Review by Comfortably Numb
$70 million dollars and years in the making, Shenmue is finally upon us. And dammit, it's good. Yu Suzuki's masterpiece, well, actually Chapter 1 of his masterpiece, has landed on the Dreamcast. The first of a new adventure based genre, FREE. And I don't mean money free (you still have to dish out $50 to get it), but Full Reactive Environmental Eyes. Whazzat? Well, basically a 'real-life' approach. You now can advance the story by talking to a massive real-life city environment with hundreds of people and they're true- not random walking around, but true- lifestyle, and in the meantime do other things as well. Other things? Well, stuff like buying sodas, feeding kittens, and even on the final disc get a job!
As I was saying, a real-life city environment. There are 350 (give or take a few) characters in the Yokosuka area, where you travel for Shenmue: Chapter 1. Each has their own lifestyle, not simply randomly walking back and forth. Follow people around and see them shop, eat lunch, work, and eventually go home. Children play at parks, shop at the toy store, ect. Overall, the shortcomings this FREE lifestyle has is towered over by the little details of this huge world. But we'll explain more of that later. Enter this review of Shenmue!
The story starts out when you're character, Ryo, returns home to find a mysterious black car, his housekeeper injured, and a trainee at the dojo where Ryo lives thrown out of the dojo itself. Inside the Dojo, a mysterious man, Lan Di, pretty much beating the hell out of Ryo's father, Iwao Hazuki. Ryo is held back by two mysterious men in black as Lan Di asks Iwao where the 'mirror' is. Iwao refuses, until Lan Di decides to threaten Ryo's life. Iwao tells him, and Lan Di with the men in black leave with the mirror, right after killing Iwao. Now Ryo is destined to have revenge on Lan Di, but what he doesn't know is that what is about to unfold is nothing like he expected...
Keen observers note that Iwao is killed on Ryo's birthday, November 29th.
Shenmue takes place December, 1986, but can continue until April 15th, 1987.
This game is a visual masterpiece. You can see snow melt (or stay) on the ground, rain splash when hitting the concrete, and every face you see is unique is some way or another. Older citizens of Yokosuka has noticeable wrinkles on their faces, you can see the marks on any of their hands, ect. Just because they're extras doesn't mean any detail has been left out. Nobody looks the same in Yokosuka. Environments are full of detail, right down to the cracks in walls and pebbles on the ground. Search drawers and desks to see many things, like socks, Master System instruction booklets, pictures, books, and many more. See what's in the freezer, the refrigerator, and even the roach in Ryo's kitchen (yuck). If you've ever seen a kitten in real life, that's what the kitten in Shenmue looks like. The sky is sometimes gloomy, sometimes bright, but always amazing. There is not a single detail left out of Shenmue's Yokosuka environment.
A small note, however, that some copies of Shenmue have environmental bugs that make trees look funky, some bugs even erase the buildings! Be aware that if you see these bugs, they shouldn't be there. I have only heard of these of course; my copy of the game is fine.
The music in Shenmue easily rivals some the greatest video game music ever. The introduction cutscene builds up tension with an amazing orchestral piece, and doesn't stop there. The theme of Ryo's house sounds great, and gets stuck in your head. There's a particular percussion QTE theme that uses different drum beats (and perhaps styles of drums?) that fits the mood perfectly. Many themes have a very 'Japanese' feel to them, to say the least. The instruments used for the music in Shenmue are used brilliantly. Finally, the main 'Shenmue' theme, and the 'Sha Hua' theme are quite perhaps the most astounding pieces in orchestral history (well, close at the least. Hehe).
Does it end with the sound effects? HELL NO. The kitten meows in the background, Ryo's footsteps range from the crunching of snow to the sound of shoes hitting pavement. The noises of loud commotion fill Dobuita, and the sound of forklifts delivering crates are incredibly realistic. But many people have a single pet peeve: The voice acting. Well, I'll say it isn't truly as natural as the Japanese voice acting, but it's not necessarily bad. There are the truly laughable moments when Japanese or Chinese words are pronounced horribly wrong, and the fact that few people can say Ryo's name correctly, but it's not exactly bad. While some are devoid of emotion completely, others have decent to excellent voices, mainly shopkeepers or main characters. Ryo's voice is great, despite some weird moments where he stops in the middle of a sentence (have you caught ''What were...you....doing?'' yet?). Standing out in the crowd of voice actors are the voices of Iwao Hazuki and Lan Di (too bad they're not in the game as much).
Here comes the big part: The gameplay. It is separated into three types, that I will explain: Free Quest, QTE, and Free Battle.
Free Quest is what you'll be doing most of the game. This is where you explore. You have a notebook function, controlled by the X button, where Ryo writes down clues received from people to help you on your journey. The Y button controls your inventory, where you keep important clues or simple items, like pictures, kitten food, even move scrolls (we'll get into that later). You talk, select, and that sort of stuff with the A button. Your camera is third-person, but works very well. Left and Right turn you 90° (facing left or right), making Ryo face that way. Forward is walk, Backward turns you around 180° (facing the opposite direction). The R trigger is your first-person 'search' view (you can't move), and L controls your running. Without pressing any directional buttons, Ryo will run forward while holding L. Those are the only two controls you can switch around. The analog stick will make Ryo look around in third-person view, as will holding the B button.
