Review by Zylo the wolf
"Hey Sega you love to release 10 different retro releases of your classics so can't you port Shenmue to at least one modern system?"
As someone who loves video games, I really like when companies tries to ignore the budget and don't play safe when they develop a game. Every system needs a couple of games that at least tried to be something else than all the other games available at the time, and sometimes these games becomes the most popular on the system. However this doesn't always mean that the game becomes a success, since a few of the best games are also the biggest flops in the whole industry. Grim Fandago, Okami and Beyond Good and Evil are a few examples, but maybe the best example is Shenmue, which is regarded as one of the best games on the Sega Dreamcast, but the development cost so much that every person who had a Sega Dreamcast had to buy two copies to even make the game break even.
The game begins with that our hero Ryo Hazuki sees a man named Lan Di fighting his father Iwao. Lan Di demands that Iwao tells him where he has hidden the Dragon Mirror. Iwao first refuses even if Lan Di have mortally wounded him, but gives up when Lan Di also threats to kill Ryo. Lan Di quickly escapes in a car after he finds his mirror and leaves a wounded Ryo to see his father take his last breathes. Ryo soon recovers and decides that he no longer got time for school, his only purpose in life is now to find Lan Di and avenge his father. But first he has to feed a kitty...
Shenmue was originally supposed to be a Virtua Fighter with RPG elements, so it's not strange that you can walk freely in a town and speak to everyone. What is however unique is that the people that lives in this town will do their best to help Ryo as much as they can. In order to progress in this game you have to talk to the right people in order to get information that will hopefully lead you to Lan Di sooner or later, so the best advice is to talk to everyone all the time. Someone on the street usually says that a certain person might know what you need to know for the moment. This makes Shenmue very realistic since you would ask people if you are lost in real life instead of trying to run around your hometown for weeks and just hope that you meet the right person.
To walk in Yokosuka is just awesome. Every person in the city lives it's own life and you can stalk a person from their home to their work to their lunch break to their work again and then stalk them to their home again. This doesn't serve any purpose, but it makes the town really feel alive. You also got clock which shows the time in the game and some stores, fast food stores or bars are only open at certain hours. Ryo will however get tired and head home 23:00. He also wakes up 9:00 so you don't have that many hours to work with. Then again you don't have to worry about taking to much time since the game begins in December and you can play until April.
What many don't know is that even if Shenmue wasn't the first game that used Quick Time Events, it was one of the games that managed to use them correct. Most of the cut-scenes in the game are peaceful but there are some where you know trouble is lurking just behind the corner and before you know it you have to press a button to either make Ryo defend himself or dodge something. For example there are a couple of chase scenes where a lot of objects will be in Ryo's way and he has to do his best to avoid them. There are also a couple of Quick Time Events where you fight people. What I like about this game is that you are allowed to miss a couple of times and still advance in the game. For example a guy can hit Ryo and you are supposed to dodge, but since you pushed the wrong button Ryo gets hit, but then gets a second chance.
As I said before this game was first supposed to be a Virtua Fighter game so there are also times where you have to fight your opponents like in a beat em up. Unlike most so called 3D fighters released at the time this game really was in 3D and you could attack an opponent from all sides. Ryo's fighting style is a mix of the Virtua Fighter cast and knows a lot of interesting moves, but it's just as important that you know when to use a certain move at the correct time. You also have more than one guy to beat in almost every battle so it's also important to deal with them in a way so they don't gang up on you. You may be able to button mash your way through in the beginning of the game, but the later battles actually takes some skill to beat.
If you are one of those who has to do everything in a game then you got a lot of extra stuff to do. For example you have to buy fish from the store and give it to a homeless kitty. You also have to search for scrolls which teaches you new moves and you have to train a lot in the dojo in order to fully master every move. It will also take a lot of time to get every capsule toy, which includes that you beat the two arcade classics
Space Harrier and Hang-On in the Arcade. It's a shame that Sega didn't include more classics, but maybe they didn't want the player to forget about Shenmue and not make them see this game as a mini game collection.
However there are a couple of things that brings down the score in this amazing game. You spend the most time of CD1 to talk to different people that just say: "Maybe XXX knows more, talk to to him if you can find him". The story quickly gets more interesting on CD2, and ends with a lot of awesome stuff on CD3, but you have to give the game some time before it sinks in. It's also a pain to try to understand what a sensei means when they try to teach you a new move. I strongly recommend that you check on a FAQ how you do a move instead of trying to understand what you master means.
Of course the worst thing of all is that the game ends. The Shenmue series was supposed to be three games and the purpose of this game is to let us know Ryo Hazuki and the reason behind his big quest. This game is an amazing adventure which teaches the player how important it's to have friends that will help you out if you need them. It may not be as amazing today as it was 12 years ago, but it has without a doubt stood the test of time and is something I recommend everyone to give a try.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/20/12
Game Release: Shenmue (EU, 12/01/00)
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