Genji: Days of the Blade
Genji: Days of the Blade is the sequel to the (average) PS2 action title Genji: Dawn of the Samurai. The game was lauded for its great graphics, much less for its standard hack & slash gameplay. With the launch of the PlayStation 3, this new Genji title has popped up and it demonstrates that history has a nasty way of repeating itself.
Like the superb Onimusha series (which clearly served as an example), Genji: Days of the Blade is set in medieval Japan. The game picks up after the first title, with the Genji clan reigning supreme over the Heishi army. However, the Heishi have regrouped and are now back with a vengeance. They are also stronger than ever before, because of the magical pinkish crystals they are using. Once again, it’s up to Yoshitsune and Benkei (the heroes from the last game) to stop the Heishi and once again bring peace to their lands.
The storyline is nothing out of the ordinary, though it has an interesting twist or two. Still, if you compare it the likes of Onimusha or Ninja Gaiden, it certainly falls short.
The CGI cutscenes that glue everything together are very impressive, though. As the story progresses, two new heroes will join forces with you, princess Shizuka and the god-in-human-body Buson (curiously enough, the body he uses is the end boss from the previous game). Each of the four playable characters has his or her favourite weapon. Yoshitsune uses dual swords, Benkei wields a hulking tree trunk, Shizuka has a rope with blades to call her own and Buson puts his spear to good use. Yoshitsune is clearly the best of the four and you’ll rely on him a lot. Benkei can dish out a lot of damage (which is useful against slower, heavy opponents or bosses), Shizuka is very agile, but vulnerable and Buson’s efficiency depends on the weapon he’s using. Most of the time though, he’s just too cumbersome to be a worthy asset.
The most interesting feature of Genji is the Kamui combat system. When you’re Kamui gauge is full (you can fill it by defeating foes), you can transport to a parallel dimension where time moves by much slower (similar to bullet time). You can attack by pressing the buttons that appear on-screen. Kamui is best used when facing a lot of opponents or when duelling bosses.
The regular enemies are pretty dumb. When they see you, they’ll run at you and start attacking. They only pose a significant threat in large numbers, but that’s what your Kamui is for. To make things more challenging, save points (that also heal you) are placed pretty far from each other and when one character dies, it’s game over for you.
No reviving in this game. After a couple of hours, you’ll meet so-called generals. These generals are usually a bit tougher than regular enemies (some even wear heavy plated armour), but what makes these special is that they can call in reinforcements. When you’re facing a general and its entourage, it’s best to focus your attacks on him, because you’ll soon be overwhelmed if you don’t. And of course this wouldn’t be an action adventure game without a fare share of boss fights. Bosses are a welcome change from all the mindless button bashing. Strangely, their difficulty varies tremendously. Some bosses go down after a few hits, while others require you to block and evade well and time your counterattacks carefully.
The character models look great, with supersharp textures and high polygon counts. They also animate very naturally and the particle effects (fire, spells,…) are certainly impressive. Though the levels are true to the Japanese architecture, they are designed rather poorly. There are just too many corridors and ensuing rooms to keep the game interesting. Even the occasional puzzle (usually mind-numbingly easy) can’t shake the feeling of repetition. Genji: Days of the Blade also needs to load very often, yet another annoying trait. Luckily there’s a solution to that. The main menu contains an option that copies several files to the PS3’s hard drive. As a result, the loading times are a lot shorter (yet no less abundant).
But arguably the most irritating part about Genji is the fixed camera standpoint. Since the right analog is already used for evading, there is no stick left to control the camera with. This often leads to unexpected injuries from soldiers who are out of sight. It also causes a lot of headaches when you need to jump from one platform onto another. Evading can also be mapped to the Sixaxis’ motion sensing capabilities, but that’s a pretty useless option (and luckily it’s deactivated by default).
Thanks to an ensemble of Japanese instruments and nice vocals, the music is in the game is more than okay. It’s just too bad the (American) voice-actors weren’t exactly the best in the business. It would have been better if the game used the original Japanese voices and provided English subtitles.
If all you want for your PS3 is a game that gives you hordes of enemies to slice and dice, Genji: Days of the Blade can provide just that. Nevertheless, most of us expect more from a game than just shiny graphics. The repetitive slashing, bad camera and uninspired leveldesign make this a very average title.