in terms of strength, attack and defence. Additionally dotted throughout the game are a number of hidden crystals which if you find can also be allocated to either character to further strengthen them. While this is a nice addition to the game, again it seems a little pointless as, irrespective of your characters strength, you can still despatch enemies with one hit if you time the Kamui correctly.

Genji is spread across three chapters, the third of which is a rehash of the first (same location with a darker colour scheme and stronger enemies) and will only take the average gamer 6 hours of to complete on their first play through. The games longevity is added to by the fact that there are two characters to use and different areas are accessible to either Yoshitsune and Benkei based on their attributes (Benkei can smash doors/trees aside to reach previously blocked areas and Yoshitsune can jump higher and climb to previously inaccessible heights). While this is a nice touch it is in no way fundamental to the game's completion and means revisiting old ground which impatient gamers may not even bother as the rewards items gleaned are not particularly great. Overall the game is fairly easy and there are only a few of the boss fights that may have you stuck for a while.

Conclusion

Genji is an enjoyable game and looks and feels fantastic from start to finish, it tries to introduce some new concepts to the genre and while by no means revolutionary do add to the experience – however the game is very short and the challenge not particularly difficult and unless you are the type who likes to collect everything the game has to offer then it is a short but sweet experience. Because of this it falls down in my opinion and I would recommend a weekend rental before you buy.

Overall I give Genji………………………………….

7 out of 10

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