Review by Bargregibo

"One of the greatest games ever, eh? I see…"

Shenmue is, I believe, the most expensive game ever created (or at least it was at time). Created by Sega’s AM2, with the arcade game creator Yu Suzuki behind it, the game started out as a Virtua Fighter adventure game, but changed to the game it is now. So, despite the cost and the hype that surrounded the title, is it all its cracked up to be?

Gameplay – 10/10

Shenmue is different from other games. Much different. To start off, it uses a real life approach. Things such as time and weather apply. People are there, living out their daily lives in a range of places. Simply put, its depth is amazing and is well thought out. There is a morning, noon and night, and at certain times of the day different events happen, such as shops opening and closing, the buses arrive at a bus stop at regular times during the day, or a delivery man arriving at a shop every few hours. So time is very important (Note that isn’t in real time, but is something like an hour in real time per day in the game). The weather is random and is faithfully recreated, - you may see an event in the game when it’s raining, but someone else might see it when it’s snowing. The weather affects people, as there are more people outside when it is sunny as opposed to when it is raining (with people carrying umbrellas around with them too). And as the game is set in December, towards Christmas everyone gets more festive, decorations appear in the town area and a Christmas based tunes play. Although some of these are minor touches, they are very nice touches that add to the appeal of the game. So, how is this game played?

Well to classify it simply, it’s an adventure game, but there are several other genres that are thrown in also. The adventure aspect is in a detective style, where you ask people for help or information. There is a vast amount of people to interact with, from shopkeepers, the locals, your friends and even passers by. Some of these people know what you require, and others don’t, and when you do find out you do the next step. For example, you need to find out where sailors hang out. You ask people, and some suggest that they hang out in bars. So you can either ask others what bars they hang out at or you can go ahead and look in the town yourself. You are given a lot of freedom, but you are given enough information so you don’t get lost or confused about what to do next. It isn’t just asking people, you have to hunt for items, look for places and later on ask for a job. To keep you from forgetting information, you have a notebook where it’s all stored. This is great for clues if you missed something or if you have forgotten what to do next. It’s all automatically recorded too after receive the information.

There is a great deal of interaction will the objects within Shenmue. You can search draws and closets and look around inside them with the analog stick. The items, when picked up, can be moved around with Ryo’s hand, zoomed in and out, and Ryo might say the odd comment about it. Lamps and lights can be turned on and off around the house, you can have a quick look in the fridge or freezer (useful for raiding milk for the kitten), and even use the phone to have a quick natter with Ryo’s mates. Exploration and looking at items is a slow process, but often can be rewarding with items and Easter eggs (Virtura Fighter posters, Master System books or Sega Saturns, anyone?) and can trigger cut scenes. Apart from this ‘Free Quest’ mode, there are other modes also… these are QTE and ‘Free Battle’.

QTE (Quick Time Event) occurs in cut scenes, and makes it more interactive, where a button or direction appears on the screen and you have to press it quickly for good results. For example, some one throws a punch, so a button appears, and if you press it in time Ryo dodges the punch. You press the wrong button or you are too slow in pressing it, you get hit. After several of these, it decides what happens, and if you fail too often you restart the scene. These are great and really keep you on your toes, as sometimes you never know when one’s going to occur. The other mode is ‘Free Battle’, which will please the fighting fans out there. Based on Virtua Fighter (well, Yu Suzuki did make that also, so I guess they are very similar), you can fight others using a wide array of moves, thanks to Ryo being a martial arts expert. You can punch, kick or throw your enemies in a range of ways as well as performing combos. These are no simple one on one battles, but often against five or so people, and at the end, well, there is a HUGE battle to look forward to. You can prepare these by training in the Hazuki Residence’s Dojo or in selected open area. Here you can open a menu and see what moves you can use. You can improve these moves the more you do them. They all start at a just learnt level, and improving them makes them execute faster and more damaging to your foes. You don’t have to do this of course, as it takes ages to train your moves, but it helps. There are also move scrolls to discover and to purchase, and other characters will teach you new moves during the course of the game, or when you do a certain task. This will please fighting fans no doubt, and is a welcome change to the detective style of the game.

Just like real life, you can take some time off now and then. If you are stuck or don’t want to continue in the main quests, there are side quests, mini games and other things you can do or take part in. One side quest sees you taking care for a kitten, where you can buy it milk and food from the local stores. At these stores along with food for the kitten are chocolate bars and crisps, and cassette tapes of music of the game you can listen to on Ryo’s cassette player. Duke boxes in shops and buildings and drinks machines can be used as well, and later in the game vehicles such as a motorcycle and a forklift can be operated. All of these add to the realism – but one of the greater aspects of the game is the mini games, many of which found at the local arcade.

Stroll into the local arcade and you will discover classics such as Hang On and Space Harrier, among others like Darts and QTE Title. Hang On is a port of the arcade game, where you ride a motor bike against others and the clock. Space Harrier is another arcade port where you shoot flying obstacles and monsters while hovering around, with a boss at the end of each stage. Darts is what it sounds like, but with a difference – Ryo’s hand moves in a set pattern and you press A to throw the dart at that position. QTE Title 1 and 2 are QTE games, where you press the button when it appears on screen. All these mini games are surprisingly addictive and make the game even better, and you will keep replaying to improve your high scores.

The controls, although a little weird at first fit the game perfectly – after about ten minutes of playing you will be searching and moving around at ease. The only gripe is that you have to use the directional pad to move round, and some players may want to use the analog stick (this moves Ryo’s head – which is cool if you want to run around and look around at the scenery at the same time). Pressing Start at anytime displays the controls for that event so help is at hand for those who are forgetful.

