Last year, on December 30th was my 18th birthday. One of my close friends, Zac, bought me 'Genji: Dawn of the Samurai' for the PS2 as a present to me, later in the night my friends and I decided to check it out, so we threw the game into the PS2 and fired it up.
We we're quite amazed.
Genji: Dawn of the Samurai (developed by Game Republic, 2005) is a story set in feudal Japan, supposably based on a real Japanese story (or legend). In this time and land, the clan known as the Heishi have defeated the Genji clan and are slowly taking control of Japan, with the help from something called 'Amahagane' (that's a tongue killer). Amahagane are mystical stones, which bestow certain people with amazing abilities and powers, however only few people can use the power of the Amahagane (known as Kamui), this is where the main character comes in.
The main character, and most likely who the player will control the most, is a young man named Minamato Yoshitsune, the son of Minamoto Yoshitomo, who was killed in combat by Taira Kiyomori (one of the lead villains, perhaps to some, THE main villain). Yoshitsune lived a quiet live at the shrine of Mount Kurama, away from civilisation as he trained heavily in martial arts and swordsmanship, but then descends the mountain when Heishi forces attack the area in search of the Amahagane.
Genji: Dawn of the Samurai is a wonderfully presented game, the graphics are very colourful and bright, with very detailed environments, the characters themselves are also precisely detailed, while their animations are superbly realistic. The cinematic quality is also brilliant and realistic, it's as if you're watching a foreign (Japanese) action film. The voice acting is also great, and even better, the voice actors for the characters speak both the Japanese and English dialogs. The music is a very traditional/olden day Japan style, which suits the game entirely, and all this is presented with Dolby Pro sound, great stuff.
Moving onto gameplay.. the controls are very simple and fluid, as the game claims "Easy to pick up, challenging to master" (which in a sense is true). The left analog stick controls the character, while the fixed camera (similar to Devil May Cry) follows the character. Square is your primary light attack, triangle is your secondary heavy attack, while circle is your evasion (allowing you to avoid enemy attacks with rolls and flips). X is simply to jump, and R1 is to raise your defenses. As Yoshitsune, you can attack swiftly with numerous combos to avalanche your enemies.
Eventually, the player will acquire a second playable character known as 'Musashibo Benkei', a tall, powerful warrior monk who wields either a massive club, or a halbred. Unlike Yoshitsune, who focuses on agility and quick attacks, Benkei is your 'tank'. He has more hit points than Yoshitsune, a higher attack and defense, and is capable of dealing large amounts of damage, although due to his size and strength, he is incredibly slow and lacks the evasion Yoshitsune possesses. Eitherway, this gives the player a balance as to what they'd like to play as, 'fast but weak' or 'strong but slow'.
The key to combat however is the power of the Amahagane, Kunai. Both Yoshitsune and Benkei have their own, and are capable of using their Amahagane. Amahagane works quite effectively, if the player has a fully charge Kunai bar, they can press L1 to activate the Amahagane. The screen gains a brightly tinted colour and the scenary begins to disappear (it's as if you enter a new world), your surrounding enemies are frightened for a brief moment, but will then attempt to attack. While in this mode, everything slows down, but you are not going to attack them, instead, you must wait as they attempt to attack you. Once they are about to strike, a Square icon will flash near your character, indicating that 'now is the time' to counter attack. Press square at the precise moment, and your character will either parry or dodge their enemy's attack, returning a fatal counter attack, instantly killing the enemy. If multiple enemies attack as you are using your Amahagane, you have the oppurtunity to kill them all within less than two seconds. It's quite brilliant and stylish stuff.
As the player progresses through the game, their characters can become stronger through the classic 'leveling up'. By defeating enemies, your characters will gain experience, and can become stronger through attack, defense, and hitpoints. Also, you can equip both Yoshitsune and Benkei with new weapons, armor and accessories, which you can find throughout the game, or buy simply buying them at a merchant, you can also obtain special items, either weapons or armor by finding parts for weapons and armor, which can be acquired through simply finding them, or by using your Kunai against powerful enemies, this includes bosses.
The boss battles in this game are definetly worth mentioning, each boss is either a large creature of amazing design, or another human being just like your characters. Unlike alot of games, alot of the bosses don't have certain 'weak spots' and whatnot, but can be defeated through normal means. However, by using your Amahagane and by unleashing a counter attack, you can deal an incredible amount of damage to these bosses. After each boss is defeated, you will be rewarded with a new Amahagane stone, which when you return this stone to the priestess 'Gozen Shizuka' (the lead female role of the game), she will use her magic and meld your Amahagane together with your newly collected one. By having your Amahagane melded with another, you gain more Amahagane power/more Kunai bars. This can be quite useful, as if you have more than one Kunai bar, you can use the Amahagane more than once in one go, providing you with more time to unleash a counter attack against your enemies (as they will move much slower than normal).
One of the main issues with this game is time. The game, on normal difficulty can be compelted within six to eight hours, which definetly seems to be a short game, thus it could be completed by any hardcore gamer within one day. Another issue is, well, this isn't exactly an issue, but the developers could have provided more depth to the Amahagane, instead of just counter attacks, they could have included some more things, there's a great deal of potential in regards to the power of Kunai. There is some replay value to the game, such as playing the game on a higher difficutly, or replaying through the game using your high level characters and whatnot, it just depends on the player's preferences. Also, for some reason Yoshitsune and Benkei do not necessarily fight together. In the story, they are either always splitting up, or you simply choose which character to be while the other remains behind. There could of been some serious two player co-op potential here.. or maybe even a versus mode? Perhaps these issues may be solved in the PS3's Genji 2.
While this game is short, it's one hell of a ride nevertheless. The story, a good story at that, takes the player across the land of feudal Japan to even areas of fantasy, whether it is a temple high above Japan within the sky, or caves deep underground. There is much action in this game and it's all beautifully presented. If you're a fan of the Japanese culture (especially ancient culture such as the Samurai) then you should definetly check this out. If you find this game for a cheap or reasonable price, that's another reason to check it out.
Draw your blade and stand fourth, their time is over, your time is now.