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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Genji - Dawn of the Samurai (PS2)

   

By Michael Palisano

Genji: Dawn of the Samurai offers a unique blend of action and strategy that transports players to feudal Japan . The game follows two young martial artists with unique abilities as they face off against hordes of supernatural foes who attack from all directions. Theyíre quite powerful, with incredible swordplay and special attacks featuring multi-hit combos known as the Eihn. These allow you to chain attacks and take out multiple foes with a few quick button presses. Its intuitive controls and engrossing storyline makes for an engaging experience games. Unfortunately, itís a bit short and most veteran gamers will probably find it a bit limiting, but the intense plot and cool moves definitely make Genji one of the better PS2 action titles on the market this year.

Taking inspiration from the classic 11th Century Japanese literary work Tale of Genji, considered by many to be the first novel, this exciting release from SCEA and Game Republic delivers an authentic and exciting martial arts experience that should please fans. Set in 1149 AD, Genji: Dawn of the Samurai follows the adventures of a noble Samurai warrior named Yoshitune on a quest to rid
Japan of evil clan called the Heishi. The Heishi have ruled the citizens of Kyo with an iron first, and banished the formerly respected Genji clan to exile. They have become quite adept at keeping the citizens at bay thanks to their use of powerful ancient stones and the powers they contain. With his faithful companion, Benkai at his side, itís up to Yoshitune to battle the Heishiís forces, liberate the citizens of Kyo and restore the good name of his fallen clan. Genji features approximately 30 unique missions, which offer plenty of variety and action through a variety of terrain.

Genji: Dawn of the Samuraiís design approach is highly reminiscent of the Onimusha series, and features a similar feel and structure. While the action takes place in 3D space, player movements are constricted on 3D planes with static backdrops. This isnít the best solution, but it does lend itself to creating a beautiful looking game world to explore. Every aspect of the game world, from its architecture to itsí subtle seasonal changes fits together perfectly. From a technical standpoint, Genjiís luscious visuals are excellent with natural environments that cause the atmospherics to feel very much alive. The gameís design is straightforward and the story unfolds inside a linear structure. There is some breathing room and players have the opportunity to explore a richly detailed game world filled with excitement and danger. The gameplay itself is fluid and intuitive, so most players should be able to get right into the game thanks to itsí smartly designed controls and easy to navigate item interface. The tactical techniques at your disposal are powerful and authentic with the swords and other weapons acting realistically in battle. As in many games of this time, you can gradually increase your skills by defeating enemies, collecting items and earning level-ups. The action switches between the two main protagonists frequently, giving the narrative room to explore many facets of the storyline. The plot itself unfolds during numerous cinematic cutscenes that are quite elaborate, allowing the story to flow naturally and extensively between battles. This helps further your identification with the main characters, and keeps you motivated throughout your journey.  

While your standard attacks can get you through some basic battles, youíll need additional powers to defeat the more challenging foes youíll face. In order to kill foes attacking all at once, youíll need to master the art of the multiple attack, called the Kumai. At the start of your adventure, you can go through a quick tutorial that on the ways of the Kumai. Youíll learn that these special abilities allow you to slow down the action to strike down multiple opponents with a single move. This is quite effective, especially once you can get the timing right. Itís a relatively simple process once you get the hang of it but it takes some practice. You charge the Kumai move by holding the L1 button. Once you do this, the action switches to another angle, and this new perspective allows you to see your foes in isolation. Further helping is the fact that time slows down, allowing you to focus your attacks. This also causes a cool effect that makes the environments blur and swirl around you, as a dream.

