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SAMURAI WITH A SLOW HAND.

Byline: Redmond Carolipio Staff Writer

I ENJOYED ``Genji: Dawn of the Samurai.'' Unfortunately, it's because it reminded me of something else.

The biggest problem that plagues Sony's tale of samurai and magic is that it comes a few years after ``Onimusha,'' which was Capcom's tale of samurai and magic. The ``Genji'' experience takes a different and less adventurous road to the same destination.

While the two games feature different characters, stories and play mechanics, the similarities between them are almost scary. That's not a huge shock considering one of the game's designers worked on ``Onimusha.'' Both titles feature ``chosen'' heroes, plenty of swords and sorcery, and story lines rooted in Japanese history.

The story of ``Genji'' is loosely based on the Taira-Minamoto War in Japan's late 1100s, when the Genji clan was subdued by Kiyomori Taira, the head of the Taira clan. Not surprisingly, Kiyomori is presented as the game's main villain.

Capcom did the same thing in ``Onimusha'' with Nobunaga Oda, who was painted in ancient accounts as the Shaq Diesel of Japanese warlords.

But Capcom also used that game to establish the tradition of applying gaming mythos to historical figures - in the real world, Nobunaga is just a great warlord. In gaming, he's an invincible demon general.

``Genji'' follows suit, portraying Kiyomori and his Heishi army as the benefactors of magic stones that grant immense power to those who wield them. The game's opening cinema screens show one of the Heishi generals using this power to annihilate an army by himself.

To fight the Heishi, you get the choice of two characters: Yoshitsune, the sword-wielding last member of the Genji clan, and Benkei, a big, heavy-hitting monk armed with a giant club.

Both heroes also know how to use the magic stones, which provides them the ability to control time.

It is with this power that the game begins to forge its own identity. Instead of using the time-slowing concept as a way to elude enemies, ``Genji'' uses it as the ultimate counterattacking tool.

The power, called ``kamui,'' essentially slows enemies to a crawl and lets the player know the best time to strike, via a flashing button icon below the character.

Time it right, and you can take out a group of 12 guys with just a few sword strokes. Otherwise, you're stuck blocking and swinging for a few minutes longer than you need to.

Players have to use ``kamui'' early and often, as they are constantly surrounded by packs of enemies. It's a plus, as every chance to trigger the feature is a chance to look and feel like a master.

Fighting in the game is a beauty to watch, as the swordplay animations were done by motion capturing Japan's top swordsman, who was also Ken Watanabe's stunt double in the movie ``The Last Samurai.'' The game also features some very well-crafted scenery.

But enjoy it while you can. The game takes about eight hours to complete, which is way too short for a game that houses this much history. As a result, the game starves for character development. You are essentially left with the knowledge of who's good and who's bad. Anything more deep would require an investment ``Genji'' chooses not to make.

``Genji'' left me feeling more like I watched a good television episode instead of a full samurai epic. It certainly looked the part. But then again, so did ``Onimusha,'' and I still haven't forgotten it.

GENJI: DAWN OF THE SAMURAI - Two stars

Platform: PS2.

Price: $39.99.

Rated: M for Mature.

In a nutshell: OK but familiar.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 6, 2005
Words:606
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