When a game like Shenmue is released it's hard to approach it with an open mind, after all it had been in development for nearly five years, and with all the rumors flying around about it both positive and negative. I didn't know what to expect. After finishing the game however I can say it is a truly remarkable game.
The Story 90%
November, 29th, 1986. Ryo Hazuki returned home from school, but little did he know that today would be the day that would change his life forever. He walks to the family dojo where his father (Iwao Hazuki) is being questioned by a mysterious man in green with two men dressed in black. The man demands to know where the "mirror" is. When Iwao refuses to tell, the man threatens to kill Ryo.
Not wanting to see his son killed, Iwao has no choice and so tells the man where the "mirror" is hidden. The lackeys in black suits go to get it. Suddenly the strange man attacks Iwao. A fight ensues but the old master is no match against the young assassin. A quick blow to the ribs sends Iwao to the floor.
Ryo attacks the man only to get a punch for his trouble. As Iwao is dying he speaks a few last words of wisdom to his son and is gone. Thus begins the journeys of Ryo Hazuki.
Although it sounds like a cookie cutter plot at first, the world of
Shenmue will soon draw you in. You'll stay up late losing sleep, go hungry, and have no social life outside Yokosuka.
As the story progress you simply can't stop playing, you always want to see what's next. So pack your bags and take a little trip to Yokosuka, Japan.
During your 30+ hour adventure (that's if you don't waste too much time playing those cool mini-games) Ryo will face bullies who have a hatred of "schoolboys", sailors who want to kick your ass 7 ways from Sunday, biker gangs, etc. He will have to infiltrate warehouses, question the locals, and kick a little ass along the way. Hell you even get to take care of a cat! That's what makes Shenmue great, the little parts in the huge story. It's like real life only you don't have to eat, drink, or bathe.
What's love got to do with it?
Ryo also finds himself the object of Nozomi Haraski's infatuation.
Yes, there is a love interest in Shenmue as in many other RPGs but in this game it is not a dominant theme it is a sub-story in the whole that is Shenmue. It seems that every one in Yokosuka knows that Nozomi has a crush on Ryo. When the NPC's hint at it, this can become somewhat comical (Mario the pizza guy is one in particular). Ryo is a little shy around the ladies not to mention he is a little busy with revenge, and being puzzled by his dreams, which feature a girl who is about 16. The dreams seem to be leading Ryo somewhere...
Mini Games,cool ones!!!
Shenmue has a wide variety of mini-games. You can play darts, pool, slots and best of all Space Harrier!!!! There are full versions of Space Harrier and Hang-on within Shenmue... very cool indeed. While not a "game" you have the opportunity to take care of a kitten, which becomes a task in itself. You can buy toys from capsule toy machines: a waste of Yen or a good investment? You decide.
The toys are cool: they are from other Sega games such as Sonic, Vitua Fighter, and almost every other well know Sega game. You'll have your hands full and pockets empty trying to get them all! There are about 200 in all, and the coolest ones can only be gotten by winning the raffle drawing at the store.
In the raffle you also can win Space Harrier for your Sega Saturn!
Shenmue has tons of things to do as you may have already noticed, from exploring to fighting to game playing.
QTE vs. Real-time
After trading threats and insults you know that a fight is coming, but will it be a QTE (Quick Time Event) or Real Time (like Virtua Fighter)? I know what you're thinking, what's the difference? Well stop thinking and continue reading and I'll tell you! QTE's are when the screen flashes a button like A, B, X, or Y, and you have to quickly hit the button in question or face the consequences.
This has been done before in the now classic Dragon's Lair and more recently Sword of the Berserk. Unlike those games, in Shenmue if you lose a QTE you don't die, you just redo the QTE until it is done right. QTE's are fairly easy so you shouldn't have too much trouble. There are also non-fight QTEs, such as a street chase.
Overall I like the QTE's, as they help keep the game fresh, and are better than the Real-time fights. Real-time fights are like most fighting games but they are most similar to the Vitua Fighter series. You learn special moves by learning from a teacher, a scroll, or by practicing in your spare time. While Ryo never "levels up," his special moves can be leveled by utilizing them in combat or in practice.
The controls are good and work quite well. They are not perfect but what is? Shenmue uses standard RPG controls, but I think it would have beneficial if Sega had used a Zelda64-like control scheme. I believe Shenmue 2 is going use the aforementioned control scheme. If it is perfected it will make a good game even better.
The sounds fit the sights of Yokosuka making it an even more believable "living" world as Yu Suzuki intended. The music is fantastic; if I weren't such a cheap bastard, I'd buy the soundtrack. The music blends to the situations yet it doesn't try to steal the show. It easily compares to "the best" game soundtracks out there.
Sega built a revolutionary graphics engine from the ground up. It perfectly renders buildings, objects, and people. The people look so lifelike from their emotions to movements. As a matter of fact every human movement in Shenmue has been motion captured, so everything from talking to fighting looks incredibly realistic.
Shenmue is said to have cost between 8-10 million dollars to make. Sega hired architects to create the fictitious Japanese city of Yokosuka, Martial Art masters for the motion capture, an orchestra to create the soundtrack, and of course voice actors. The voice acting is done incredibly well considering how bad most Japanese game voice acting is, such as the Resident Evil series. Graphics may not make the game but they do help Shenmue come to life. Seeing is believing.
I simply love this game, which is more accurately an experience. Buy this game now. If you don't have a Dreamcast buy one and this game. What are you waiting for? Go now! It's that good!
Shenmue is a saga, so while the first one ends, Ryo's adventures are far from over. I can assure you when Shenmue 2 ships I'll be the first in line to get it.