WeView Retro: Shenmue

Some days I’m still more than happy just to play on my Dreamcast. While I know that systems and game design have moved on in so many ways, Sega’s last console remains a highlight in my gaming life. From Phantasy Star Online and Soul Calibur through to Crazy Taxi, its then-exclusive games are amongst my most-played titles of all time.

Many Dreamcast owners would place Shenmue at the peak of those exclusives. At the time the most expensive game ever produced, and indeed one that never made that money back, it’s still considered one the best games of all time, while its pioneering mechanics laid the groundwork for all open-world games that followed it.

Produced by legendary game developer Yu Suzuki, the game follows teenager Ryo Hazuki and his tale of revenge following the murder of his father at the hands of Lan Di. As you explore Yokosuka, interviewing the townspeople, you’re drawn into the life of Ryo, with the game utilising a realistic day and night system where people will only appear at certain times, operating to their own schedule.

One of my favourite elements was the combat. Yu Suzuki’s work on Virtua Fighter translated across to Shenmue’s fighting system, and indeed early in its production it was touted as Virtua Fighter RPG. You actually have to practice your moves to unlock them, and certainly at the time the depth of the combat was something I hadn’t experienced outside of a one on one fighting game.

Adding to the immersion are actually a number of distractions. You’re given pocket money each day, and later can earn a wage, much of which I personally spent on collecting figurines from vending machines and playing titles like Hang-On and Space Harrier in the in-game arcade. You live Ryo’s life, and that includes the more mundane elements such as being home for bed, but no other title has drawn me in in quite the same way.

The voice-acting remains one of the only low-rent features, though its varying levels of delivery, from monotone to, er, monotone, are now simply part and parcel of the overall game, and returning to it now you can’t help but smile at some of the lines. Critics also focussed on the slow pace, though considering the game’s overarching realism it makes sense that its not a frantic action-adventure.

Shenmue_Trademark_Lost

Of course, Shenmue’s legacy can be felt in any number of modern titles, including the 3D Grand Theft Auto games, and the Yakuza series, and it also has the questionable honour as the progenitor of the Quick Time Event. Sadly, despite selling 1.2 million copies the game was a commerical failure, in part due to its host console’s own poor sales, and in part due to its huge budget. Despite its sequel appearing on both the Dreamcast and the original Xbox the series never gained enough ground for Sega to continue with it.

Somewhat amazingly though, after years of lobbying from fans, the Shenmue series will return with Shenmue III, following an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign and support from Sony. It sees Yu Suzuki return to the story of Ryo, and is set for release on PC and PlayStation 4 in 2017, some eighteen years after the first entry.

Now it’s your turn to have a say, and weigh in on whether Shenmue really deserves all the accolades or whether you found it a dull jog through a sleepy Japanese town where you talk to kittens. Our new Retro WeView rating system is Must Play, Should Play, Watch a Let’s Play, or Don’t Play so please don’t forget to include that with your comments.

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –

7 Comments

  1. Never played it, I think it was more popular in the US than it ever was in Europe.

  2. Shenmue is one of those games that is a bit like Marmite: You either love it or hate it. While it was ahead of its time, there were some undercooked mechanics; I literally spammed the same combo in the fighting scenes and won every fight.

    I enjoyed it for what it was, but I have a massive problem with the game breaking bugs that forced me into a continuous loop of doing the forklift race over and over with no way out. As such, a decade and a half on, I am still pretty salty about the whole thing. Bit like those sailors really.

    Verdict: Watch A Let’s Play

  3. Manic Miner was great.

  4. I had this. I still have my Dreamcast, I don’t have this. I can’t remember what I wanted from it, whatever it was I didn’t get it, a shame as I spent some big bucks on it at the time. I think Watch A Let’s Play and skip to the middle then the end is your best bet, just so you can say you’ve seen it, as unless you are into the harware you are not going to be wowed by anything on show. It looks too good for its time that it looks bad now, does that make sense? Like someone tried to make the game today with no special skills.

  5. For me, Shenmue was the first game which really showed me what a game could do. Up until this point, games were just a surface encounter where I would go from point A to point B without really taking any time to appreciate my surroundings.

    The graphics were stunning and I wanted to just savour every little detail of the world, speaking to every person I walked past and seeing what I could interact with. I’m not ashamed to say that I spent a lot of my time buying cans of soda just to try and win a little toy.

    I played through it again recently and enjoyed my time with it, although I really don’t think it has aged well at all. I think if you played it and loved it the first time then you are happy to go back to it but newcomers to the game may not appreciate it in the same way the fans do. Nevertheless, it is something which should at least be experienced.

    Verdict: Should Play

  6. I think Shenmue, while revolutionary, will be difficult for many to revisit without a remaster on modern platforms. It was an outstanding exercise in world creation, cemented the Quick Time Event as a gameplay device for delivering cinematic moments and so on, but had some really slow pacing, endless tracking back and forth and various other little gameplay quirks that meant that, while a phenomenal achievement, I don’t feel it will have stood the test of time.

    Having said that, I do have my Dreamcast still and my copy of the game and plan to dust it off for a play at some point. I’ve not played it in over a decade, so maybe this will prove me wrong!

    In the meantime, I’d give it a Watch a Let’s Play, unless Sega give the first two games an overhaul and release on current consoles. At the very least you’ll get to find out why Ryo so desperately yearned for the company of some sailors.

Comments are now closed for this post.