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Genji: Dawn of the Samurai: Beauty is in the Mind's Eye

Helmed by ex-Capcom designer Yoshiki Okamoto (of Street Fighter II fame), Genji: Dawn of the Samurai is your typical action-oriented adventure game set in ancient Japan. Taking the role of either the quick swordsman Yoshitsune, or his hulking sidekick Benkei, it's your job to travel Japan and rid it of a marauding sect of samurai known as the Heishi. Though the game has been out for several months in Japan, I recently got a chance to check out a short demo of the North American version, which is set to release on September 20th.

Genji is as pure an action game as you can expect to find. The controls are very fluid and lend themselves to the on-screen action nicely. At any given time, you could be facing five or more enemies, so it's nice to be able to slice through them quickly with little fuss. This should help more casual gamers get into the action quickly, while allowing veterans to delve a little deeper into the strategy of fighting. One of the main strategies is the Kamui technique. In more vulgar terms, this is basically a bullet-time fighting mode, though the effect isn't just a cheap slow-down trick. After entering Kamui, or mind's eye, mode all of the action on-screen slows down. Where Genji differs is that once in Kamui mode, action becomes more about timing rather than combos. When an enemy comes into range, an 'X' icon will appear. Pressing 'X' on the control pad in-time with the icon unleashed deadly one-hit kills (or really powerful hits if you're going up against a boss). The trick is to keep the chain going, making timing important. Hitting the button too soon or too late breaks the chain -- meaning you'll have to resume the hack-and-slash action again rather than cutting down foes in one hit.

Aside from the action, Genji also features some light RPG elements, as well as some gameplay variations depending on which of the two characters you're playing as. On the RPG side of things, both characters gain experience points for defeating enemies which are then spent on leveling up. There is also some basic inventory management, as well as the option of switching out armor and weapons. As is the case with some of the game's action, the inventory system is very reminiscent of Onimusha, so fans of that series might want to give Genji a look. The gameplay differences between the two characters are subtle and are really just different ways of approaching a problem. As the more agile of the two, Yoshitsune is prone to climbing and jumping over tall gates while Benkei will simply knock them down. It's too early too tell if certain areas will be only accessible to certain characters, so for now this looks to be more of a cosmetic thing.

In terms of visuals, Genji does not disappoint. Simply saying the game is beautiful is an understatement, as the game looks incredible, especially in motion. Backgrounds take the pre-rendered route with a few animations thrown in to give them life. The real show comes from your characters? on-screen moves. It should also be noted that the game retains all of the original Japanese voice tracks (with English subtitles) rather than re-dubbing them in English, something that should make purists happy.

With all of the excitement brewing about upcoming games and systems in the next few months, it looks like Genji may not be much of a blip on many radars. However, after playing the demo there's really no reason that it shouldn't be.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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