Review by Nezuji

"It wouldn't be worth playing if it was 2D"


We were treated to promise after promise and two-page spread after two-page spread, and what did it end with? The real Shenmue. Finally able to lay my hands on a copy, I went out and bought it and a Dreamcast, primarily to play Shenmue. I don't regret it, but I'm thankful that there are some other really good games for Dreamcast.

Just to make it PERFECTLY CLEAR, I am NOT Sega-bashing, I love Sega, they make (usually) great games and I love my Megadrive (Genesis to Americans) dearly. They just set everyone up for a big fall when they hyped this baby up.

Graphics - 9 out of 10

There's no denying that the graphics in Shenmue are brilliant. The Dreamcast hardware has been put to good use with this carefully tailored 3D engine, in which it is frequently difficult to even find aliasing problems. The environments are brilliant and very detailed. My only gripe is that most of the signage remains untranslated in the English port.

It's a pity for Suzuki-san's crew to have worked hard for so much detail to have it go unnoticed by a large portion of gamers. My Japanese is OK, but I still can't read many of the fine-print signs because I don't know what characters I should expect. Pity the majority who have no idea what any of the signs say.

That aside, the graphics are certainly at least on par with the best anywhere, if not THE best.

Sound - 6 out of 10

Really, I should split this up here to avoid confusion;
5 points for music, 1 point to share between sound effects and dialogue

The music was great. It was one of the big selling points and at least it came through pretty well as promised. The music isn't always super appropriate, but it beats a lot of other games in sheer quality.

The sound effects are terrible. No getting around it. They get in the way of music and are mostly dispensable. Every car, truck and bus sounds the same, like a heavy-duty delivery van. The footfalls are good, I liked those. They change convincingly across different terrain. In most cases it's not the quality of the sounds, just the way they're employed.

The dialogue SUCKS. Many of the women, in particular, sound as though they belong on a ''Learn English in 10 easy lessons'' cassette rather than on the streets of Yokosuka. It's fair enough to migrate the accents across - rough types have thick Brooklyn accents, that's a good touch. It makes it easier to ''slot'' the character into its stereotype, and although some complained about it, I thought it a good move. I also noted that many of the voice actors, certainly Ryo, seemed to be Asian-Americans. Another nice touch. Ryo and a few other incidental characters are pretty good (better than most anime dubs!), but on the whole they sounded like they were reading direct from a script with no thought other than how CLEAR-LEE, AND, DIS-TINCT-LEE they were SPEAK-ING.

And despite what people say, all 300+ characters (if there are that many - I've counted carefully and since no-one ever changes their clothes it's easy to see there can't be more than about 100-120) DO NOT HAVE THEIR OWN VOICE ACTORS! I walked down main street Dobuita and questioned eight women and heard only three voices, two of those obviously done by the same person. Perhaps the Japanese version had individual voices, although due to space limitations that's doubtful. I don't mind it, hell how can you have that many voice samples even with a disc to themselves?! I just don't like people going on about how they each have their own voice.

Short answer - For Shenmue 2, Sega of America, please leave in the original Japanese voice acting and have subtitles. Hell, have BOTH soundtracks, I don't mind having 6 discs as long as I can have the original Japanese with subtitles instead of what you put in Shenmue 1!

Gameplay - 2 out of 10

If you've played Shenmue, I want you to close your eyes and imagine playing it as a 16-bit top-down RPG. How much would you enjoy it then? Still every drawer opens, everything can be examined, but it's the old-style top-down 2D RPG. You wouldn't play it, right? Why is it different for 3D?

This is no revolutionary title in the gameplay department. Not only is it more of the same stock-standard ''go here, trade item 1 for item 2, go there, trade item 2 for item 3''-style affair of old (sure, OK, you don't actually trade items, but you have to find out piece of info 1, then you can find out piece of info 2, and so on), it is executed poorly and with little thought. You can wander around for ages trying to find some piece of information (one which you yourself have already guessed, but which Ryo must be told before he can contemplate doing whatever action is required), asking relevant people, then asking people at random until someone totally unexpected tells you what Ryo needs to know.

Also, the time factor adds to this. You may be bright and figure out something without needing to be told 15 times. So you talk to the right person at 10am and they tell you to meet them tomorrow at spot X. You have no option but to wait. Due to the linear nature of the game, nothing else can really happen until that event has passed. So you stand Ryo somewhere out of harm's way, leave the DC on, go make a sandwich, watch TV, come back about 30-45 minutes later, and take Ryo home and tell him to sleep the instant game time hits 8pm. What fun.

And about that detailed game world. Yep, sure is detailed. About as interactive as a cardboard cut-out, but detailed, hoo boy! There are bits and bobs laying around everywhere for the examining, and everything has real-looking labels (although every consumable is either made by Sega, or someone who doesn't care to give a brand name) and such, but there are very few things in the Shenmue world that you can pick up, and even fewer that you can actually take with you. It's as if 90% of objects are attatched to their shelves / cabinets / whatever by an invisible elastic band.

The worst part of this is that what you CAN pick up and walk away with is virtually useless, except for what you can feed to the kitten. The proliferation of toy capsule machines is a blight on the land. They're everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE! Even in the dock-worker's lounge, there are THREE of them, more than any other location in the game! It seems that Sega is trying the old ''add some collectable thing and increase the gameplay / replayability'' ploy. Unfortunately, they missed the vital part of the equation, in that usually it's either (A) Hard to get the items to be collected, or (B) There is some point to collecting them, such as a power-up system. Shenmue has neither. You just sit in front of the machines dropping Y100 in over and over, getting toys out. To be fair, some toys are rarer than others, but really, who cares? You can buy them pretty much as you please, and they have no practical use, not even like the audio tapes which you can at least listen to.

