Review by Leigh
Many years ago, my generous friends allowed me to borrow their Sega Dreamcast console and a copy of Shenmue. The hype I read in gaming magazines had given me great expectations for this third-person role playing beat ‘em up adventure set in 1980’s Japan. It was not surprising the title lived up to my expectations. I was captivated by the open world, characters, narrative and mini-games. At the time, no other game came close to replicating its design with such beauty, grace and detail. Shenmue 2 was later released in Japan and Europe on the Dreamcast but I wasn’t able to get a copy until sometime after its release on Xbox. At first I was disappointed I was unable to merge my accumulated wealth and collectibles from my original save file, but I had soon forgotten this set back as I enjoyed the continuation of this epic saga.
Over ten years later the mastermind behind developer Sega AM2’s original Shenmue releases and many other past ground breaking game titles, Yu Suzuki, announced a Kickstarter to fund the final chapter’s release. Backers contributed a total of 6.3 million USD, smashing its goal of 2 million. With the anticipated Shenmue 3 in development and projected to be available in 2019, gamers once again kicked and screamed for the re-release of the original 2 chapters. This cry was heard and assigned to UK based studio D3T who created a port-release of both Shenmue 1 and 2 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
The often quoted ‘groundbreaking’ Shenmue games were released over twenty years ago, so how does this port hold up to current day expectations? The player undertakes the role of Ryo Hazuki, a Japanese teenage high school student, who returns home to witness the death of his father at the hands of a dangerous Chinese man named Lan-Di. Lan-Di also takes a strange artifact from the household known as the Dragon Mirror. Ryo must avenge the death of his father and find the secret behind the mirrors. During the course of both games, Ryo’s journey takes him from Japan to China.
It’s accurate to assume this game is a kung-fu action story with exception the explorative and investigative gameplay elements which take up most of the player’s time. Ryo can interact with nearly every uniquely designed, fully voiced acted character he meets for the purpose of holding a brief conversation or ask questions, as well as directions, to story-driven locations. Many objects can be picked up for inspection and numerous buildings can be entered and explored, otherwise Ryo may simply knock at the door to see if anyone is inside. I wanted to test the depth of this game so I took the time to follow a business man leave their home all the way to their work place. I knocked on their door after they left for work to find no one was at home. When the businessman returned home, I knocked again to find him answer the door. Of course, this didn’t function as it should have for every character in the world, but it was impressive none the less.
As you may have noted, even if there’s a sense of urgency to chase after Lan-Di the player still has plenty of time to kill in between waiting for a store to open or meet someone at a specific location. I almost felt guilty trying to achieve the highscores in Sega’s original arcade classics such the Space Harrier or Hang-On games found in the local arcade, not to mention darts, QTE title champ and QTE2 as found in the local arcade. Later, After Burner and Out Run can be found in different locations in Shenmue 2.
Another portion of this game are the fights and quick-time events. Ryo often uses his fists; dodging, grappling and kicking his way to the next objective, often singlehandedly combating multiple opponents. Ryo can find and master new moves inside and outside of the story driven quest. These can be found on scrolls or relayed to him by a character versed in martial arts. The fighting system is based off Sega’s previously popular Virtua Fighter arcade series, making Shenmue a solid fighting game yet a clumsy auto-targeting system may reduce combat to a series of punches until Ryo faces the correct direction. You are probably already familiar with Quick Time Events, the act of pressing a series of instructed buttons to succeed at a task within a set time frame, but what you may not have known is that Shenmue was one of the first games to deliver this mechanic in such a cinematic fashion.
Eventually, Ryo can obtain part-time work to earn enough money for quest related objectives or splash out at the local arcade. The fist game involves forklift driving and the second involves manual labour in the form of quick time events as well as the gambling stands Roll it On Top, Yidian Chow, Lucky Hit, selling collectible capsule toys or competitive darts. (Lucky Hit is rigged I tell you… RIGGED! Also, don’t trust that Rastafarian guy.)
Prior to the Grand Theft Auto series, sandbox games of Shenmue‘s calibre simply did not exist. Many companies have used many ideas from Shenmue for their own means such as the God of War series, utilising quick time events, or L.A. Noir, for some of its investigative elements, or its open world exploration, <name open Sandbox 3D title here>. The history of gaming has much to thank for Shenmue and all that it has offered to players over the years.
Despite my love for this game there are still a few shortfalls which could make it unbearable for players new to this series. The port has given the game a better resolution, but don’t expect it to run more than 30 frames per second or a complete overhaul of models and textures. The English voice acting for the game has its charm, but is mostly atrocious. I later switched to the original Japanese dub which alleviated the pain of strained and unintended comical acting and more attuned with its Japanese cultural development. The Quick Time Events, although ground breaking for the time, can be somewhat frustrating. The game does allow for some errors, but other times can result in an instant replay or worse, having to replay certain sections of the game until you are successful. Make sure you frequently save your file state when balancing on a plank of wood bridging an ten floor drop. Even with your save file handy, you may have to win a fight yet again before triggering your previously failed quick time event. Rare, but it can happen.
In the first Shenmue, there were some graphical issues in one or two sections and cinematic cut scenes. If I recall correctly, the same glitches appeared in the original Dreamcast version. I suppose I can’t complain for being provided an accurate port of the original. Killing time in between objectives could sometimes test your patience. This was alleviated in Shenmue 2 by providing a ‘Wait’ button to fast track your game. Still, it did give me time to practice martial arts in a nearby parking lot, explore, play mini-games or buy a ludicrous amount of collectible capsule toys.
There is an option to take ‘photos’ during the course of the entire second game. This unlocks various small comics which provides a little more insight to the characters when you’ve taken photos of a set of relevant characters. The port only allows for limited photos, without any indication, and you have to get rid of photos which don’t help you meet the set criteria. Infuriating when your mid cut scene and unable to delete photos until the character is long gone. I missed an event with a sign worker which disabled me to take his photo without finding him among the 200 plus characters in the sprawling city of Hong Kong. For other characters, I had to resort to a wiki for their whereabouts.
Ryo’s sense of urgency sometimes gives the players a perceived amount of limited time, considerably less than what the player can actually utilize to explore and self indulge in the many mini-games. Although a permanent game over is possible if the player takes an extraordinary amount of time to complete the game, no projected time limit is given, so some may race through it from start to finish, somewhat dampening their experience.
Overall, these games are a loyal adaption to its originals. It’s fun, immersive and may just eat away at a good 40 hours of your life to play through both.
You can buy Shenmue 1 and 2 from Steam and many other good games outlets. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play!