Just about all the points so far are positive, correct? There are a number of bad things about the game play though. Although the time inclusion is great, you have to wait for certain events in the game. Whether it’s from waiting for a shop to open, to meet a person, or waiting for the bus to arrive, it eventually gets very annoying, especially when it tells you to return to a place the next day. If it wasn’t for the fact that you can play mini games or do training during this, it would become boring beyond belief and probably make the game unplayable. So I guess although you have to wait, there are other things to do, but at times you would rather get on with the main story line. Other bad things are that sometimes the main adventure can get a little boring and although it gives you enough help, you can get lost or stuck in the game. The areas in that game could have been bigger (the residential areas especially) and more could have been done with them, as many houses or shops serve no purpose whatsoever.

Graphics – 10/10

Wow. These are stunning and incredibly realistic. Despite the Dreamcast being several years old, the graphics are better than the majority of Playstation 2 games. The characters are incredibly lifelike, with amazing face animations, near spot-on lip syncing, clothing where the fibres are easily visible, even the veins are present. You will not see much more realistic characters in any other game, even Final Fantasy X. Shadows are good, as they appear off any light source and is shown on just about everything and the areas are better still, full of detail that doesn’t let up at any point. Weather looks amazing, and adds changes things like adding puddles when it is raining, or piles of snow when it has snowed for a few hours. You really have to see the graphics to believe how incredible they are.

Considering how great it looks, you cannot expect it to go all flawlessly. For one, the game slows down when too many people are on screen (although this doesn’t happen all that often). The draw distance isn’t good, when you are
going places you see people fade into thin air, which is slightly annoying, and if someone gets in your way they fade away also (comical, but weird). The characters also are somewhat robotic in nature, even Ryo, with their movements and how they interact with things (for example a character will turn their head and their body will follow closely after). I was expecting someone just to stop and breakdown, then set on fire… perhaps they are very well designed robots… I’m rambling on now. Next up is the story...

Story – 8/10
You take control of Ryo Hazuki, an 18 year old Japanese guy who comes home one day in December, to find something is horribly wrong. He goes to the family dojo to see his father being beaten by a mysterious stranger by the name of Lan Di. He takes a mysterious mirror from Ryo’s father, Iwio, and then leaves him to die in front of Ryo. Sworn on revenge, Ryo goes to find Lan Di’s whereabouts to avenge his father’s death. Ryo goes to the local area to ask people of what they saw, and it goes on from there. The characters are deep in personality and are full of emotion. Ryo is head strong, kind but firm and seems to do anything to seek revenge on Lan Di, Nozomi (Ryo’s friend) is perhaps in love Ryo and worries about him a lot, etc. There are a lot of characters in the game, some with a lot more development than others. The reason that this was given an eight is that this is only the first part of a series, and so not much of the plot is uncovered, with many things remaining a mystery.

Audio – 9/10
The audio is a mixed bunch, but it’s mostly excellent. The music is simply awesome, with some very catchy tunes, others meanwhile fit the parts and moods of the game perfectly and this overall improves the game. The sound effects, although overall very good, are a little wooden and flat in places, but there are some nice chimes when you receive an item or you write something new in your notebook. The thing that brings the audio down slightly is the voice acting. Overall its good, EVERYONE in the game can speak to you, with different things to say which, again, makes it every more realistic. The shameful thing is that some voices are badly done, Iwio (Ryo’s father) sounds surprisingly bad and somewhat constipated, and Ryo sometimes is the same and tends to grunt and moan a lot. The audio is overall fantastic, and is by all means unworthy of the mute button.

Replay Value – 4/10
The worst aspect of this title, Shenmue doesn’t have much to hang onto after you have finished it. It doesn’t last long either, at three discs it’s about 10 hours… but if you take your time and fully appreciate the game, and do some sidequests and it increase the length. Two things that will hold your interest for longer are the collectables, which are either won or found in toy capsules. There about 100 to collect, based upon just about most of the Sega characters, including Sonic, Nights, Virtua Fighter, and also collectables of vehicles that are found in the game. These can be viewed once you have them, and if you aim to get them all, it will improve the game span greatly. The other thing is the mini games, of which are extremely playable and highly addictive. You can spend practically years perfecting your high scores. There are also quite a few hidden cut scenes, items and moves that you may easily miss the first time round, so that be worth replaying for also. This game has got online capabilities too, but since the death of the Dreamcast Sega has discontinued the services – it’s a shame, as there were character bios, a more in depth look into your kitten and best of all, a mini-game ranking leagues so your can compare your scores with players around the world. But as these are now gone, the replay value score is decreased a little. It’s worth replaying again after a few years just to relive the experience though.

Rent or Buy – Buy
Every Dreamcast owner must try this game out. Its not every ones cup of tea, as you might perhaps find it boring or slow going at times, but many people love this game. If it sounds like a game that doesn’t appeal to you, then at least rent it or borrow it off a friend. Otherwise buy this game at the first chance you can – I seriously doubt you will be disappointed.

Conclusion – 10/10
If you haven’t read the title of this review already, I consider this one of the best games ever (the sequel is even better!) and is worth buying a Dreamcast for. Every thing in this title is dripping with quality – it cost millions of dollars, and it shows in every way, shape and form. This isn’t just another adventure game… it’s an experience that you will never forget.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 06/22/03, Updated 06/22/03

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