Review by JPeeples

"Yu Suzuki's dream come true."

This review will cover the U.S. version of Shenmue. Shenmue has been in development since the Dreamcast was announced. It is produced and directed by Yu Suzuki, the creator the Virtua Fighter series, Space Harrier, and the Hang-On series of games. This game is considered by many to be his video gaming opus. Shenmue was released in the U.S. in November of 2000. Shenmue is the creation of a new genre in gaming, the F.R.E.E. genre. F.R.E.E. stands for Fully Reactive Eyes Entertainment. The voices in the game are dubbed. Shenmue is set in Japan in 1986. Now then without further ado, here’s the review.

Everything in this game looks fantastic. The game’s characters have more details in them then I’ve ever seen in a video game, their facial expressions are excellent and their clothing is highly detailed, seeing as how there are over 300 characters in this game, this is no minor accolade. The game’s buildings also feature this type of detail, outside of them, you can see little details that you normally can't see in other games, like their titles and stores that have their hours posted outside. The insides of buildings are equally detailed, you can see everything in a room clearly. The sky in the game looks amazing, it’s color changes throughout the day, in the afternoon, the blue sky is vibrant, midway through the day it changes to a beautiful and rich orange color, and at night, it changes to an ominous black. The characters’ bodies are amazing they all feature unique outfits, their mouth movements are amazingly realistic. The animation for the characters was motion captured to insure fluidity, and it shows, every action is perfect, from popping the top of a soda can, to punching an opponent it’s all amazing, the only downside to the characters is the sharpness of their joints. The only environmental problem is the trees, which look very blurry and undefined, thankfully those are the only graphical problems in the game.

The sound in Shenmue, as a whole, is astounding. First things first, if you were worried about the quality of the game’s voice acting (also called dubbing), don’t be. Shenmue features some of the most amazing voice acting ever in a video game, every last one of the game’s 300+ characters features it’s own unique voice actor. The best part is 90% of the characters feature spot-on dubs that fit the characters perfectly. Among them are Ryo Hazuki, Lan Di (the man who killed Ryo’s father), Iwao Hazuki (Ryo’s father), Tom (the owner of the hot dog stand), and Nozomi (the owner of the flower shop.) A couple of the dubs are a little off, among them, Fukuhara-san (Ryo’s sparring partner), and Ine-san (Ryo’s caregiver.) The game’s sound effects are perfect, every last one them sounds like they should, from opening a door, to popping open a soda can, to kicking an opponent, everything sounds perfect. The game’s music is one of it’s best features, the orchestra music helps enhance the mood of the game and brings you further and further into the story.

Here’s how the story goes. You (Ryo Hazuki) arrive at your house and find an unusual black car, Ryo hears a noise coming from inside the dojo and he goes to investigate, when he arrives at the dojo, his sparring partner is thrown out of it, you enter to see Ryo’s father engaged in a conversation with Lan Di, Ryo is held back by two of Lan Di goons, Lan Di asks Ryo’s father about the location of the Dragon Mirror, Iwao says he won’t tell Lan Di, after this a battle starts, your father is brutally kicked and punched in the battle, taking him out of commission , Lan Di then turns his attention to Ryo and threatens his life if Iwao doesn’t tell him where the mirror is, Iwao tells him and Lan Di sends one of his goons to find it, the goon returns with the mirror and Lan Di leaves. Ryo then checks on his father, his father gives him words of warning and then dies in Ryo’s arms. Ryo screams in agony at his father’s death. Shenmue features one of the most dramatic stories ever in a video game, you must experience it for yourself to get the full effect of it.

As I mentioned earlier on in this review, you assume the role of Ryo Hazuki. You live a virtual life in this game, your goal is to find Lan Di. During your journey you can do an amazing amount of things, you can get a part-time job, you can kill time playing full versions of Hang-On and Space Harrier in the You Arcade, you can visit friends, you can get something to eat, you can battle gangs in an alley, there really is no end to what you can do in this game. The game features button-mashing sections called Quick Time Events (or QTE’s for short) these sections involve you pressing a button as the command is given to you on-screen. These sections are used in certain cinema’s and fights. You can also fight in a Free Battle system, this is where you control Ryo’s movement, the fighting engine is very advanced and is on par with some fighting games in it’s depth.

The Directional Pad is used to move Ryo, this does take some time to get used to, but once you learn it, it will be second nature to you. The L trigger is used to make Ryo run. The A button is used to open doors and to initiate conversation, an on-screen command will show you when to use this button. The analog stick is used to control the game's camera. This control scheme works great with this game, every task used by a button seems natural and unobtrusive to the gameplay.

Difficulty-wise, Shenmue isn’t all that taxing. This game is not too hard, it wasn't designed to be. It was designed to be an experience with the difficulty set to the everyday life of a teenager.

Shenmue has limitless replay value, this phrase is thrown around a lot in review, but it’s so true in this game.There is so much to do in this game that you’ll never get the most out of it if you only beat it once, you probably need to play through it again to appreciate how great this game is.

Presentation-wise, Shenmue is top of the line.Everything fits the game’s setting perfectly. The character design is excellent, it’s some of the most original ever seen in video games.

Shenmue is a must-buy, it deserves to be in every gamer’s collection. It is one of the most revolutionary games in history. You will never regret buying this game.

This is one of the most stunning games in history. It combines the best graphics ever in a video game, the most detailed sound I’ve ever heard, and some of the deepest gameplay I’ve ever experienced to make a game that I will remember forever. Yu Suzuki has created one of the finest video games in history. Shenmue will be remembered alongside Super Mario Brothers as a game that truly revolutionized gaming.

Here are my final thoughts. Shenmue had the largest budget ever for a game ($70 million) and it shows. Everything in this game is of the highest quality, from the detailed animation of everything in the game, no matter how minor (i.e. a phone cord has perfect animation), to the beautiful and varied music that is, in my opinion, some of the best ever in gaming, to the overall atmosphere and mood of the game. Everything that Yu Suzuki set out to accomplish with this game has been done.

Here are some little known facts about Shenmue that help showcase the attention to detail throughout the game. The background billboards in Hang-On have numerous Shenmue references in them, some example of the ones I’ve seen are “Dobuita”, “Hazuki”, and “Shenmue” text appearing on the billboards. I, for one, think these are nice touches that Yu Suzuki has seen fit to include in the game. The poster in Fukuhara-san’s room has Virtua Fighter characters on it. There is a magazine in the Abe Convenience Store with Wolf Hawkfield (from the Virtua Fighter series) on the cover.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 02/03/01, Updated 06/20/01


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