Review by The Tenan Star

"Mere words cannot describe such magnificence."


I had high expectations when I loaded disc one of Shenmue into my Sega Dreamcast unit. I had been exposed to numerous reviews and reports on the game, telling of spectacular visual display, a gripping storyline, and innovative, new system mechanics. Shenmue would either be everything it was hyped-up to be, or it would be a tragic letdown. A tapestry of technological brilliance, or a pathetic manifestation of what could only be possible in dreams. All of my hopes and wishes for what Shenmue could be were actualized, and lifted to a higher degree. You are not a gamer if this is not instantly added to your collection of software. Period.

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Graphics - 10
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Let me get the superficial items out of the way first, though it's hardly fair to comment on Shenmue's graphical aspect with such a word. Shenmue's world becomes your own. There are no visual flaws in the game. Simple movements are displayed with fluid animation, and everything is incredibly life-like. You can investigate everything, as you would in real life. While obtaining a sense of reality has always been a goal for game developers, nobody anywhere has come this close to perfecting that concept. All of the characters inside the game, no matter how trivial -- from Megumi, the village girl caring for a sickly kitten to that strange yellow-suited man walking through the shopping district -- operate on an intricate agenda that is purely their own. In the morning, the citizens of the game leave for work, and at night they return. Sailors inhabit smoky, cramped bars at nightfall, getting plastered and swearing about their hard day. House lights illuminate the distant windows of houses in the area once it becomes dark outside. There is a seemingly-infinite number of details that the player could overlook easily, because of it's similarities to the mundane realm. Eh, enough about that.

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Music / Sound - 10
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It's hard not to literally be swept away into the recesses of Shenmue's world. The brilliant background audio, such as a faint instrumental echoing throughout the Ajiichi Chinese Resturant to console it's many patrons, or the blaring music coming from the stereo of Tom, the Hot Dog Vendor, everything resembles life. The spectacular visual compounded with the sound itself make for a riveting experience guaranteed to consume the player for a long, long time. As a bonus, Ryo can collect and purchase audio cassettes to play on his tape recorder (which runs on AA batteries, of which can also be purchased from a conveinience store).

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Story - 8
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To be fair, the story is somewhat cliche. A mysterious man invades the home of a wealthy Japanese family, kills the protagonist's father, and leaves the audience suspended in mystery. However, while this tired and true storyline runs throughout the game, it's told with tact and fortitude. It progresses along quickly, but not without covering any loose ends. Brief cutscenes occur where Ryo can kick some ass, but it's all for the sake of continuing the story. The true beauty of Shenmue is that you can perceive it as you wish. You can run through the events in the game as fast as you possibly can in an effort to avenge your father's death, or you can take it slowly, being sure you understand everything, and reviewing your notes from time to time. Point A leads to Point B. It doesn't matter how fast you get there, but you will eventually. There is a distant deadline, though. The game itself begins in early December, 1986. If you are unable to finish the game by April 15, 1987, then you cannot continue. Ah well. Shouldn't take you that long, so it's not a problem.

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Controls - 8
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This is, arguably, the worst part of the game. You use the D-Pad to move. You use the Analog Stick to look around. The shoulder buttons can be altered. Either way, the controls made me feel retarded, but that might just be me. There should be an option to configure the controller yourself, but unfortunately, there isn't. This is a problem easily overlooked, however, and eventually the player can get 'ahold' of the basic manuevers.

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Gameplay - 10
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I'm not going to waste a whole lot of space saying this. This game is excellent. You need to try it, at least once. As stated previous, in the ''Graphics'' field, you can investigate everything as you would in real life. Your search for your father's assailant can be progressed by searching every nook and cranny, or by quickly putting your clues together. A truely beautiful experience.

Shenmue's actual fighting mechanics are similar to an RPG. Ryo has an in-game 'Move Scroll' that lists all of his different techniques, and the button sequence to perform them. You can add on to this quite lengthy list by obtaining move sheets, and practicing in your late father's dojo. I'm growing quite exhausted from even attempting to explain the various things you can do in Shenmue, so I'll leave it at this.

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Fun / Replay - ?
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It really depends on the person. There are tons of things to acquire and experience, and it's nigh-impossible to get everything on one play through. Personally, Shenmue is the type of game that would take a long time to grow bored of.

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Overall - 9
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Shenmue is hands-down one of the greatest games ever crafted. It's initial controller setup and it's abysmal ending drag down the otherwise '10' score. As stated before, the controller problem can be fixed. Also, this is the first in a three-part saga -- this obviously means that the ending of the third installment will probably be as mind-blowing as this game in it's entirety was.

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Rent, or buy?
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Purchase immediately. Put your hand down, I didn't ask for questions.

Well, that's it. Thanks for sticking with it. Enjoy Shenmue.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/09/01, Updated 06/09/01


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