Once Kumai is enabled, you need to press the square button at a certain moment before the enemies attack you. Successfully downing one foe allows you to move onto the next opponent.  You can chain these Kumai attacks together to take out a series of opponents while limiting your exposure to their attacks and any damage. While you canít use this technique in every encounter, itís most effective when youíre surrounded by multiple opponents. Your foes are relentless and attack you from all directions. However, the deep moves list offers complexity and the intensity of each battle makes Genji and exciting title that offers plenty of swordplay. The gameís levels offer a good mix of standard enemies, which are easy to attack, and tougher bosses and sub-bosses. The overall design of Genjiís attack system is impressive, but the balance isnít as good in practice as it sounds on paper. Unfortunately, the level of difficulty in the game isnít as high as youíd expect it to be. Once you have mastered the Kumai moves, most of the foes pose little threat, making many battles become too easy, allowing you to slice through enemies effortlessly. Furthermore, the enemy AI ranges from predictable for most standard foes to moderatedly challenging for the bosses, making this a title you can finish completely quickly. On the other hand, Itís accessible controls and simple structure means casual players should have a good time with the game. In order to compensate for the shallow gameplay, Genji features a deep upgrade and customization system that adds some replay value and a little more depth to the experience. 

Genjiís basic move sets and weapons let you cut through your enemies easily; players can purchase numerous upgrades and items as they progress through the game to enhance their characterís abilities and power. Since every playable character has a unique fighting style and moves set, you can replay the levels with different results, or go back and try a frustrating area again with another character. As the characters evolve, theyíll learn new skills that can let them defeat previously unbeatable foes, which increases Genjiís replayability substantially. This upgrade system is quite extensive and your character can be enhanced with additional strength, defense, and health points, in addition to the more standard weapons, armor and strength. However, as these aspects increase, the dexterity, and danger of your foes is enhanced as well. In addition, players can track their growth and changes throughout their adventure with additional cinematic sequences that further flesh out their new abilities, making Genji resemble almost an interactive movie at certain points.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Genji stands out from the pack by offering some of the more robust environments seen on the PS2. The look and feel of the world is quite believable throughout, and the worlds change and mutate with the seasons, adding to the realism. Sadly, the gameís visuals suffer from excessive jaggies and some camera issues at certain points that detract from an otherwise excellent game. However, Geniiís imaginative character designs are excellent, with many featuring elaborate feudal-era costumes that showcase plenty of detail. You encounter both human and demonic foes but, the consistent design makes this feel believable throughout. The evocative score, dialogue and, sound effects blend together effortlessly with the feel and pacing of the action, making Genji sound as good as it looks. Technicaly, the game is solid since most action occurs in a third-person perspective, so you donít have to mess with the camera. Thereís also a lock-on feature that you can use to locate enemies in the game and keep them in range. Genjiís cinemas do an excellent job of fleshing out the story and bringing the characters to life. The voice-overs are in Japanese, with subtitles, and the music is excellent, with a traditional Eastern score creating an excellent mood throughout. Despite a few flaws and glitches, Genjiís overall design exceeds expectations. A good mix of traditional storytelling and fast combat action gives the game an excellent pace, making it accessible and enjoyable to play for players of different abilities.

While the gameís design is solid, some significant issues detract from the overall experience. The linear gameplay is exciting at first, but the low-challenge level of the enemy AI makes the game far too easy, once you get the hang of the controls. Standard combat should pose few problems for most players, but the Kumai system, can be confusing to use and demands exacting timing. Once you get the hang of it however, this special attack allows you to go through foes with little effort, undermining a key aspect of the gameplay. While the design and concept behind the game is excellent, the visuals suffer from jaggies and the design never quite allows you to suspend disbelief as you play and move on predefined planes and areas. Despite thee problems, Genji: Dawn of the Samurai is still an impressive martial arts title. It features plenty of intense battles, fluid controls and an interesting storyline that should satisfy fans of the genre. Genji probably wonít win any awards for innovation, bearing much of Onimushaís imprint, this is still a solidly entertaining title that succeeds in mxing action and story without making too many compromises along the way. While itís not the most original or polished title on the PS2, this is an entertaining title that players who enjoyed Onimusha will find familiar yet satisfying.

Grade: B


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