on 11 January 2008
Yu Suzuki's (and Sega's) masterpiece.
Set in Japan during the 1980's, this game offers gameplay unlike any other. Prepare to be overwhelmed with technical achievements and articulately crafted material. The game is in itself, a painting of the era where it is set. No other game has encapsulated both Japan and the era so perfectly. It is very doubtful that any other game will capture, like a moving picture, any setting so well.
If you ever wished for a game that takes you on a journey to another world, another time, you may try the adventure genre. Now ask yourself, what do you, as a gamer, demand from the adventure genre? A compelling storyline, interesting characters, an original world, an atmosphere which is unique, the gameplay must be varied, plenty of extras material for you to find, and an epic length. Shenmue delivers this and so much more.
If ever there was a gaming series that catches you in an instant, this is it. Not only does it incorporate everything you wish for an adventure game to have, but some nice and new features to the genre. Shenmue gave us the QTE system, press the button which flashes onto the screen. Many argue that Dragon's Lair created this, however, I digress; Shenmue incorporated this so it fit into an adventure game. Now look at how many games have tkane the QTE system as one of their own original devices; God Of War, Resident Evil 4 et al. Not to take anything away from that, since I enjoy QTE sequences, they're a lot of fun that keep you on edge during the cutscenes. It certainly added a lot of tense moments in Shenmue, as well as replay factor; fail the first button you have to press, and get the second one right, and you shall react differently in the situation.
The action, when it arrives, is a breathe of fresh air and adds some spice to the game. The fighting moves are taken from Yu Suzuki's masterful fighting series, Virtua Fighter. The moves are easy to learn, and easy to adapt to, even for those of us who aren't very good at fighting games on the whole (myself included). The fighting can be a lot of fun, and the game's big climax is a very rewarding experience.
Then there's the freedom of the areas. You can explore Shenmue to (almost) its fullest extent. The only time I have found any limits with the areas, is when you are attempting to enter 'restricted zones' at the Harbour, or try to go onto the road, whilst at Dobuita. The many brilliant actions you can perform in this mode is incredible. Talk with the locals, buy a can of coke, play on an arcade game, spar, the list goes on and on. Very rarely do you get such a game that, strictly speaking, follows a linear path, storyline-wise, but allows itself to let you take your time. There IS a limit to how long you can keep doing whatever you wish, but it is a long, long way down the road. The game does not wish for you rush, in other words. How many other adventure games give you so much freedom? Very few, that's what.
The characters in Shenmue are either very bland and ordinary people (Dobuita's fellow locals), or extremely fascinating (Lan Di, Guizhang, Chai). The voiceover work varies greatly, whilst it doesn't take away from the overall impression, the game does suffer from mediocre overall voice work. However, there is some good work in there, regardless (Chai, Lan Di, Iwao, Terry, Guizhang, Shozo Mizuki). That is practically the only fault in a game so vast and full of great promise.
The atmosphere, I cannot put into words, for it is untold how magnificent the atmosphere in this game is. No other game has pulled me in beforehand into its world. The feelings I get from it change all the time, each time I play, there are sections that are intense, emotional, saddening, joyful, distressing, funny.
This game is a prime example of what games can, and should accomplish; give the player a sudden rush of emotions, capture the player with its atmosphere so brilliantly like a great novel, a great experience to be had that the user will never, ever forget.
The graphics are still pristine, even to this day (eight years on from the original release date). The Dreamcast was truly a blessed system, whilst not the greatest, it certainly had the potential to be. The graphics and gameplay factors in Shenmue prove just that.
Need I utter another word for you? I do not even need to spell it out to you, or to myself; this game is absolutely well worth buying. It certainly made me interested in visiting Japan in the near future, that's for sure. The sequel lives up to this promise, adding even more incredible features to the series, that so desperately needs its third title. Sega, the time is now. Release Shenmue III, for we have waited long enough. Let us turn the next page and be swept away again.