Review by Lee1
"Shenmue is not a game. It is an experience."
Shenmue, given birth by the programming mastermind Yu Suzuki, and developed by AM2, holds the record for most expensive game ever developed. What does that say about the game? It proves that Yu Suzuki and his team poured their heart and soul into this game, and had faith in it. Suzuki envisioned a game where realism is taken to new limits. To be able to watch the sun set and rise. To be able to watch street lights beam the streets in synchronization. To have people walk around the quant little town of Yokosuka and live out their daily lives. All this combined with a brilliant musical score and amazing graphics. They pulled it off.
You play the role of Ryo Hazuki. He is 18 years old, blackish hair that sticks straight up, wears a brown leather coat and jeans, your typical teenager. He studies a style of martial arts developed by his ancestors called the Hazuki style of Jujitsu. Ryo is one of the more realistic characters out there. Throughout the game, he speaks like an actual teenager (translation: lots of ‘Um…’s, and ‘ok’s). He lives in a somewhat large home at the top of a hill in Yokosuka. With him is his housemaid, Ine/-san, friend Fuku/-san, and his father, Iwao/-san. Ryo and Fuku are trained in martial arts by Iwao, who in turn has mastered Jujitsu. Their lives are peaceful and happy. Until Iwao’s past catches up to him.
It all begins on a snowy day on November 29, 1986. Three men in a black car travel to the Hazuki household. Ryo is out at the time, but returns very quickly. He senses something is very wrong on that day. Running through the gates, he finds the housemaid, Ine-san, on the ground. She states that his father is in terrible danger. Ryo rushes to the dojo, when he sees Fuku-san thrown out. Fuku stressingly tells Ryo to go in the dojo. Ryo does, and is quickly held back by two men in black suits. In the center of the dojo stands his father, starring at a man in a long green coat. The man demands Iwao to tell him where the mirror is, but Iwao won’t budge. Finally, the man picks up Ryo and threatens to kill him. Iwao finally breaks, and reveals that the mirror is under the Sakura tree. The man drops Ryo, and the men in the black suits go to dig it up. Ryo watches at the man goes over to his father.
''Do you remember Sunming Zhao?”
Iwao stares at the man in fear.
“That's the name of the man you killed in Meng Cun!''
Iwao stares at the man, with a look of fear and surprise in his eyes. The man then calmly walks over, and tells Iwao that he shall be allowed to die as a warrior. Iwao stands, and tries to strike a blow on the man. The man calmly escapes the attack, and hits Iwao on the abdomen. Iwao falls down, as the men in black suit return. The man is addressed as Lan Di. As Lan Di and the men in black suits leave, Ryo watches his father die in his arms. At that moment, he swears to have his revenge on Lan Di.
Throughout the game, the main premise is to control Ryo as he tries to figure out where Lan Di went off to. He accomplishes this by asking people about the clues he has and…. Asking people about the clues he has. At times, the plot does continue and you don’t feel like you’re repeating the same thing over and over again, but the first disc, and some of the second, has you walking around Yokosuka asking people off the street stuff like ‘Do you know anything about the Mad Angels?’, ‘Do you know any Chinese people?’, and the ever infamous ‘Have you seen any sailors?’. Thankfully, the game doesn’t make progressing by asking questions the main factor.
The town of Yokosuka is incredible to wander around. You see merchants striving to get business, working men hurrying to their job, children playing in the streets. It’s simply amazing at the team at AM2 was able to accomplish such a feat. The setting alone is enough to convince you to keep playing though the game.
If you’re bored with asking questions, there are many things to do in Yokosuka. The main one is the arcade, which holds Yu Suzuki classics such as Hang On and Space Harrier. You can also collect miniature Sega characters (Sonic!) from vending machines. I spent about 1000 yen trying to get a Nights figure (and I did). You can also train at various empty lots across the city, and simply wander around and talk to people.
The first disc simply introduces the setting, characters, and story, which is necessary for a game like this. You wander around Yokosuka, asking questions, and not much else. However, this provides a vital portion of the game, introducing you to the world of Shenmue. The second disc starts off like the first one, but begins to pick up with chases through the town, more fights, and more story. Then comes the third disc. Oh god…
The third disc is a dream. Each day you get up, and everything is known about what to do. You get to control a forklift during the morning hours (Which in turn, is very fun), earn a lot of money, and the plot moves along at a very good pace. Near the end, you even get a amazing battle where Ryo is forced to fight 70 enemies. Depending on your preference on what is good in the video game, it’ll either be ‘neat’ or ‘worth going through the entire game for’. I don’t know about the battle, but the third disc is worth going through the first two for.
Of course, AM2 calls Shenmue an RPG. It’s not a very good idea to write a review about an RPG without mentioning music. In this department, Shenmue takes Final Fantasy music, throws it down, spits on it, tears it’s hair off, kicks it in the stomach, and then pisses on it.
Sorry, I got carried away. Shenmue music is incredible. Full orchestras perform brilliant pieces of music that could not set the mood for the scene any better. The music in this game adds to the overall experience you will have with Shenmue.
Now, no game is perfect, and Shenmue is no different. While a solid game, Shenmue does have it’s flaws. Mainly the first two discs. Now, I realize that they are used to set the scene for the entire series, but I still think they move too slow at parts. At times, I was asking people on where to find something, but I didn’t know why, or how I came to learn of this thing. Thankfully, a notebook that keeps track of everything helps you with that, but I still wish the first two discs could move faster, or at least throw in more to keep the player interested. Because if they lose interest in the first two discs, they won’t play the third, and that would be a crime against nature. Another con that I ignored is the cliffhanger ending. I didn’t mind it, but some would like to see how Ryo’s adventures continue. Thankfully, Shenmue II picks up directly after the first one.
In the end, Shenmue is a solid game with amazing graphics, brilliant score, and a while friggin city to wander around at your leisure. Still, it’s not perfect, and there are many places it could improve. But hey, that’s what Shenmue II is for. If you want a new kind of game that’ll show new areas of gaming, buy Shenmue. You’ll enjoy.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/11/03, Updated 07/11/03
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