December 29, 1999 marked the release of what could be considered a landmark moment for gaming.
Yu Suzuki, a man who cut his teeth making some of the most iconic games of all time, including Virtua Fighter and Space Harrier– would set out to produce what could be considered the most ambitious game of it’s time. With an unheard budget of $45 million dollars (adjusted for inflation to $70 million in 2018!) – Suzuki-san and the team at AM2 would go on to produce something the world had never seen. A living, breathing, action adventure game where the lines of cinema, action, and gaming all would blend: Shenmue.
The Shenmue saga is an epic martial arts tale that adds depth and realism. Iwao Hazuki-San, father of the main protagonist Ryo, is attacked by Lan Di so he can obtain the dragon mirror. Iwao gives up the mirror in order to save Ryo’s life but gets killed in the process. Ryo has nightmares reliving that same scenario and seeks to avenge his father as he tries to track down Lan Di in Yokosuka, Japan. Ryo continues his path as he travels to Hong Kong in Shenmue 2 and by then, has mastered many jujitsu techniques learnt from the first game.
There are three different elements to the gameplay. The first is the “Free Quest” mode, where players can free roam and explore many areas to gather information. The second is “Free battle” mode, where players can battle single or multiple opponents using the virtua fighter fighting mechanics. The third element is the “Quick Time Events”, which was introduced by Suzuki-San as a mini game to push button promts during cutscenes. During free quest mode, controlling the camera can be frustrating at times especially when you’re in tight corridors.
You can learn various moves from different Masters during you journey. The game allows players to level-up moves and practice freely in nearby parks or the Hazuki Dojo.
Other activities, such as forklift racing and duck racing which are fun, but if you wanna just esacape from the serious aspects of the game then you can always visit the Arcades and play some SEGA Classics, such as Hang-On, Space Harrier and OutRun.
There are many NPC characters you’ll get to meet during your journey, some have an impact on the story while others can give you a lead on anything you need to track. Shenmue II is twice as big as the first game so you may get lost at times but thankfully, you’ll get random NPC’s on the streets that will help you reach your destination. At times you’ll also get certain NPC characters asking for help which is how games, such as the Yakuza series got it’s inspiration. The game’s soundtrack takes inspiration from eastern movies, using traditional Japanese chord progressions and instruments.
Graphically, both games hold up well as players will be able to see Suzuki-San’s original vision. The colour depth has improved over the original Dreamcast release and d3t found a way to eliminate the shimmering found in the original games. Shenmue’s “Magic Weather System” ensures that players will get to experience different seasons along with the day and night cycles. The detail on the rain and snow still look great and the clouds are no longer pixelated like the original. The cutscenes still play at its original 4:3 aspect ratio while the gameplay is at 16:9. Both games run at 1080p 30fps on consoles with a few graphical options added. Shenmue II has a number of graphical improvements over the first game and that’s something players will notice. The voice acting doesn’t hold up as well since standards have been set so high today but that’s something we we’re expecting since this is not a full blown remake.
The Shenmue saga was ahead of its time and will be regarded as the game, that opened the doors to the AAA open world RPG’s you see today. The game has transcended the industry, utilizing a combination of RPG, adventure, fighting and problem solving. New players can still enjoy this tale dispite of it’s age while long time fans will appreciate this love letter by SEGA.
During the end credits rolling, I was left in a state of nostalgia, wonder, and having relived my youth once again. Shenmue pushed visual limits, and was a stamp on a console that faded away all too quickly. For me – this is a moment for celebration. Bring on Shenmue 3.
A review code was provided by SEGA Europe to review
Developer: D3T Publisher: SEGA
Release date: 21/08/2018
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC
Version Reviewed: PS4
Shenmue is a great piece of gaming history that will Leave fans in a state of nostalgia.