A great first game from new developers Game Republic.
The storyline doesn't take the spotlight in Genji, but what elements you do get are very interesting. It's a very historically-based Japanese tale of samurai and magical powers (like Onimusha, but not really). You start off at the end of the Heishi rebellion, after the Heishi clan has pretty much taken over the inner workings of Japan. Many clans, including the remnants of your father's clan (the Genji) are battling to take down the Heishi, and end their tyranny. Over the years, the Heishi have collected mysterious glowing crystals called 'Amahagane'. These stones endow the holder with a special power called 'Kamui', which engulfs the area in a magical space allowing the user to avoid enemy advances and release powerful attacks of their own. Of course, your character (Yocrapsune Minamoto) has an Amahagane, and the Heishi are after him to retrieve it. Basically, you need to defend your Amahagane and steal back ones that the Heishi have taken. The story is told mostly through beautiful CG cutscenes and are not dubbed, but instead subtitled in English.
The gameplay is clearly the part that the developers emphasized. Being a samurai game, you know there's going to be lots of hacking, slashing, and all things of the sort. What's great about this game is that it doesn't get boring. The fighting system is so fluid and easy to master (yet quite deep) that you'll have no problem just picking up the controller and instantly enjoying the game. The enemies aren't too difficult, so you don't need to spend much time fighting each batch that comes at you (although most of the enemies do respawn, which can be a little tedious). Using the Kamui power, you're able to take down any enemy in the game with a single blow, with the exception of bosses, although it drains their health bars significantly. Knowing that battles were meant to be kept fun and easy is nice. There are also some RPG elements to the game -- as you collect certain items, you are able to level up your strength, stamina, or defense. Along with leveling up specific stats using the items, you gain experience as you finish off enemies. The larger or more intricate the combo or the more visually pleasing your attack, the more experience points you gain.
You can play as one of two characters (switchable in-between levels), Yocrapsune Minamoto (the quick and powerful samurai), and Benkei Musashibo (the slow, hulking, club-wielding guy). Both have very different fighting styles, and the game really changes when you play as one or the other. They both go through the same stages and storyline, but there are some zones you may or may not be able to get into depending on the character you're playing as, and you could miss valuable items or extras.
The camera system doesn't pose any problems at all, which is pretty surprising for an action game. For the most part, the angles are fixed, but enable you to see the entire area you're fighting in, never conveniently leaving out areas where enemies might get you from behind. It also gives you a great look at the amazing scenery and environments, which leads me to the next section...
The graphics in this game are amazing, and it definitely lives up to the PS2's capabilities. The character animations are seamless and very realistic, and the environments are very lush. As I said above, the story progresses mainly in CG cutscenes that are wonderfully animated and are really well-directed. Even for a game released near the end of the system's life-cycle, it looks amazing.
The sound design in the game is excellent. It supports Dolby Pro Logic II as well as Dolby Digital Pro Logic II, along with 3 "listening position" settings. The sound effects are well done, and never feel over-used or repetitive. The music is well composed, and really fits the style and setting of the game. I don't have anything negative to say here.
The game is very short, even for an action game. At 5-10 hours, you'll be wondering, "was that really it?", but there is definitely some replay value here. When you finish the game, you unlock a New Game+ type mode, where you retain all of your equipment from the previous play through, making you tower over the now hilariously weak enemies. This really speeds up the game, cutting the average finishing time to only a few hours. There are some bonus areas available after you finish, giving you some extra items or weapons. You also unlock a number of extra features depending how fast/well you play, like CG movies viewable at any time, original artwork, etc. I personally played through three times and still had fun with the game.
All in All
A great game from a new development team, and I'm glad to hear we'll be getting a sequel for the PS3. Some may feel it isn't long enough to warrant a purchase, but now that it's bargain priced at $20 or less, I'd have to say that it does. You'll be able to have a lot of fun with the game, whether you're a fan of the action genre or not.