The so called next-gen is now the current-gen, and the PlayStation 3 strives to set itself apart from the pack. Eager gamers finally have the system and one of the launch exclusives is Genji: Days of the Blade. The game is a sequel to the original Genji: Dawn of the Samurai, which graced the PS2 with plenty of action and Japanese myth. The new Genji borrows a lot from the original but adds new characters, some new forms of gameplay, and exciting visuals that truly display the prowess of the PS3 hardware.
In the new iteration of Genji, players take control of Yoshitsune and his partner Benkei. Apparently, the sound beating given to the Heishi clan was not enough to wipe them out and they're back with even more powers than before. So it's only natural that Yoshitsune is thrown into the fight once again to save the land. Except this time, he's joined by even more companions. A couple of new characters join the party such as a white haired female character called Shizuka, and a newborn enemy from the past who is possessed by a spirit known as Lord Buson. The game also features plenty of new enemies such as soldiers with huge red crystals and dare I say it, "Giant enemy crabs". The bosses are also quite well done and do their fair bit to move the story along. While the whole premise of Genji isn't exactly up to par with the best, the story does manage to keep you interested throughout. And if the story won't give you an excuse to hunt down the Heishi villains, the visuals certainly will.
Genji really shows why the PS3 is a graphical powerhouse. Everything from the characters to the environment is presented in breathtaking detail. The textures look amazing and the battle animation is also very well done. Whether Yoshitsune is going through a waterfall, fighting in the mountains, or jumping from ship to ship while fighting enemies, there's always some great scenery to admire. Probably the greatest strength in Genji is the visuals, though the game does slow down quite noticeably when there are a lot of enemies on the screen. The game looks very nice when running at 720p resolution but looks great even with a normal TV.
While Genji's strength consists of having great visuals, the gameplay itself doesn't necessarily keep up. Yoshitsune features quite a few moves that can be performed using the normal and the strong attack. There's also a jump button which helps in platforming challenges and aerial moves. And while all of it sounds great in theory, Genji hardly makes use of all the potential in the control scheme. Most enemies can be beat by using the normal attack button, which results in Yoshitsune performing non-stop combos. There are various combos available for each specific weapon obtained, but most of them consist of a lot of similar moves and don't really feature anywhere near the amount of freedom as a Devil May Cry game, for instance. Trying to perform some of the more fancy moves may actually put you into more trouble, seeing as how just mashing the normal attack button seems to be the best course of action. The different weapons that each character can obtain are also somewhat clunky since they all possess roughly the same power. That means the only incentive to change weapons is to see a few new moves that may actually be worse than the ones from the previous weapon.
The game also features a weapon change button, which in theory would allow for some real time weapon change in the middle of combos. That aspect however, is nowhere near present. It's basically a shortcut so as to not have the player open the menu and change the weapon. The game also allows for combos while using the environment such as going up a wall and slashing down. The problem is that this feature counts on the game actually recognizing that a surface is a wall, which makes that feature hardly useful at best. But Yoshitsune isn't just constrained to physical attacks as he can also gather energy to perform a Kamui. This move is very useful in that it allows players to take down several enemies at once by pressing the right button combinations. Kamuis are especially useful when there are many enemies surrounding you as it takes care of all enemies fairly quickly. Some bosses are also able to use the Kamui power, which means you'll have to press the right button combination to avoid the attack. The enemies in the game also look great and have a good variety. The bosses are especially notable as some do require a fair bit of strategy to take down and are definitely a highlight of the game.
Yoshitsune isn't the only playable character and your three other characters can be switched into battle on the fly. Benkei for example, has slow but devastating attacks that can take care of several enemies at once. Shizuka on the other hand, is rather weak and relies heavily on the wide range of her weapons, although her hand to hand combos are actually worth performing as some can infuse energy into enemies and cause them to explode. Lord Buson on the other hand, has some very fast and powerful attacks but enemies are able to easily dodge them most of the time. By far the most nimble of the party is Yoshitsune and unless the game constrains you to use more then one character, he's usually the one who should take care of business. It should be noted that the game does give one life bar to each character, which makes switching between heroes a good way to escape death.
Defeating enemies will sometimes award players with Red Crystals. These can be infused into existing weapons to make them stronger. There are also scattered pieces of a sacred jewel called Amahagane and these can increase a player's health bar or Kamui level. Each character has a sort of Amahagane detector that begins to light up once a jewel is nearby. These are all welcome additions to character development but the game is so easy at times that there's really no incentive to collect them all. Since the game often locks you into using one character, using these features for Shizuka or Lord Buson is usually a good idea as Yoshitsune may be unavailable.
Despite all the flaws in Genji, it is still a rather enjoyable game. The environments and characters look amazing, but looks don't necessarily translate into a great action title. Genji also makes use of the PS3's tilt sensing technology but these can only be used for dodging and will often make players dodge into the wrong direction. This feature is turned off by default, so players have to fiddle with the options to find it. In the end, Genji fails to exceed the high expectations of PS3 owners but does manage to be a rather enjoyable adventure with magnificent visuals, good story, and average controls.