Last updated on May 15th, 2017
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Shenmue – Dreamcast (Shenmue 2 can be found on Dreamcast by import or XBOX for EU/NA version)
The “Shenmue experience” starts as soon as you see the Now Loading screen, introducing you to the story. You take control of Ryo Hazuki, a young Japanese Student enrolling in Martial Arts classes. An unexpected sequence of events at the start of the game sets the story for Ryo’s quest for revenge, which will drive him for the rest of the series. Ryo’s journey takes the player on a learning path that has elevated the title to a cult classic, that dare I say is the best game on a Sega console.
Actually, I dare say it’s the greatest game ever created on any console. Ahead of the likes of some of my personal favorites, Earthbound (I hear the cries for Mother 4, Nintendo however do not), Duke Nukem, Mirror’s Edge, Final Fantasy 7 and even Uncharted. The story, the passion, the creativity of Shenmue is something unmatched, unrivaled and absolutely breathtaking.
The game sets the pace following Virtua Fighter, which is not necessarily bad – more of a refined form of the earlier Virtua Fighter games to fit the world it’s set in. Such a pace is far from perfect by today’s standards, but it was groundbreaking in its time and still holding up quite well, enjoyable by modern gamers if you have the necessary cables. You need a VGA Box and a Dreamcast to relive Shenmue in all it’s glory, but they are not available to me so I cannot record footage of it.
Shenmue set the standard for things we nowadays consider obvious, such as night and day cycles. It still amazes me that as the clock strikes down, as day turns to night, Yokosuka or wherever you are located in the game comes to life in a realistic, time-scheduled fashion. It was an astonishing experience, and it’s the little things like this that change the way the game is played and absolutely, positively changed the way we thought about video games as a form of media.
The game features a strong cast of NPCs native to the places you visit, who help you solve the clues you find as you progress in your quest. Some even end up accompanying you and teaching you new moves and skills to increase your martial arts repertoir.
If the story is becoming too intense from you, a variety of mini games such as “Hang On”, Darks, and some other games are available as distractions. It’s noteworthy that the mini-games feature QTEs, and are said to have started the trend, which has become a rather hated idea in gaming.
In Shenmue, however, QTE’s are used during chase scenarios, which would have lost their intense feel if they hadn’t had that sense of urgency provided by the timely pressing of buttons to proceed. Unlike other developers who have overused the feature and reduced it to a gimmick, Shenmue offers interesting use of QTE as a way to improve the experience, but leaves plenty of regular gameplay, a fantastic amount of content and an intriguing story to wrap it up. In the many years that followed, only the Yakuza series has ever come close to this title.
The graphics of Shenmue were head and shoulders above other titles available pre XBOX 360/PS3, and they may have even surpassed some earlier PS3/XBOX 360 titles.
Considering this is dreamcast game from the early 2000’s, side-by-side comparisons to titles such as Vampire Rain and X-Blades demonstrate the title holds up well, although some screen elements may look jagged and character models may look a bit odd.
The musical score is often an underrated aspect of games, but it’s an important element that can bring scenes to a crescendo and complete the setting for the player to experience the story. In this regard, Shenmue is a masterpiece, providing a compelling and satisfying array of pieces to set the mood for scenes, locations and even quest completion.
The voice acting, however, is the lowpoint of the game. I like to find the charm of it, but it’s undeniably bad, to the point sometimes it’s outright funny. In this regard, Shenmue feels like a low budget movie with bad actors, which is a true shame to an otherwise fantastic story.
There is an age old discussion. Are video games art? This game proves that they are not only an artform, they can deliver fantastic musical scores and tell engrossing stories, whilst also providing interactive entertainment for the player.