Review by miffo
"A Shenmue review - do you know where I can find it? Right here? I see..."
Yu Suzuki is a man of speed, anywhere from Hang On to F355 Challenge, his games generally don't go under 200 MPH. And then there's Shenmue. Taking on a new genre, not just to himself, but to the world is not an easy task. Fortunately, it works. Shenmue is classified under the ''F.R.E.E'' genre--it's not free, as you do have to pay for it, mind you, especially considering that the development costs are above $70 million dollars. Rather, F.R.E.E stands for Full Reactive Eye Entertainment, and Shenmue does just that. Despite the inevitable limitations you have in a videogame versus the real world, you have the freedom to explore every nook and cranny of Shenmue's world, and you'll usually find something too.
Taking place in the 1980s in Japan, you jump right into the story of the game. Ryo Hazuki comes home one day to witness his father being murdered by a mysterious Chinese man named Lan Di. The stunning cinema is still chilling, even though I've seen that about ten times now. After that, Ryo decides he must go out and get his revenge, and you assume the controls of him from here.
Mastering your way around takes a little bit of getting used to, but serves it's purpose well. The D-pad is used to move Ryo, which is perfect for a fighting-oriented game. A quick 180-turn can be done by hitting down on the pad, and you can rotate the camera with the joystick. The two triggers perform running and zooming on in objects, and other actions can be done with A and Y. Of course, that's when you're freely roaming--thing's change in the other two forms of gameplay.
The first being the infamous QTEs (Quick Timer Events). The involves nothing more than to hit a button as they appear on the screen, and certain actions will be taken depending on whether or not it was done correctly. This may seem easy, but can get complicated at times due to that fact that you're rushed.
Fighting is the third way to go. Virtua Fighter RPG? Not quite, but the battle system of Shenmue is similar to VF's scheme. and there's a fairly extensive move list to be mastered. It's a shame more time wasn't spent on this area, and there aren't too many places throughout the game where you actually get to fight. Sparring with Fuku-san, a student of your father, can be done regularly though.
The majority of the game, however, will have you exploring the world, and solving the case of your father's death. While taking the role of a detective, you'll have to ask around the town with Ryo to find pertinent answers. Taking a trip from Ryo's house to the local arcade is an amazing experience in itself. For one thing, every single drawer and cabinet can be opened and looking through in your house. Not only that, but each one is just as detailed as the next! Occasionally you'll find things like cassette tapes that you can actually listen to later on after finding the tape player.
After finally leaving the house, you'll enter a small residential area, where you'll tend to a small kitten with no home. It's just one of the many side-quests you'll come across. And after that, there's an even bigger residential area, until finally you come into Dobuita, the heart of the town. And with the hundreds of stores and buildings awaiting you, the game just gets bigger and bigger.
Unfortunately, this is where the game faults--it gets to the point where it's unrealistically realistic. You see, you can knock on the door to every single house, but no one ever answers. They try to add realism by doing that, but it just seems pointless. Watching Ryo gulp down Jet Cola isn't nearly as refreshing as drinking something in real life, but you have the option to do so nonetheless. And although you can talk to any person in the game, they don't always say anything useless. For example, if you go up to the old man who is doing nothing more than playing in the rocks, he'll tell you to go away because he's busy. Um, okay.
Speaking of which, the voice acting of Shenmue is what we've all come to expect is most videogames: bad. It has its ups and downs, but it's times like Ryo saying ''I see...''over and over that it becomes annoying. The orchestral music is beautiful and makes up for the sound, for the most part anyway. But the graphics...wow. Not only is it detailed, but the great texture work combines with that to make for some of the best graphics in any game. Ever.
Eventually the whole game will sink in as you submerge yourself in the story. You'll experience the joy of having a girlfriend (since most gamers are geeks and don't have one) which Ryo is lucky enough to have. Of course, he's too afraid to make a move. Oh well. Nozomi is just one of the characters you'll meet along the way through your three-disk adventure.
But living through this orphan's tale is not the most attractive part. More of a ''life simulator'' than anything else, you can do everyday activities from visiting the arcade (which has playable ports of the games Hang On and Space Harrier, might I add), to playing with slots, or buying stuff at the store in hope of winning some goodies. You can even win arcade games to play on your 1985-edition Sega Saturn! The only downside to all of this, is that it costs money, and sometimes you'll just have to hang on to your precious yen rather than buying a little toy Sonic doll.
Once you get past all that, and finish the game, it will leave you hanging, unfortunately. Then again, this is only the first game and who knows how many chapters Yu Suzuki will eventually create. Shenmue II comes out soon enough, and now is the time to get Shenmue if you haven't already. Despite a few shortcomings and the occasional boring stretch of gameplay, this is one of the best games I've played in a while, and something no one should miss.
Let's get sweaty!! - Ryo Hazuki, before training
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 09/13/01, Updated 09/13/01
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