4 GD-ROMs of pure awesomeness!

 

AM2 frontman Yu Suzuki began creating Shenmue’s world early back in the days of the Sega Saturn. He finally got the go-ahead to produce the game and started working on it. But the Saturn began to die before he could even get halfway through completing his opus. Unfortunately Shenmue never saw the light of day on the Saturn. Then came the Dreamcast, a system which was also made by Sega believe it or not (the internet says I’m right). Yu started from scratch making Shenmue for this strange, new system. Except this time, the whole story wouldn’t be settled in just one game. It would take place in 16 different “chapters”, with each game covering only a few. Shenmue is chapter 1. It’s a game like no other, and I must admit it’s not for everybody. But to me it is one of my favorite gaming experiences of all time.

It’s raining, so don’t forget your jacket. In fact, it might be a good idea to never ever remove your jacket.

 

Story: 9/10
The story really draws me into the game and it’s very well presented. You guide Ryo through his virtual 1986 world, trying to get revenge on Lan Di, who did a drive-by on your dad. You find a mirror and Lan Di stole the another mirror. If you get both mirrors together, you can unleash some holy hell and supernatural powers and take over the world and those kinds of things. Lan Di really wants this to happen as he’s one sinister mofo. You just want revenge and are blinded by it. But there is more, including Shenhua (typed as “Sha Hua” in the game) who shows up in your dreams after you find the mirror, which insinuates that your role is much greater than one of revenge. But how do you get to Lan Di? Why did he murder your dad? Did your dad kill someone in the past? Why are these things called mirrors when they cast no reflection? WTF? You’re also hoping to obtain answers to these questions as well. But first you must find a place where sailors hang out. Yes, that’s the first thing people say when speaking about Shenmue. It’s a joke that has somehow become older than the game itself and more stale than the food I ate last year and flushed only a day later. Regardless, I really want to see how this story ends up.

Oooo! Space Harrier! Hell yeah! Nobody can beat my high score.
Darts is another fun game that is strangely addictive.

 

Graphics: 9.5/10
For the Dreamcast, Shenmue’s graphics are outstanding in every way. The detail, the textures, the layout of everything and especially the massiveness of it all. The city is quite large and most shops let you walk inside, talk to people and look around. You can even play arcade games like Hang-On and Space Harrier which look identical to the real arcade machines both in-game and the cabinets themselves, though the sound emulation is not accurate. Each character has their own unique face and animations. The buildings, structures and paths all look outstanding. You can search through drawers and find crap to use. The main characters have more detail than the common person on the street and the characters on the Passport Disc have even more detail! There’s no FMV at all in Shenmue. Everything you see is rendered via the game engine in real time. Every picture you see in this review was captured directly from the game by me taking a picture of the screen with a primitive point and shoot camera. Since this is a Dreamcast game, 480p is supported but unfortunately 16:9 is not. Once again, the detail in this game is amazing.

The 70 man battle kicks much ass! During the game you have a little help,
but once you beat the game, you can take on all 70 dudes by yourself. This is
as close as we will ever get to a 3D Streets of Rage. Way better than Spikeout.

 

Sound: 8/10
I really want to give the sound a 9, but I can’t due to the quality of the compressed voices and some of the compressed digitized music. It’s minor, but I must knock the score down because of this. Every character speaks and often has many different things to say. Each shop even has its very own music. Most of the music is incredibly good. Many musicians worked on the music including the world-famous household name Yuzo Koshiro. True story: I recently asked Yuzo about which tunes he was responsible for in the game and he said: “Hmm.. sorry, I don’t remember for the most part. I created a rapper’s music and 10-15 bgms, and did some orchestral arranges.” Speaking of the orchestral music, it’s outstanding. The official soundtrack release sounds much better than the game itself due to the game’s lower sampling rate, but it’s still outstanding stuff.

Much of the music is actually generated by the Dreamcast’s sound hardware and are not actual recordings. As for the Yuzo’s “rapper” music, I’m betting that this is actually Cool Z’s theme from Shenmue 2 as they didn’t use ALL of everyone’s music just for the first game. The voice acting can be pretty stilted at times with some unnatural pauses and overall goofiness. Some of it is quite funny, like Goro. Here’s the part where I’d insert an example for you to hear, but I can’t really do that in a written review. Chai sounds EXACTLY like he does in the Japanese version, only here he speaks English. Oh, and everyone likes to pronounce Ryo’s name as “dyo.” WTF? I don’t see a “D” in his name. It should sound closer to “row your boat” than dyo. We should all start a letter-writing campaign to Jayfilm, who provided the voice acting. There’s some swearing in this game, so cover your ears and call your Senator!

Nozomi has a crush on Ryo. But she’s always nagging at him to stay
out of trouble and it can be kind of annoying. This is a videogame!
Getting into trouble is why I exist!

 

Gameplay: 9/10
Oh wow. This truly is a game like no other. And NO, don’t compare it to Yakuza. I hate it when people do that. It’s more of an RPG than “true RPG’s” in the literal sense. You actually play the role of Ryo, doing everything from fighting to petting a cat to sleeping. No RPG has this kind of interaction with its world. That said, it is quite different. A lot of people find the game boring. I say those people are the ones that are boring. I’ve played through this game at least 5 times now, and I’m a person who finds most RPG’s exceedingly unexciting to begin with. That really says a lot. There’s a lot to do in Shenmue: You can hang around and waste days upon days playing video games, raising a kitten or practicing your moves. Or you can charge into every situation and finish the game right after the game’s virtual Christmas. You can collect little Sega capsule toys or even drink a refreshing cola you buy from a vending machine. It may seem mundane, but it’s actually fun! The programmers could probably even make something like clipping your toenails seem fun.

There are free battles in which you fight an assorted cast of characters in a 3D Streets of Rage style but with Virtua Fighter moves. There are Quick Time Events (QTE’s) which urge you to press a series of buttons in time. A lot of people hate the QTE’s because they fail the first time they pop up (and they can appear suddenly). But if you fail, you can always try again, and it’s kind of fun to see what happens when the wrong button is pressed. There’s also a Metal Gear Solid-style part of the game where you must avoid being seen by guards and sneak into a warehouse. This was the most difficult part of the game for me. But the game helps you out if you suck too badly.

You even have “magic weather”, where the weather changes depending on the day. It is pretty cool (pun not intended) and makes it feel like you’re experiencing real life or something absurd like that. It can rain, snow, or be sunny. Things happen at night that won’t happen during the day. It’s all crazy up in here! Once I first beat Shenmue, I immediately began playing through it again. That’s how good it is. The only other RPG that I have played through more than once was the original Phantasy Star, and that was years and years between play-throughs. The game is over a bit soon, so perhaps that prompted the immediate replay. I really didn’t want the game to end.

Mark is your supervisor during your job driving forklifts, which is actually
really fun. You’re required to goof off in them before beginning work each day.

 

Wrap up:
An outstanding effort for the Dreamcast! An absolute must-have and must-play. Everything about this game is pure Sega. You don’t play Shenmue, you live it. Like I said, a lot of people find this game boring or dislike it. Despite it being one of my favorite series of all time, I don’t get my panties in a wad when people trash it. So badmouth it all you want, I don’t care. I won’t enjoy it even one iota less. You’re free to dislike it for any reason you want. Just like I’m free to dislike, oh, say Final Fantasy 7. Oh wait, that’s right. I’m not.. I’ve gotta say that the Shenmue fanbase is one of the best out there. Very little pettiness, plenty of awesomeness.

Next up, my Shenmue II review!

Overall score: 9.9./10