Genji: Days of the Blade Review
One of the most exciting things about first-party launch titles is that they're usually the prettiest looking titles of the bunch. Games like Halo, Super Mario 64, and Sony's most recent, Resistance, have shined as launch titles. It's those launch games that give you your first tiny impression of a console's power, and it's often an in-house studio that's responsible for it. Genji: Days of the Blade fits that very same mold of being a good looking launch title...though unfortunately there's very little substance behind that show. Now, admittedly I never played the original Genji for the PS2, so I can't quite comment on how the sequel compares. But what I can say is that this series has a lot of potential behind it, and Game Republic needs to work on a few aspects of the game's playability to get it flowing properly.
Genji has some pretty cool gameplay mechanics to it, albeit they're marred by the rest of the game's flaws. For starters, the sequel allows four on-the-fly character switches. If one of your four characters is weakened, or perhaps a particular zone isn't designed for him/her, then you'll have to do a swap. Swapping is done with the digital pad, and it occurs immediately. Likewise, the game features RPG-like elements of powering up your weapons, and powering up your character by improving his/her life capacity, and strength of the Kamui attack (think of this as a super attack that consumes a special power bar). There are a number of weapons present in the game for each character to use -- but the fighters are limited to the use of one specific type of weapon, so they can't cross wield. But what you can have them do is switch weapons on the fly, much like switching warriors on the fly, with the press of a button. When it's all said and done, the Genji sequel will offer you a total of 15 or so hours of gameplay -- and that's a lot more than what the first offered. That said, Genji's biggest problem is its terrible control issues and its boring action speed. The game lacks fluidity that can be found in titles like Devil May Cry 3 or Ninja Gaiden.
In particular, it lacks action flow since the controls of each character are painfully clunky. First, there's Benkei, the massive war-club wielding warrior. Benkei is the slowest character the game has to offer. In fact, his attacks are so slow, that linking combos with him is pretty much hopeless. For every time you have him swing his club by using his standard attack, you have to wait about two-seconds before you can do it again (this goes the same for his other attacks). Then, if Benkei just so happens to get knocked down, he takes quite a while to get back up. He isn't particularly quick on his feet either, so controlling him makes it even more cumbersome. The remaining three characters are all fairly quick, but still exhibit some control issues. Shizuka, the game's female lead, is a fast mover with a long distance grappling chain blade (think of a yo-yo) that she hurls forward and can use as a ranged attack. Additionally, she can strike multiple enemies with it, or catch an enemy and either jump to him or pull him over to her (think Mortal Kombat's Scorpion). Now all of this sounds awesome, right? Of course!
But it's executed poorly and playing with her is more of a button mash fest than anything else. Her standard attack (Square button) is also slow and takes too long -- but it is long ranged, so it's useful if you have three or so enemies around you that you want to attack simultaneously. Pressing the O button triggers her Special Attack to grab an enemy with her chain blade, and from there you can form a combo out of that by attacking with the Strong Attack (Triangle button). Often times, if there are a number of enemies surrounding you, you probably won't even have a chance to make use of the Special Attack, since it'll get disrupted and she'll get knocked down -- so I found myself relying on a lot of Strong Attack mashing and jumping. The remaining two characters, Yoshitsune and Lord Buson are probably the two best characters to control -- but like I said, the clunkiness doesn't exclude anyone. The sword wielder Yoshitsune can easily form combos with his attacks, and he's easily the most fun to play with...but even he still doesn't control well enough during tense battles with lots of surrounding enemies.
Basically, what I'm asking for is on the fly enemy attacking like in Devil May Cry 3; where Dante can pulverize a number of enemies all within the same combo simply with the flick of the analog stick towards a certain direction. That doesn't happen in Genji. If I'm not targeting a character, and I just want to fight in a free-for-all, I can't attack a number of enemies in sequences. Well, I can, but it'll usually get interrupted by: A) some over-zealous enemy, knocking me down on the floor, forcing me to wait five seconds before he/she gets up. Or B) the character will just start attacking open-air and before you can stop the attack, three of those over-zealous enemies just took half of your life-bar. This hurts the flow of the game drastically. Essentially, if you were to take DMC3 and remove its fast and furious action, you'd be left with Genji. To put it short: the speed of the game's action needs to be seriously overhauled.
The control drama doesn't end here...then we have the game's camera. It's amazingly non-adjustable, static camera that we all loved so much in Onimusha and Resident Evil (prior to RE4). Whoever was the mastermind behind using the most dated, and ineffective camera form in the game really needs a lesson or two in modern action games. Because if you're going to use a static camera that changes with every corner you take, then at the very least give us the proper angles! Allow us to see what's coming up ahead of the character, or what's in store to the side of the character. The camera is just so frustrating and obstructive that it's part of the reason this game is just not very enjoyable.
Visually, there's no denying this is one fine looking title. Genji employs some nice little aesthetic features and certainly does a pretty decent job of demonstrating just some of the PS3's -much remaining- power. The character detail is well defined, and almost matches the quality of the original's FMV sequences. Each warrior is showered with detailed textures layered on top of one another, and some of the most superb animation crafting to boot. That leads to the creation of one very convincing character, that not only looks great, but moves with silky smooth like accuracy. The environments are well done, and the texture work, though a bit repetitive, still looks solid. This game almost goes as far to flat out show off just how superb it looks in the very beginning of the game, as you're greeted with scorching flames that rise to the sky. And the picture looks so convincing that you can almost feel the heat. Considering that this is only a first-generation launch title, Genji makes quite impressive use of the PS3 already. While most certainly nowhere near tapping its true potential, Genji does remain arguably one of the prettiest launch/launch window titles on the PS3.
With the fireworks talked about and settled, what about the game's audio? Well, Genji has the ability to utilize 5.1 Surround in three different ways. You can adjust the "Listening Position" from the player, to camera and to realistic. Unfortunately, because I don't have a proper 5.1 Surround system here, this option is not available for me to use, so I can't go into specifics on exactly what each option does. The game's voice acting is decent for the most part, but pales in comparison to the much better efforts out there (like Final Fantasy XII). There is an option to switch between English voices and Japanese voices, so some of you may find that to be a nice feature. Lastly, Genji's soundtrack is pretty just what you'd expect - feudal-like Japanese tunes; so don't anticipate edgy guitars and hard rock vocals like the one's you'd find in Devil May Cry.
To close, it looks like Sony wants to incorporate Genji as a respected franchise. Unfortunately, it just won't be happening unless Game Republic completely overhauls the gameplay mechanics, tightens up the controls, and gets rid of that terrible camera. There is definitely a lot of potential behind the series, but Genji is far too broken to be enjoyable. The gameplay lacks flow and fluidity, and begs for Devil May Cry-like speed. Moreover the combat is clunky and just isn't fun. Genji is sporting a pretty impressive graphics engine with some decent audio behind it, but it sorely lacks in everything else.
11/30/2006 Arnold Katayev