Fans of the scrolling hack and slash genre are in for a treat here in the form of Genji – the first title from developers Game Republic. Taking swords and magical stones in hand you must take on the usual hordes of nondescript clones in order to save the land, you’ll have some fun along the way though.
The story is set up as thus, a powerful clan known as Heishi have seized power and taken control of the land, unfortunately for the inhabitants of said land the Heishi are not exactly benign and loving rulers with their peoples best interests at heart, rather they are the power crazy leader types that we are more familiar with and have themselves and the expansion their own power at heart, who will save the people from these tyrannical new leaders?
Have a guess…
Sword of the samurai
After the intro has set the scene we are introduced to Yoshitsume who is being run out of his home in the mountains by some Heishi footsoldiers, the reason for this is that he is lucky enough to be in possession of an Amahagame stone, the Amahagame stones grant their users incredible power and were in fact the main reason behind the Heishi victory and power seizing. These stones work initially by slowing down the action with the action getting slower with each level of Amahagame power you have obtained, while the Amahagame is activated you may perform powerful counterattacks on your enemies by pressing the square button at the correct time during the enemys strike as indicated on the screen, these counterattacks can usually be fired off one after the other if there are enough enemies around and clearing a whole wave of enemies like this will result in bonus exp and a ‘Kamui’ rating being awarded, you may think of the Kamui rating as an indication of what a badass you are.
As I mentioned just you gain exp which as you have probably worked out means that there are some RPG elements to the game, you will level up as you accumulate experience which raises your stats in the areas of life, attack and defence. Finding Amahagame crystals as you go through the game can also boost these three stats for you. If any further proof were needed that its an RPG it arrives in the form of the standard issue RPG clichés, within the first few minutes of the game you have been asked whether or not you know the secret of your father, asked to (almost) single handedly save the land and (as the player) realised that someone has done that RPG thing of going around the world hiding things like healing plants inside large breakable pots hidden on ledges, why these healing herbs are never found to growing by the field-load is never made clear in any RPG-ish title I have ever seen.
The RPG elements are very nicely complimented by the realtime combat. You will spend your time going around fighting as either Yoshitsume or his oversized companion Benkei, Benkei doesn’t have the dual-wield sword thing going on that Yoshi-kun has and instead wields a series of screen clearing poles and poleaxes. Just to make things perfectly clear Yoshitsume is the quick guy with speedy attacks who can jump at least twice his own height high and Benkei is the slow hulking guy whose slower attacks do a lot more damage who struggles to jump above his own standing waist height, it seems that the videogame making lawbook has been brought out again and the part which states that in any action game containing two main playable characters they have to have polar-opposite fighting styles has been enforced. You can usually select either character to play as but there are some sections of the story that you will need to complete as specifically either Yoshitsume or Benkei.
For your attacks you have the square button combo attack and the triangle button powerful strike attack, these moves can be combined with jumps for midair strikes for more use and variety, you can always bring out your Amahagame power if its charged up enough to help you out too.
You will wander through each area fighting against waves of enemies who appear in set locations, if you can take out every enemy in the wave quickly and without being hit you will gain more exp from the battle than you otherwise would do and may be rewarded with special items if you do this to a powerful enemy. These items can then be taken to a blacksmith who can make them into special weapons and armour for you when you have the right stuff.
When you have wandered around and fought enough while doing the RPG thing of finding special items to open magically sealed doors (I’m sure the videogame lawbook would have whole pages on this mechanic) you will arrive at a boss battle, once the boss is defeated you can proceed to the next area remembering to visit the blacksmiths first who magically create new goods only when you advance the plot.
The boss battles do the standard action game thing of having repeating patterns in set attacks and usually give you warning of their more powerful strikes via a ‘charging up’ animation, to even the score though you get to charge up some of your attacks later on and are just as vulnerable while charging up as the bosses are, this gaining of new techniques helps to keep your interest up during the game.
Combat in Genji is good but feels shortlived, you rarely get to take on a real number of enemies at a time and the way how you will not be attacked until you walk into the next enemy spawning place means that you basically will never be attacked unless you are ready for it and literally go walking into it.
You will collect items which can assist you during battle, there are the aforementioned healing herbs and some medicines which can temporarily boost your attack or defence stats, these items can be assigned to the d-pad buttons so you need not open the menu screen each time you wish to use them.
The enemy you will fight consist of the usual onslaught of cookie cutter clones common to action RPGs, we can only assume that the Heishi clan has a factory somewhere running thousands of identical footsoldier uniforms out at a time. Despite being largely identical in each area the enemy do vary as you go through and as you would expect they do become harder as you go.
Sights and sounds
The graphics are beautiful throughout, firstly the characters and people who inhabit the world come decked out in all the robes and such attire that you associate with ancient Japan, these are all really colourful, bright and very detailed indeed, the only criticism here is that some of the armour looks like it is made out of plastic because of the way it shines.
The world is presented in similarly stunning detail everything seems colourful and bright. The environments will often contain animated set piece effects like falling blossom or some snowfall just to add class.
The music comprises much light string instrument stuff and flute music just like everything else set in ancient Japan, this works well because anything else would seem really out of place given the serenity of the settings.
The animation deserves a mention here because it is very well done, there’s not a great deal I can write about it other than to say that its very fluid and doesn’t jerk at all as far as I’ve seen.
The world stage
Due to the nature of the game the battles can get repetitive sometimes, this means that it falls to the environments to mix up the action a bit, sometimes this works well like at the beginning of the second chapter where there is a scene in which you are running along narrow bridges over water, you may jump from these bridges into small pagoda type structures in order to fight the enemy in there and then leap back onto the bridge or walk out of the building to carry on, of course there are enemies to fight along the bridges too. It would be good if the scenery played a part like this more of the time but all to often you have the ‘fight in an open space’ or ‘fighting on stairs’ scenes being played out again and again.
You move from area to area via a world map with markers placed on it for the various locations, sometimes the game will take over and move you to a town or location as the story demands it. While you are in a town you do not have access to your weapons and rather bizarrely you are unable to jump, who in the town would have made up these rules? “Uh yeah we’ll have no swordplay out on the streets and you’d better not go jumping here either!”
Genji is a good hack and slash action RPG, there isn’t really anything in here that fans of the genre haven’t seen before but it’s a good introduction to it if you don’t go for these games usually, it does seem a bit short-lived though which may put some players off.