One of the first games available exclusively for the PlayStation 3, Genji: Days of the Blade is the sequel to a PlayStation 2 action game from last year, which was inspired by the legendary adventures of a duo of warriors from Japan's ancient history. You don't need prior experience with the original to dive right into this one because some opening cutscenes set the stage for the many hack-and-slash battles to come. Genji features vibrantly colored, high-definition visuals and some exciting showdowns. But once you get past the pretty pictures, you'll find a conventional, simple, sometimes-frustrating experience that feels rushed in spots. It's as if the priority was to gussy up the graphics rather than flesh out the gameplay. Although the graphics really are the best thing about it, a decent story and pretty good combat system make Genji worth playing. So, as a technical showcase for the PS3, Genji's good; but as a game, it's just OK.
Days of the Blade is a basic hack-and-slash action game with much better than average graphics.
Genji: Days of the Blade picks up soon after the original Genji: Dawn of the Samurai left off, and the introduction summarizes what happened in the first episode. Once again, the hero of the story is Yoshitsune, an noble young master swordsman charged with defending the Genji clan, led by his own brother, against its rivals--namely, the Heishi clan. In spite of its apparent defeat the last time around, the Heishi return in Days of the Blade, complete with some unholy new powers, which cause its legions of soldiers to transform into hulking demonic warriors with these strange, pinkish crystals that jut out of them. Joined by his unflappable and very tough friend Benkei, Yoshitsune once again sets out to defeat the Heishi and its leaders. Eventually, his quest will be joined by two other characters that are new to this installment, including a pretty priestess and an intimidating man who's the spitting image of one of Yoshitsune's old enemies. The story in Genji: Days of the Blade indulges in a lot of predictable anime conventions but is delivered through some captivating, richly detailed cinematic cutscenes that help drive it forward. Although the story is mostly there to justify putting you through one battle after another, there's at least one interesting twist.
The game is quite easy to control using the PS3's stock Sixaxis controller, so if you've played Genji for the PS2 or any other games like it, you'll be in familiar territory. Gameplay mostly boils down to slashing away at droves of demonic enemies and sometimes having to slog through some environmental puzzle. These puzzles are made somewhat more confusing than they should be because of a fixed camera angle and a map system that gives you no feedback about where you're supposed to go. That is to say, on the occasions when there's nothing to fight in Genji, it can sometimes be difficult and tedious to figure out exactly what to do next. Thankfully, the combat is pretty solid, if unremarkable. You can easily string together moves to create different attack combinations. It's also possible to quickly attack in all directions, which is essential, because you'll be dealing with foes who'll constantly try to surround you. Although the game is at its best when you're fighting one of its boss opponents, regular opponents offer a decent challenge and get bigger and stronger as the game progresses. As for the bosses, some of these guys are pushovers, while others are quite tough. However, these battles provide some much-needed contrast and variety overall.
The four characters are also all quite different. Yoshitsune is the most versatile and overall best character because he can attack almost nonstop with his dual samurai swords. Benkei is slow to the point of being sluggish, but he can shrug off most enemy attacks and smash aside multiple foes with a single swing of his club. The priestess, Shizuka, is armed with a sort of grappling hook blade weapon, which has a wide attack range that makes up for her slight physique. And Lord Buson fights with a spear-like weapon, which he can rapidly twirl about to form a defensive shield. Even once you've met all four characters, some sequences will limit which of these warriors you may use. But when you can use them all, you'll probably stick to Yoshitsune, although Benkei's good at quickly putting the hurt on some of the game's bosses. Each character has his or her own health bar, so switching fighters is useful for when you're about to die (or you can use one of the many healing items that you'll find). Strangely enough, it's game over if any one character runs out of health, even if all your other characters are unscathed.
Interestingly, you'll find multiple new weapons for each character and be able to upgrade the attack power of the weapons you've got. The new weapons tend to give your characters completely different move sets, potentially adding a lot of variety to the combat. Unfortunately, the system just doesn't seem thought through because there's little tactical advantage from one weapon to the next, and they're roughly the same in terms of attack power. So even though you get a different set of moves with each one, you'll naturally be inclined to rely on your starting weapons because they'll be the ones you've used the most up until that point. Your characters also get somewhat stronger as you play. You'll be able to upgrade your maximum health and pick up a variety of useful items the further you go. The system for finding health power-ups is quite nice: The tip-off that one of these hidden items is nearby is that a trinket on your character starts to glow. Then, it's up to you to slash around to find the thing.
You get four characters and multiple weapons to choose from, but Yoshitsune and his deadly blades are usually your safest, best choice.
You view the action from a third-person perspective and use the left stick to run around in the environments. The face buttons, by default, are used for several different attacks and for jumping. You can hold down the right shoulder buttons to block and lock onto nearby targets, respectively. However, in practice, it's safe to ignore these moves and just concentrate on swinging wildly at everything that moves. Rather than control the camera perspective, the right analog stick lets you perform evasive flips, dodges, and rolls in any direction. The D pad lets you freely switch between any of the characters currently in your party. There are never situations in which more than one of your characters can be fighting at the same time, and the game is noticeably missing any kind of cooperative mode for two or more players. Yet the ability to switch between your characters on the fly adds a bit of depth and variety to the action.
The left shoulder buttons are used to instantly switch to an alternative weapon and to initiate your "kamui" power. Initially, switching weapons at any time seems like it'll open up a great deal of potential for unique attack combinations, but it turns out to be largely unnecessary. On the other hand, each character's kamui power is essential because it lets you quickly devastate entire groups of foes practically before they can move. This ability has changed since the first game, in which you unleashed defensive counterattacks against foes coming at you in slow motion. Now, just by dialing in button sequences as they're shown onscreen, you'll lay into one nearby foe after another. This will go on until you mess up, or they're all dead (or, at least, severely hurt). The effect of the kamui power is really slick at first, but it's roughly the same each time, which gets to be repetitive. Yet you'll still rely on this technique to efficiently mop up groups of foes or seriously injure boss opponents. Interestingly, a few late-game foes will turn the tables and use this same power against you.