Review: Poor camera angles cause your warrior to appear to be full of sake.
Genji: Days of the Blade brings some of the best looking graphics to the PS3 launch, but while its next-generation presentation improves upon PS2's Genji: Dawn of the Samurai, its awkward camera angles and redundant gameplay leave it in the past. Fans of the first game may still appreciate the beautifully crafted Japanese elements. However, the hack n' slash action and just as tepid story don't justify the full price of the game, never mind the hard-to-find console.
Days of the Blade begins three years after the end of its predecessor, which concluded with playable characters Yoshitsune and Benkei crushing the Heishi Clan. The peace is short lived, however. The clan comes back in a re-strengthened state and Yoshitsune, Benkei and two new playable warriors must battle them once again to save Japan. The story isn't overly captivating and only becomes exciting in a few instances. To its credit, everything that surrounds the story is put together nicely.
The exciting introduction is a mix of storybook graphics and detailed 3D characters. As the four warriors demonstrate powerful moves, environments that resemble those seen in Okami display changing scenery full of Japanese flavor. The actual gameplay graphics lose the storybook visuals seen in the opening footage in favor of just as stylish 3D environments. Not lost in these explorable areas is the Japanese flavor. Typical of 11th century feudal Japan, temple structures and armored warriors retain the Orient culture. These historically accurate sights are matched by Asian-authentic sounds of taiko drums, shakuhachi flutes and other traditional Japanese instruments at an energetic tempo. The characters dialogue is less than perfect and the tribal voices during the music are a little strange, but also add to the genuine sound.
The finely-crafted and richly-animated playable characters, the armored-up soldiers and mythological creatures, and the Asian-influenced scenery and soundtrack pump you up for some enlightening gameplay. Unfortunately, a zen-like state for this next-gen title is never truly achieved. Chief among the problems for slowing down the action is the fixed camera, which operates like the Onimusha or Resident Evil games. The angles are fine for showing off the fantastic-looking locals, but aren't ideal for fast-paced hack n' slash gameplay. Considering this game constantly throws hordes of enemies at you, the choppy camera makes the action feel broken instead of fluid. The hordes also invite slowdown, bogging the game down even further.
A lot of times, you're fighting off-screen enemies or running into unseen walls when trying to head in the direction of the camera or around a corner where the camera is slow to shift. Other times, the angle shifts abruptly and disorients your movement. The burning temple is a perfect example in which you're expected to avoid falling, fiery debris, but the constantly changing camera angle makes it impossible to walk a straight line. For the more than a dozen hours that make up this Genji game, you act like you've had way too much sake.
Besides camera complaints, there are a number of occurrences in which the direction that you must take isn't clear due to the lack of cues. The game has you wandering paths and experiencing d?j? vu. The worst part is that going backwards through a level means the camera faces your character and unexpected threats pop out of unseen angles again and again. While the game doesn't indicate any objectives on its map, it does get one gameplay detail right by pointing out enemy positions.
The controls are intuitive enough to pick up and play without experiencing the first game or looking at the sequel's directions, and the resulting attacks appear dynamic. Yoshitsune once again wields a pair of katana blades, one for each hand, and slices and dices in a dance-like routine. His trusted friend Benkei holds a giant war club and pulverizes enemies. He can charge his moves like when holding down the triangle button to unwind a powerful club attack on surrounding enemies.
Lady Shizuka, the non-playable priestess from the first game, returns as one of the two new warriors. She possesses chained blades that can slice distant enemies and pull them closer in a Scorpion sort of ?Get over here? fashion. The move is also good for crossing gaps in the game by using it as a hookshot. Spots like this in which only one of the four warriors can make it past create character-specific puzzles. But while the mystery of who to use is a welcome distraction from the hack n' slash gameplay, the mystery of where to go on the map to get to these points would've been helpful.
Lord Buson appears to be another character from the Dawn of the Samurai, but is only the God of War assuming that character's body. He joins the adventure with a double saber and supernatural powers as the fourth playable character.
Each warrior has predictable strengths and weaknesses. For example, while Benkei is able to kill a large group of Heishi enemies by rotating his war club, he's slow to execute this move. Shizuka is quicker than Benkei, but not as strong. The obvious characteristics don't make too much of a difference, though. Most players are going to settle on using Yoshitsune for most of the game. Because of his fast, yet powerful katana attacks, he can finish off enemies quickly without taking as much damage and easily create fun-to-score combos.
For whatever reason, switching between characters in real-time isn't as prompt as you might expect. While the process is conveniently mapped on the D-pad, you must annoyingly press it multiple times when in the thick of battle since you can't switch when taking damage. A similar issue arises when performing one charged attack as Benkei and then attempting to start another. Instead of being allowed to hold down a button to prepare another charged attack in the midst of performing the first, you must finish, pause and probably take some damage, and then do it. These button problems result in frustrating deaths that, for whatever reason, end the game instead of automatically switching to another character when only one dies.
Along with taking advantage of PS3's graphics capabilities, Days of the Blade brings about uses for newfound features like the SixAxis controller and hard drive. Jerking the controller in any direction causes your character to perform an evasive flip move in that same direction. This same move can be performed with the right analog stick if you're not used to the motion sensing controls yet, making one or the other quite useless. The hard drive gets a little more use, but not much. The main menu includes an option to install the game directly on the hard drive to reduce load times. The intentions are good, but this game doesn't contain terrible load times.