Genji: A Hidden Gem from the Dying Days of the PS2

It’s very rare that I’ll buy a game on the strength of the box art alone. Usually a game purchase will be the end result of a meticulous information-gathering process: hours spent sifting through reviews and hearing friends’ recommendations before deciding on a game to buy, usually followed by a wait of a few months until the game’s price falls to a reasonable level. With Genji though, it was different – I just wandered into Gamestation one lunchtime, saw it was cheap and had an interesting cover, and bought it.

I know, shocking isn’t it?

What might shock you even more is that I’d never even heard of the game before I snapped it up that afternoon: it was released in 2005 when I was living in Japan, and I was a bit out of touch with the games scene at the time. Still, my time in Nippon sparked an enduring love of all things Japanese, so when I saw this game was about the origins of the samurai era (it was subtitled Dawn of the Samurai for the US release), I just couldn’t resist.

Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. For a start, it looks stunning – I think the best way to describe the visuals is sumptuous. There’s an astonishing amount of detail on the characters’ costumes, and the colourful backgrounds almost look like old oil paintings – it’s clear that the game was a labour of love for its creators. The graphics even stand up well today, which also shows just how much power games developers were able to pull out of the PS2 by its dying days. Compare this to one of the PS2’s early games, like Smuggler’s Run, and you’d be forgiven for thinking they were running on different consoles.

It’s a shame the level of content on offer isn’t quite up to the level of the visuals, as it’s a fairly short game (you could probably finish it in 6 hours). Having said that though, it’s thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and there’s plenty of new weapons and armour to search out along the way, which makes things a bit more interesting. And considering I only paid a couple of pounds for the game, I reckon I got more than my money’s worth.

I wish I hadn’t played it right after Bayonetta though – in terms of combat mechanics, speed and longevity, Bayonetta is light years ahead of the fairly simple gameplay of Genji. Still, I loved Genji‘s samurai setting, and I surprised myself by how much I got into the story – it actually made me want to read the novel it’s based on, The Tales of Genji. Although perhaps an 11th century Japanese novel written in courtly language might be a tad hard-going…

I also spotted that a sequel to the game (Genji: Days of the Blade) has been released for the PS3 – another game to add to the long list of ‘games I’m going to buy when I eventually get a PS3’. Still seeing as the new cheap, super-slim version of the PS3 is due out imminently, that day might not be far off.

[Lucius swats another game from The Mantelpiece.]

Buy Genji (PS2) from Amazon.
Buy Genji: Days of the Blade (PS3) from Amazon.