Review by MRadford

"A true work of art"


Urge to give ten rising... The first thing that can be said about Shenmue that is indisputable is: it is not for everyone. In fact Shenmue is part of a dieing bread of games that don't rely utterly on hacking and killing. Games of today are designed to be fast and to constantly keep the attention of the audience. This game is a much needed, and very welcome break from such disposable entertainment in light of something slightly more relaxed and laid back.

I want to break FREE!
The game is not of any genre ever seen before. It combines aspects from RPGs, Beat 'em ups and Action games; defined by the game's director as FREE (Fully Reactive Eyes Entertainment). And that's exactly what it is, the very first thing that you notice when you put TV to eyes is the games scope. There are over 6 different areas available in the first 10 minutes of game play. On the first disk you will only need to visit around 15 of the areas, etch one with unique surfaces, characters, ornaments, and characteristics, and these are not your average clutter, every single pot, picture, clock can be picked up and examined; every drawer and curbord can be opened and investigated and ever individual character can be looked and and interacted with. And all of these places are lit with ambient lighting that changes depending on the type of day.

This description of the games area is pretty basic, just play the game and you'll see that this is no over exaggeration, it's really more of an under exaggeration. But these small locations don't start to shine until you visit a lot of them and realise the shops and houses themselves have personalities. Such as the smoky, isolation of the Maj hong Parlour, the jolly and colourful Chinese restaurants, the dinghy or upmarket bars. They all have their own unique feel to them.

Of course you cannot describe the smaller locations without mentioning what connects them all, and then the scope of the game really hits. Not only are all these locations made with exquisite detail, but the town of Dobuita, separated into the bustling town centre, and residential areas are of the same quality. You can wander around the busy streets at your own pace, looking at the houses, shops and other objects that are in the game for the simple reason of providing scope. You can even go into the stores around town and spend the money you are given every day. There really is not enough room in this review to describe the shear size of the game.

But these streets are not empty. In fact there are over 250 individual characters, all of which walk around the town. These are not stupid NPC's that walk around in order to present a theme of activity. Each of these people are completely unique, you will not find a identical model standing next to them. They all have their own routine as well, some go out to the shops early in the morning, where as some will only be found at night. Need to speak to somebody who happens to be a shop keeper but they are not at their own establishment? Why, because it's 8 o'clock in the evening, who stays open at eight? You ask around the passers-by and find someone who knows that he drinks at the MJQ Jazz Bar. So you head over there and enter the bar. But you're man isn't there? Why is he still on his way? Unlikely since his shop closes at 5 o'clock (that's right, each shop has an opening an closing time). He isn't there because it is a Monday, and he only goes to the bar at weekends. A bit more asking around and you find that he lives at the Yamamoto Residence in Yamanose. So you walk to Yamanose, find the house, knock on the door and job done, there he is!

To accompany this amazing level of detail is fully interactive time. There is a clock on the lower right of the screen, when you wake up you walk outside to a bright morning, there's not a cloud in the sky. You watch the sun pass over head. At mid-day you are in town. All the shadows are small in the sun and people are going and coming on their personal business. As the sun goes down over the hills the streets start to empty, that's enough for the day, so you head back to the family house, the sky a blaze of orange. When you get back it is nighttime and the stars are out. Enter the house and at 10 O'clock you finish your business and hit the sack. You wake up the next morning and head outside and it's raining. The cool blue sky is replaced with dark clouds and the people are walking with umbrellas. The rain continues all the way through the day, want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow? call 117 on your home phone or a public payphone dotted around and get the weather forecast.

Finally, if you are trying to advance the story, but can't find what to do next? Maybe because it is 10 O'clock at night and everyone's gone home, check back tomorrow and you may find what you need. Or head to the arcade to actually play classic games like Hang On or Space Harrier, failing that you could play darts, QTE boxing capsule toys etc.

It's not all weather and kittens though. Shenmue has what is potentially the greatest story of video gaming history. Not to give too much away your character Ryo Hazuki's father is murdered by a mysterious martial artist called Lan Di. He also stole a stone mirror and claimed Ryo's father Iwao killed a man, Zhu Yuan Da in Meng Kun, China. After murdering Iwao and leaving Ryo seriously hurt in the family dojo, Lan Di walks away. And in traditional video game fashion, Ryo swears revenge against the man who robbed him of a father. Soon the plot thickens and advances from a mear story of revenge, to a plot based on ancient traditions of China.

Ryo is a skilled martial artist, trained by his father, and he puts them to good use in his travels. Coming across muggers, gangsters, people who just generally have it in for him and at one point a large black market cartel. To fight off these threats, the mode changes from a slow placed walk 'em up to a sort of free roaming beat em' up. Using the Virtua Fighter engine Ryo can can execute moves (some relatively tricky) to dispatch enemies. These move he trains at various locations in the game by preforming the move repeatedly. When his skill (viewable via the move scroll menu) reaches a point, Ryo has become more advance with his proficiency and will often adapt the move with extra attacks or defense techniques. On top of this, Ryo can learn new moves from various people, some completely optional and slightly hidden. It may take a few play throughs to see them all; and play through themselves will take a long time. The game encompasses three entire CDs, not only this, but there is a bonus forth CD where you could access special online content, and can view various characters introducing aspects of the game, and a full rundown of all the movies and music you have seen.

The sound in the game is also as revolutionary. The music actually corresponds to the way that Ryo's feeling. If his unconscious body has been rescued after being left by a particularly tough opponent, the music is dark, but still calm, reflecting Ryo's mental discipline, and if you don't like the music you're hearing, whip out the old tape player and listen to one of the tapes you have bought, be careful though as listening to it too much will mean you have an empty battery and you'll have to buy some more. Just get the right ones okay?

The real scope and shear mass of the game is far too big to fit in this review, and the slow paced game play (as unfortunately shown) doesn't appeal to the masses. But people don't like Shenmue, you will either hate it to bits, or it will be one of your all time favorite games, especially if you like games that are slower to progress, and take time to think about the game and what you're doing without the use of stupid block puzzles. All I can say is if you like the sound of it, rent it if you can find it, if not it can easily be bought of Ebay or good second hand shops. It maybe old and the graphic look slightly outdated next to the Xbox 360 footage we are seeing, but when you see Shenmue's graphics moving you will be stunned if the game does appeal to you, and chances are it will be one or your favorite games you will ever play.

Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay-value - 10/10
Mass appeal - 3/10

Overall 9/10
RENT or BUY? If you like the sound of it all and enjoy slower non-hack and slash game play buy it, else rent it if you can find it. Although, chances are it's so cheap now you can just buy it for around the same price.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/16/05

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