And the characters? Don't get me started on character development! (Well, you can't since I've already written this and you're only reading it, you can't ... oh never mind). After salivating over clips and trailers from the internet, I was ready for some gripping love scenes and spiteful talk during action scenes. I couldn't have been more wrong. After the blandness that had gone before, I was hoping for a real love story to shine through here. Unfortunately, what could've been the game's saving grace turned out to be it's biggest disappointment. Knowing that Ryo was supposed to end up with Nozomi, I tried from the outset to do my best to court her. It's impossible. Ryo only ever talks shop (''Nozomi, what do you know about the Mad Angels?''), and Nozomi never says anything more tender than, ''Don't do anything crazy.'' Repeated calls to Nozomi's house yield only endless fruitless conversations where she is interrupted by her Grandmother or worse, Granny answering the phone to tell Ryo that Nozomi ''hasn't come home yet'', even at 9am. The worst part is that both Nozomi and Granny work all day in the flower shop, so calling them at home should result in no answer, or both of them being at home.

And forget interactivity, the only other girls in the game who tell you more than to piss off are either under 12, over 50, have no personality outside of selling you things, or Nozomi's friend Eri, who only ever bitches at you to show some kindness to Nozomi. The killer is that one of the standard replies to your accosting of people on the street is, ''If you're trying to pick me up, I'm not interested. Please bother someone else.'' Well who wouldn't try to pick up another girl given a choice between Nozomi and a block of wood?! Apparently it gets a little better on Disc 3, I'm just trying to work up the will to find out.

On a more personal note, I bought an RPG, not a fighting game. Fighting games are OK, but I'm not real good at them. Worse, Shenmue's fighting sections are really in 3D, and the opponents aren't great, but have an annoying tendency to block most finishing moves. You can punch and kick them all day, but unless you hit them with that decisive punch, kick or throw, they will take forever to go down. More than once I've been working out a combo on one guy, only to have one or two more step in (completely unhurt) at the last minute and get clipped by the finishing move, and go down just like the guy I was actually fighting. That's how you win battles. The result is a hard-to control fighting game in which dull opponents beat you not by out-witting you, but because the computer can hit its virtual ''buttons'' faster than you can hit yours.

One lesson which can be drawn time and again from these multi-style games is that they never succeed. You cannot make a game which is a great Racer, RPG and Fighter. It can't be done.

To cut a VERY long story short (^_^;), As an RPG, it sucks ass, as a VR experiment, is succeeds admirably.

Overall - 4 out of 10

Do not buy this game because you are expecting the best epic RPG ever made. It is worth buying, not as a star in gaming history, but as a landmark experiment in gaming. This is the starting-block for a new generation of RPGs, and as such we do not expect it to be great, but just to strike out in a new direction. I paid AUS$99 for my copy, and bought a Dreamcast specifically for it (it's the only DC game I have), and I don't regret it. But, you may not have my salary ;P Anyone who says this is the best game ever has either no mind of their own or no taste (Ooooh, that'll get 'em flaming!).

And on the subject of it being epic ... [Old Grandad's Voice] I remember the days when RPGs filled about half a Megabyte and took at least a week to finish. True, they mostly took that long because of a ridiculous number of drawn-out turn-based battles, but at least you were doing something [End Grandad's Voice] Sorry, but with a finishing time of about 3 days (WITHOUT A WALKTHROUGH) playing only a few hours each day, this is NOT an ''epic saga'' as some would have it.

I bought Grandia for PSone at the same time as Shenmue. About 1/3 of the way into Disc 3 of Shenmue, I got sick of Ryo's lack of interaction with his supposed love-interest, Nozomi, and put it away to play Grandia. It took me 2 1/2 days to get that far, and after playing Grandia for 2 hours I don't foresee Shenmue coming out of its box at least until I've finished that ... and every other PSone game I have (including the average Ronin Blade, the bland Team Buddies, and the quite awful Alundra 2). I think that says it all, really.

One or two things ... Ryo has a Sega Saturn in the game. Were they around in 1986? In Japan, probably. How about the Timex Indiglo watch Ryo wears? I dunno, Sega probably did their research. Forget those. What's annoying is that Ryo has no games for his Saturn. It's cute to put it in there, but he could at least have ONE game for it, right? (How about Grandia? Heh heh heh). Looking at the raffle posters it seems that you can win Hang On and Space Harrier for the Saturn if you're prepared to buy enough chocolate, caramel and potato chips (which I haven't found a way to eat or give to anyone else!). Don't they have video game stores in Yokosuka? They could've put a few more of the old games in, couldn't they? The disc space sure as hell isn't going on plot, and even though they have to have all areas stored on each disc, there isn't THAT much in geometry and textures, is there? Spare 300 KB for a copy of Shinobi, Guv?

Compact review

Graphics - Brilliant. Find better and I won't believe you. They're grrrrrreat!

Music - Also brilliant. A bit on the MIDI side considering it's supposed to be a next-gen console, but still great.

Sound & Dialogue - Bites the big donut, sucks ass, blows chunks, and a number of other disgusting similes. Say no more.

Gameplay - See sound & dialogue, multiply by five. Wouldn't touch it with a seven-kilometre barge-pole.

I'm here to review this as a GAME, not a VR experiment, and AS A GAME it really is shocking.

Will I buy Shenmue 2 (and Shenmue 3, if it ever materialises) when it comes out? Yes, but only out of morbid curiosity ...

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 03/26/01, Updated 03/26/01

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