Review by SimJetJock747

"Conceptual Marvel, Not for Everyone"

It's a fighter, it's a RPG, it's motorcycle racing, it's Space Harrier! No, it's actually Yu Suzuki's latest masterwork (ignore the XBox or DC sequel for a second). Shenmue accomplished on the Dreamcast what Suzuki dreamed of accomplishing on the Saturn: bringing a young man's life to reality on a home console. Imagine this: Your father has just been killed by a strange Chinese man. Your father's death has launched you into a state of jujitsu-fueled revenge. Yokosuka, Japan, is a small, quiet hamlet on the Pacific coast not far from Tokyo. As the setting of the game, it is rather appropriate that Yokosuka should have a coastal area. More on the setting later. Time to review.

Story: 6/10 As later games are to reveal, the story is much more complex than you'd think of for a seemingly cheap martial arts B-movie. Your main character, Ryo Hazuki, is a high school/jujitsu student whose father is his martial arts teacher. What seems to be a simple story of revenge in Chapter 1 is in actuality something more complex, dealing with Chinese myth, several personalities, and much more. But for this game, the story is a bit shallow. I won't delve too much into the story for now, but suffice it to say that this is the first game I've played in which looking for tough foreign sailors is a plot element. (They're only foreign if you're Japanese and reading this, or if you're thinking in Ryo's mentality.)

Gameplay: 7/10 You'd think that a game such as this would have endless exploring opportunities, and you'd be right. The immensely detailed world of Ryo's Yokosuka is indeed an explorer's dream. Open every drawer, see every strange, useless, and tasteless object, and even run down to the convenience store and buy dried fish for the cat you can feed, and some cassette tapes for your cassette player. Don't forget batteries. Other than the exploration, gameplay is somewhat dull. Find out a major plot element from Character A, get more info from Characters B through whatever, and then repeat for three discs. Throw in some fights (be prepared to witness a fightless first disc except for some QTEs, more on those later) and a few variations (like driving forklifts at a certain point), and you've got the gist of the game. The first disc is so very monotonous, as is much of the game between the fights and the occasional run to the arcade. You can enjoy a game of darts, Space Harrier, Hang-On, or some QTE simulators at the arcade in Yokosuka. Space Harrier is a brilliant YS title that debuted in the arcade in 1985 (the game takes place in 1986-7), but Hang-On has limited replay value, as do the QTE (Quick Timer Event) simulators and the Darts game. You can replay the big battle at the end, though, which is nice. Don't forget that Yu Suzuki was the guy behind Virtua Fighter, and it shows in the fighting parts of this game. (That's a good thing if you're into VF, but otherwise, you may not be too fond of the fighting in this game.)

The Quick Timer Events (QTEs) are these semi-controllable films in which a random button from your Dreamcast controller appears. You have to hit the button within a certain period of time, or you've lost the QTE. This happens in sequences both short and long, so be prepared.

Also worth noting is that shops open and close, and people follow certain schedules just as in the real world. Waiting for shops (especially bars) to open, as well as waiting for people to come about, can become very annoying. Always keep a Game Boy/Game Boy Advance/Nintendo DS around your Dreamcast for such occasions, as the wait will bore you otherwise.

Sound: 3/10 Be prepared for a combination of good, bad, and utterly horrible voice acting. The music is utterly incredible, and is the only reason that the game's sound even got 3 marks, and it indeed helps in setting the mood for the game.

Back to the voice acting. The main characters have, for the most part, good voices. Ryo's voice, for one, is probably the best in the game, simply because he has no personality save for anger, and it shows through well in his voice. Chai, one of his archrivals, sounds as freakish as he looks. Master Chen, one of Ryo's allies, sounds like a Chinese man who woke up speaking good English with a somewhat strange accent. His semi-girlfriend, Nozomi Harasaki, has the voice you'd expect from a girl of her looks (just type her name into a search engine and you'll probably find some pictures), or at least that you'd think you'd expect from someone of her looks. Many of the voice actors (for the men of the game, anyway) sound like Asian-Americans. It's almost as though the men of Yokosuka just suddenly woke up speaking good English. The women of Yokosuka are a different story though. They run the gamut from bad to inexcusably horrible. Most of the women aside from major characters are quite annoying to try to extract information from, since they speak English like the voices on a foreign language tape. Just imagine the Spanish/French/German/whatever voice on the tapes/vinyl/CDs/whatever you heard in high school foreign language courses and you'll have the right idea. Don't get me wrong, though. Some of the voices are done well for the smallest characters. The tough sorts (the ones with razor blades in those schoolgirl uniforms) of women in the game have an accent to match -- instead of sounding butch, they sound like the tough women of Brooklyn or Queens. Sega did some good vocal typecasting in that regard (the old women sound like old women, etc.) but the voices, for men, women, and children are some of the worst ever. Just remember to turn the voices off when you're playing, and you can ignore this section.

Graphics: 10/10 This game is GORGEOUS. When it debuted in the game magazines (as a Japanese release), this game suddenly became the poster child for polygons on a Dreamcast. The PS2 was a proud member of the rumor mills, and XBOX was still far-off, as was Gamecube (or Dolphin, at the time), and the Dreamcast was the most powerful game console in the land. Shenmue (and several other great titles) proves this to a tee. Instead of being just a technical demo, though, this game is indeed very playable just for the graphics. Ryo's home is among the most explorable places in the game, and also among the most beautiful. Exploring the docks at Amihama is equally as rewarding. The textures of walls, floors, concrete, ships, cars, buses, forklifts, jackets, jeans, shoes, faces, and anything I failed to mention make this game look as good as Suzuki-sama wished. The models for the faces, hands, legs, feet, houses, bodies, cars, and anything else are also well-done, but sometimes there are too many people on the screen and it slows the game down. In this case, a little slowdown is excusable. Walking through the busy shopping district of Dobuita feels realistic, because not only are there the storefronts to marvel at, but there is a herd of foot traffic relative to other games you may have played before this. Ryo's Japan feels Japanese, and the graphics support this to a tee. There is also weather in this game. The characters sport umbrellas in the rain and the snow blankets the area as it does in the real world. You can even follow the actual weather from 1986 for the Amihama area!

Controls: 10/10 Control is somewhat clunky at first, but you'll learn it soon enough. After you learn the controls, you'll find that they are intuitive (somewhat). The fighting controls are easy to pick up if you've played other fighting games. (Virtua Fighter!)

Final Verdict: This is easily a very good Dreamcast title. The game's
concept of immersion into a character's life is accomplished with flying colors. However, the gameplay is somewhat monotonous and the voice acting is mostly horrible. In other words, it's a conceptual marvel, but its gameplay suffers for it.

Voice acting and graphics don't break a game, but at the same time, they don't make up for lacking gameplay. Unless you're an adventure buff or just someone looking to try out a new style of gaming (and are easily impressed), then you might be sorely disappointed by Yu Suzuki's baby. Those looking for a virtual tour of Japan or an immersive environment will be most impressed, but some may think it virtual reality instead of engaging revenge story. If you can find it, buy it, because you can't rent such a game and experience the full range of what this game offers. Explore every passage, because rare is a game that alllows you to do so, and marvel at the incredible graphics of this game's darkest corridors and snowiest days.

Since the voice acting on the whole is at best excrable, I decided to calculate the score both with and without it, and an average of both.

(6+7+3+10+10)/5 = 7.2/10 -- Final Score (with voice acting)
(6+7+10+10)/4 = 8.3/10 -- Final Score (without voice acting)
(7.2+8.3)/2 = 7.8/10 -- Final Score (average) (rounded up for tagline)

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/01/05

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