To get clues, you have to talk to people. While many either have no idea or don't feel like answering you, many others that some people may just pass by (remember: Explore!) have important information. Usually the shopkeepers or friends will help you out the most, but sometimes simple civilians will have a clue, too.
Some characters also will teach you battle moves for Free Battle, and you can decide to focus training them at night, and doing your actual 'real' training in parking lots, the dojo, ect. during day. But I'll get to that later.
Time passes at a very steady rate of 4 minutes per hour. Days start at 8:30am, and end at 11:30pm. You can go to bed earlier, if you like (starting at 8:00pm), but you can stay up until 11:30pm, where you automatically go home and you aren't allowed back out.
One of the coolest parts of this game is Magic Weather. Depending on how you, and other people in town, progress, the weather changes. It may seem random, but very keen observers may find that it's not. From clear, sunny days, to dark, rainy days, to my favorite days, snowy days! On rainy days, citizens of Yokosuka bring up their umbrellas. Sometimes you can even hear thunder!
After game completion, you can also set the weather to Yokosuka real weather, which was the real weather that occurred in 1986 Yokosuka.
There's a point in the game where you get a job, and while it takes up much time during the day, it pays high and it sure is fun! You'll see what it is on the final game disc.
There's also so much more to do in Free Quest. Don't feel like avenging your father's murder right now? Go to the arcade and play FULL versions of 80's games Space Harrier and Hang-On. Or, enjoy a game of Darts or those QTE games to help your QTE skills. Does the kitten you meet in the start of the game need food? Go to the local Tomato Convenience Store (or Abe Store, the toy store) and buy some kitten food, like dried fish, milk, and more! Thirsty? Why wait? Grab a Jet Cola from the Vending Machines! Love staring at little toys? Buy some Capsule toys! Love music? Buy some cassette tapes! In the need to WIN? Get a winning can from the Vending Machine, or buy Potato Chips, Chocolate, or Caramel (can't eat 'em, folks. Sorry.) and get a chance at drawing a ticket and see if you can win Saturn games (Hang-On or Space Harrier. You can play them at home. Huzzah!), tapes, collectibles, or the legendary BOOM BOX! So you can eat and change clothes, too, right? Well, no, unfortunately. While you can do plenty, no eating, no changing clothes, and you can't go to the bathroom. Eeew. But you'll get so involved, who cares? God, I love this game. Just thought I should mention that.
QTE: Quick Timer Events
I said some things about QTE earlier. You're asking ''What the hell's a QTE?''. This is a QTE. QTE are events that occur that are all about timing. A scene will begin (never during Free Quest gameplay, only during cutscenes, and not all of them), and it will turn into a QTE when you see a vision of a Dreamcast button flashing in the middle of the screen. What's it mean? PRESS THE BUTTON! Do it, and you'll do what's needed. It ranges from jumping over apples to throwing people across rooms. Missed it or pressed the wrong button? You'll trip, get kicked, or whatever is happening in the QTE. Do this too many times (on some, missing once) and you've lost. Fortunately, most QTEs let you retry as many times as you like. Hint most, however. These are actually some of the most exciting moments in the game.
Fighting fans, prepare! While many consider it 'easy', it definitely is fun! Free Battle is a 3D fist to fist combat battle where Ryo goes up against one to multiple enemies. Beat them down by using normal punches, throws, and kicks, to your learned or default special moves. As I was saying earlier, practice. You can focus training when going to bed, which ranges from all moves to a certain move. While actually training or sparring, this move (or all moves, if you picked all) will be trained until it goes from moderate to advanced. You can trian in parking lots, parks, your dojo, and more. You can also spar with your fighting buddy (also a complete idiot) Fukuhara-san. Make sure you train well, as you will fight some very tough boss enemies in this mode, and even go up against 70 attackers near the end of the game!
Of course, there's one more thing: Shenmue Passport. Whazzat? Shenmue Passport is an online mode where you can download VMU characters, get more hints, or see how you compare to people all around the world in Hang-On! Of course, there's more, but I still have yet to explore it. I will be updating this review with that soon, of course. You can also watch most of the cinemas and listen to the music if you can't get your DC online, or even see 7 main characters (2 of which aren't really in the game, however) explain game modes. So if you don't have online, you can't do the first things I explained about (and more!). Only Theater, Information (Game Mode explanation), Music. I'll be telling you of those things soon enough. If you care.
Shenmue does not receive any complaints from me. This game is simply breathtaking. The entire atmosphere of it is truly unbelievable, and realistic in a no-school, fun work sort of way. You might be thinking, ''This is probably a lot of discs.''. Yeah, 3 game discs and 1 Shenmue Passport.
Shenmue is truly something to behold. A wonder of sight, sound, and gameplay, Shenmue is the greatest game in Sega's History, and gets my vote for
[[**DREAMCAST GAME OF THE YEAR: 2000**]]
Final Rating: 10/10
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 01/06/01, Updated 05/02/02
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