Everyone by now has heard of Shenmue, the most expensive Sega game ever game, one of the most mentioned Dreamcast titles & regular in alot of people’s top 10 of all time lists. Sega have finally brought Shenmue I & II back to life after the announcement of Shenmue III, is this still that bastion of games or is it as dull as the Phoenix Mirror? Read on to find out!.
Shenmue I & II puts you in the white sneakers of Ryo Hazuki, just as he’s walking into the family Dojo to see his father get murdered over an ancient artifact!. As the name suggests this title combines both the original Shenmue and it’s follow up Shenmue II, which up to date is the grand total of this series, it’s a great place to start especially with the 3rd finally launching nearly 20 years after II!.
If you have previously played either both of these or missed the original and played II on the original X Box (After watching Shenmue: The Movie ofc!) then you will know exactly what to expect here, for better and worse these games are near identical to the originals, from the Dreamcast VMU save Icon to it’s “Unique” english dub, these games remain for the most part untouched.
Now for those of you that are new to the exploits of Ryo Hazuki and have just been exposed to “Anyone know where I can find Sailors” memes it’s important to note a few things before you jump into Shenmue.
This is a Dreamcast game
This is the start of what was planned to be a very large story
This isn’t Yakuza/Ryu Ga Gotoku
Tackling my list straight off with my “This is a Dreamcast game” comment. Shenmue 1 came out in 1999 followed by Shenmue II in 2001, despite the port to the original X Box for II this series hasn’t really been touched since. Shenmue I & II is a collection of these two titles, touched up slightly, with no extra content which means you get the original games warts and all, time seems to have brought more than few of these warts out too!. The graphics are the best you can get on the Dreamcast, here they look washed out, blocky and whatever the mess is that is on Ryo Hazuki’s fetching brown jacket!.
The controls are a nightmare, you have these awkward tank controls which make the early hours of the game quite the chore!, it’s quite easy to get stuck walking around your house at the start, though you eventually get used to these it’s a shame these weren’t updated slightly to be a little more intuitive and accessible. Another aspect to this is a lack of tutorial, rather the game expects you to put the time into training when you can and listening to prompts, this is especially apparent when learning new moves throughout the game as it rarely shows any button prompt.
The audio in both the horrendous English dub (which managed to be worse than I remembered and I had only re-played these 5 years ago!) and the Japanese dub really shows not only their age but the quality. They have a slight crackle effect, almost like they were recorded through a Nokia in the room next door.
Secondly I’d like to discuss the comment about it being the start of a very large story, Shenmue was to be a story of 16 Chapters (I could have the number wrong but I know it was around this!) and Shenmue I was naturally part 1, part 2 was set between the games and parts 3 to 6 are what Shenmue II consisted of. What this means for you the consumer of this product is, you’re getting one slow build up!. The games do have some pacing issues involving waiting around for events in real time, lack of any real action in part 1 for a good chunk of it and the general story doesn’t really start turning gears until well over 1’s halfway point leading to 2’s cliffhanger. It’s not that nothing happens in the games, quite a good bit does, it’s just on it’s grander scale, you’re only hitting the halfway point by the time the credits draw.
When I mentioned the waiting around, Shenmue II actually has a handy time skip option which part I could of really taken benefit from, the games do have a brilliant atmosphere and especially Part I as everyone has their own life and you start to feel like Yokosuke is your long lived home, it’s just after awhile you’ll find yourself waiting for specific events to activate and this is usually just you spending time in the Arcade on Space Harrier or Darts or even filling up your Gatcha collection.
Finally when I say this game isn’t Yakuza/Ryu Ga Gotoku, I say this with good reason. I have always seen the Yakuza series as someone of a spiritual sequel to Shenmue, infact some of my favourite games have taken inspiration from this series, another title that always springs to mind is Deadly Premonition which features it’s real time pacing and it’s free roaming world. Unlike the Yakuza series though this game is constantly on a time limit, though it’s not imposing it’s always there and lack of careful time management can mean you wasting time as you’ve missed an event but caught yourself a sweet Super Sonic toy!.
Shenmue I & II are also super serious all the time, unlike the other games mentioned the side content isn’t really that wacky and out there, the game is keeping to it’s narrative and to it’s credit does a fantastic job of putting you into Ryo’s life as you fall in love with the quiet town you start in, roam the docks at night & eventually make your way over to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong where the pacing and atmosphere steps it’s game up significantly.
As mentioned there is side content for you to do, play Outrun or Space Harrier at the arcade, Forklift racing, box carrying, fancy a game of Lucky Hit? and of course those Gatchas, there is plenty of game here to discover and the games offer you ample time to do so, Shenmue I features several characters with on going arcs throughout your time there and the games even change regarding to date, the main street in Dobuita is something to behold at Christmas!.
Honestly I could go on and on about all the little things that make me fall in love with Shenmue time and time again, this mainly boils down to me playing them when they originally came out, for newer players things are going to be rough at first, I can’t deny that and for some they may feel it isn’t worth the investment but trust me, just get lost in the narrative, talk to everyone, do everything you can and fight through and by the end of it you’ll genuinely feel like you’ve experienced something special.
My major issues with this package are with it’s status as a port, I do feel it could of been better if more time had been put into updating the visuals and audio somewhat, this can be done via mods on the PC but for consoles you’re stuck with muddy washed out Dreamcast effects that really don’t display to well nowadays. Also the lack of work on the controls is a major misstep, I’ve had people who I told to pre-order this title come to me and question the game due to it’s clunky tank controls, the fight system is still fantastic (using the engine from Virtua Fighter) but the roaming controls are quite the dampener here.
The lack of extras, no additional content was added which is a huge shame, we could of had all the Shenmue Passport stuff which would of brought massive smiles to the faces of all the Shenmue die hards, a gallery of artwork and videos such as it’s beginnings as Project Berkley or even the manga showing Part 2 on the boat!. There is content there they could of given to help sweeten the deal for those of us who already own the games and sadly it wasn’t taken advantage of.
Finally the glitches and bugs!, this is actually what held this write up back, I have encountered so many bugs, glitches and crashes throughout my gameplay that I actually stopped playing Shenmue I as it kept going into a weird First Person Mode then crashing after an important scene. I hear there is a new patch due out but as it stands you’re either lucky enough to have minor issues or unlucky like me and just have the momentum of the game come to a crashing halt!.
I love the Shenmue series and cannot wait for Shenmue III to arrive, it was an amazing feeling knowing I can finally play these titles outside of my Dreamcast but with the glitches and lack of extra work here it’s hard for me to maintain that enthusiasm. I still maintain these are special games even if they feel like the framework for later title but no game since Shenmue quite tugs on my emotions and makes me feel like I’m part of a living, breathing tale quite like these titles do.