Review by jpark4evr
"A great adventure game for the Dreamcast!"
Shenmue is perhaps one of the most impressive projects ever undertaken by Sega. It over five years to create and was originally developed for the 32 bit Sega Saturn, but after that system's demise Yu Suzuki and his crew began revamping it for the Dreamcast. At a whopping twenty million dollars (US) to make, it made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive game ever produced. Shenmue finally saw an American release in 2000 and was hyped up to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and Sega thought that it would sell really well.
Unfortunately at the time, however, much of the public was sorely disappointed because the game was not everything they expected it to be and because of that, Shenmue's sales weren't very good, and Sega actually ended up losing money on the project. But I myself thoroughly enjoyed Shenmue and have played it multiple times, and I don't normally play these types of games more than once. So what is it that keeps me coming back? Read the rest of my review below to find out more.
You are a teenage Japanese boy named Ryo Hazuki, and your father has been murdered by a mysterious man named Lan Di, who is looking for an equally mysterious mirror. Ryo vows to avenge his father's death and throughout the game, tries to figure out how to find him. Perhaps the plot sounds somewhat generic at first, but the manner in which everything is presented is amazing. You cannot help but get sucked into the game and want to know more about the story. Who is Lan Di and how did he know your father? And what is the significance of those mirrors? The only thing I can liken it to is a good book that you just can't seem to put down. You just want to keep on going, and the ending makes you want to play the sequel even more.
Like the story, the game's visuals also suck you in. They were amazing for the time when this game came out in 2000, and they still stand up pretty well today. The character models are extremely detailed, no two people look exactly alike, and emotions are effectively shown through changes in facial expression. Movements are animated nearly perfect, and they should as the characters are supposed to resemble real people. And just as in Skies of Arcadia, Shenmue relies on absolutely NO FMV (Full Motion Video) sequences whatsoever to tell the story. Since everything is already highly detailed and characters' lips move, Shenmue simply doesn't need the help of any FMV.
The transitions between night and day are pretty realistic, in that it is a gradual process instead of happening all at once. The weather system is great too and adds to the visual flair. Watching the snow or rain come down is just as pretty as fun to watch as in reality. Buildings and all other objects also look fantastic, and you won't be able to truly see everything in a short sitting. Just look for the Koi pond fish swimming in the pond outside Ryo's house or the seagulls flying around the harbor. After playing several hours, it's hard to not appreciate all the hard work that went in to making of the graphics.
Overall, the music was excellent and made the Shenmue experience even more dramatic than it would have been without it. Much of it has an oriental overtone, which is appropriate since the game takes place in Japan. In particular, the main theme is beautiful and very hard to forget, but that's a good thing. Music is also used appropriately. For example, you won't hear upbeat, cheery music while you're chasing down a thug. For all of these reasons the soundtrack alone is very much worth owning, although tracking down a legitimate copy is especially hard these days.
For the most part, all of the sound effects are very well done and would sound all the more better in surround sound. The pitter patter of rain falling, sound of vehicles zooming by, etc. all add to the realism. One of the most horrible aspects of the game, on the other hand, is the English voice acting, which stinks for the most part and reminds me of a poorly dubbed Asian film. For someone seeking revenge, Ryo doesn't sound very emotionally convincing, and some characters like Tom sound absolutely ridiculous. Seriously though, just because he's of African descent and has dreadlocks, does he really need to have the heavy Jamaican accent? But really, after spending so much money on the game to begin with, it's not all that surprising. Big name actors would have cost Sega even bigger bucks.
As far as the control scheme in Shenmue goes, it's pretty solid, and there really isn't anything that is confusing to it. You'll be navigating around the town with the greatest of ease in no time. You walk with the d-pad, hold the R trigger to run, and use the analog stick to look around at your surroundings. Pulling off different moves in the fighting sequences isn't a problem either. That's what's so great about Shenmue. Anybody can really pick up and play this game without getting too frustrated.
A lot of people call Shenmue an RPG, but it is really an Adventure game first and foremost. You walk around town, ask questions to aid you in your quest, solve a puzzle here and there, and even take on a part-time job. You won't find any experience points, potions, or power-ups, and that's fine with me.
There are things called QTEs, which require you to hit a series of buttons shown on-screen to accomplish a certain task. If you fail them, you lose but are given the opportunity to redo them until you're successful. Basically, the QTE is similar to playing a game of Dragon's Lair, accept not as frustrating.
You will also encounter fighting sequences which play a lot like the Virtua Fighter games. In fact, many of the moves are taken directly from Virtua Fighter. Fortunately, battles aren't insanely difficult, and the game gives you more than enough opportunities to perfect your moves through training (the more you execute a move actually levels it up in way).
Exploration is a major element of the game, and will be most impressive to those playing through their first time. Unfortunately though, the areas you explore aren't all that big. There are three major areas, Dobuita, Yokuska, and the harbor. Thankfully, there is so much to see and do. For instance, you can go in many of the different shops for a closer look. There is also a cool arcade where you can kill time playing darts or Sega classics like Hang-On and Space Harrier. There are even capsule toy for you to collect in machines scattered throughout the area. If you're not careful, you can get easilly side-tracked, so bide your time wisely!
Shenmue is a great game, rich in story, rich in character, and rich in replay value. It successfully offers an immersive experience that you will never forget, and that's not something you can say about a lot of the games that are being released these days. So don't listen to the naysayers! If you have a Dreamcast and haven't played Yu Suzuki's masterpiece yet, you owe it to yourself to go and buy it now. And at the average cost of five to ten dollars it's practically a steal.
I would also highly recommend that you buy the European import of Shenmue II to continue the story. When you've finished those you'll be ready for Shenmue III, which unfortunately doesn't look like a reality, at least for the next few years. In the mean time, you can have these two Dreamcast games for your Shenmue fix.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/20/06
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