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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Genji: Days of the Blade
(Sony for Playstation 3)

Genji offers players a hack and slash adventure through feudal Japan with plenty of battles and enemies. The gameplay lets you switch characters, engage in massive battles and use many types of swords to attack in massive combos. As in the first Genji, there's a slow-motion mode called Kamui where you can battle foes with near impunity. This is cool at first, but quickly becomes gimmicky and distracting. The production values are superbly detailed, but this cinematic approach involves locked camera angles that makes the game needlessly frustrating. Genji's gimmicks aren't enough to cover its flaws and this title's poor execution makes for a frustratingly difficult and ultimately disappointing experience.

Many players probably won't remember the first Genji title that came out for the PS2 a few years ago. That was a somewhat interesting title that had some cool ideas, but suffered from some pretty major flaws and disappeared from most players' memories quickly. However, the series has now been resurrected for the Playstation 3 launch, though with disappointing results. The new game takes up after the original game, and once again follows the adventures of Yoshitsune Minamoto and his sidekick Benkei Mushashiro, two samurai in 11th century Japan who are once again battling the evil Heishi forces to restore the good name of their Genji clan. Their adventure revolves around mystical jewels called Amahgane, which give anyone who holds them mystical super powers. Along the way, you'll also be able to play as other characters, which makes things more diverse. As in the previous game, players can switch between characters at any point in the game. To help keep things at least a little bit interesting, each character can unleash a unique fighting style and brings a different strategy to the action. Knowing when to switch between them can make a big difference, though not as much as you would hope.

Yoshitsune is a younger, more agile fighter who attacks quickly with his swords. Benkei's a much larger character, and his movements are slower but he has a powerful, massive club that he can use to pulverize enemies. The Heishi forces attack in massive waves and usually surround the player. You can use a variety of moves to evade their attack and then spin around and unleash devastating combos to wipe them out. While you're initially given only a few weapons, your character will gain additional weapons that you can use. The game allows you to change weapons quickly using the shift buttons, which can come in quite handy. Using these standard attacks and implementing combos is fairly straightforward with most of these requiring only a single button press. Movement is controlled using the analog sticks, which makes combat fairly simple. Genji's gameplay is fairly good for a fighting title, and some of the combos offer a satisfying amount of power. The game's initial stages are fairly straightforward and don't require much thought. You defeat enemies, unlock chests for bonus items and progress through magically sealed doors when you find orbs and keys to unlock them.

Genji seems rather pedantic on the surface, but the basic combat and fighting is solid, with some minor role playing elements thrown in. In what is probably the game's most interesting aspect, you can switch to Kamui mode when your power-bar is filled up. This works very much like it did in the first game. After Kamui is enabled, your character enters transported to a different dimension. The action switches to slow motion, and you're nearby enemies are also sucked into this area. You can then use your Kamui powers to attack them before they respond, using context-sensitive commands, usually a single button press at a prompt. If you defeat them in this mode, they'll disappear when you return but won't fall if you miss your prompt. It's an interesting idea and gives Genji a somewhat unique feel, but its simplicity makes it feel somewhat like a gimmick after the first few times. Still these are merely distractions, and the main portions of the game consist of standard combat.

You'll spend a lot of time battling waves of mindless unimaginative foes, most of which offer little in the way of resistance. You can slice through them easily, but it takes almost no effort which makes for a less than satisfying experience. There's a lot of button mashing, which makes the gameplay feel superficial, shallow and generally uninteresting. While you can use combos at certain points, there never really seems to be a need to, unless you want to show off. While the controls and play mechanics are decent, problems begin to emerge quickly and only grow more pronounced as you play the game. The first thing you'll notice is that the enemies will frequently attack from angles where they aren't on the screen. Since you can't manually adjust the camera angle, you're basically fighting in the dark and need to move away and hope to draw them into your line of sight. This makes combat sequences far more frustrating than they could have been. While you can auto-target, it's not nearly as effective as it could have been and makes you take damage you really wouldn't have.

While your first impressions of the game are probably going to be impressive, things begin to fall apart once you delve deeper. Genji's production values are superb with richly detailed environments, fantastic character animation and brilliant special effects such as fire and water that bring the world to life vividly. From an aesthetic standpoint, you can definitely see the PS3's power in evidence. Elaborate voice acting and an interesting storyline unfold as well, and brings the world to life. Unfortunately, all of this effort has gone into what are basically pre-rendered backgrounds with some interactive objects thrown in. The fixed camera changes angles frequently and without warning. This is disorienting and makes it hard to figure out what direction to go in. There's an onscreen map, but this actually makes the game even more confusing than it should be. Some of the gameplay elements, such as the numerous crate smashing and simplistic puzzles seem to lack imagination and make the game feel quite outdated.

What's really disappointing about Genji's next generation debut comes in the realization that these problems were very much evident in the PS2 edition. The developers have seemingly made no effort to fix them here - the basic structure and premise are largely unchanged. As mentioned earlier, the fixed camera angles allow for a more cinematic approach, but they undermine the gameplay, making you feel like you're barely interacting with a movie, not playing a game. This approach makes targeting enemies and level progression particularly frustrating and the execution makes Genji needlessly complex. You'll waste a lot of time backtracking and going around in circles which makes Genji much more frustrating than it should have been. Despite some cool ideas and the lavish production values, Genji: Days of the Blade is a frustratingly lazy game that feels like it could have been done on the PS2 with little change in quality. Its unimaginative gameplay is predictable and dull, while the static backgrounds and level designs never make you feel connected to the action onscreen. In the end, Genji is a disappointing sequel that makes for a sub-par launch title. Despite its visual polish, it fails to deliver on the potential of next-generation gaming and barely makes an effort to improve on the structural faults that marred Genji's first installment.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: C-

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