Shenmue - Review

Brilliant Is Not Justice

By: Erik

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 10
   Plot 7
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

15-25 hours


Title Screen

   Unless you lived under a rock during the past couple of months you've heard of Shenmue, the radical attempt at realistic gaming by Sega.  And again unless you were under that rock you probably have heard that it is brilliant. Let me tell you now that brilliant does not do this game justice.  One needs hundreds of adjectives to describe a game that may change the way video games are made here in the 21st century.  The pure innovation and creativity displayed in this game is reason enough to pick this puppy up, but there is more, much more.

   First of all the battle system is highly unorthodox to say the least.  Turn based?  Ha!  There are technically two battle systems, the QTE (Quick Time Event) battle system and the "Free Battle" battle system.  QTE is very much like Dragon's Lair if you've ever played it.  Quite simply different directions or buttons will flash on screen, you must quickly press the corresponding button on your controller or you could lose the battle.  If one loses the battle you simply replay it, no going back to the last save; which is very nice indeed.  The QTE battle system can be annoying and frustrating as often it will come out of no where, I like this, it keeps the gamer on his toes, but some players may not.  I myself was frustrated by the speed in which you must enter these commands some times, it takes some nice reaction time, that is for sure.

  The Free Battle system is much like a 3D fighter, Virtua Fighter to be exact.  Your character, Ryo Huzuki, is a martial arts master's son so he knows some nice karate moves that require button combinations to be pulled off.  Ryo has a punch and kick button as well as a dodge and throw.  Using combinations of these uses different moves, just like any other fighter.  The battles can be difficult, but just like the QTE battles you simply try again if you fail.  Sometimes you may find yourself in trouble because the area in which you can move while fighting is not out-lined at all, even though it may look like you can go some where, Ryo just won't move.  This can lead to some defeats, but overall the battle system is very fun and you crave the chance to beat some punks down!

"This ain't your average 'Kick the Can'"  

   Outside of combat is where you really get the game-play experience.  Everything you may have heard about this game being realistic is very true.  Ryo must travel around finding out the murderer of his father, forcing him to play a detective of sorts.  Any you can see you can talk to, you must learn what people can help you with certain problems and who cannot.  Most often random people walking down the street can't help you, but the owner of a Chinese restaurant can sure help you if you need something read in Chinese; then again that same Chinese gentlemen could hardly tell you where motorcycle riding gang members can be located, you must try some one else.  Very realistic, very cool.

  Ryo can buy any supplies he needs, and plenty he doesn't.  It's not like other RPGs where the next town always has better equipment then the last.  You must know what store to go to so you can get the necessary items, and most often no one will tell you what these items are unless you talk to the right person.  Luckily Ryo carries a notebook with him and writes everything down for you.  And people don't just wait around for you to ask them questions, they have real lives and go from place to place attending their errands, it's like being in the Truman Show for those of you that have seen the movie, everyone has their own thing, there's no guy that always stranding in front of the weapons store, everyone could be anywhere at any given time.

  It's a shame you can't more decisions for Ryo, he just acts on his own; very little user input.  Also I play yet another game where you cannot change the characters names.  I really like that feature and more and more games are just losing their customizability.  Of course the reason you really can't change the characters names is because of the voice acting.  I do not like voice attacking at all, and Shenmue did nothing to change my views of it.  The dialogue is very poorly done, some time choppy and often character's voices are just annoying to listen to.  Thankfully there is an option to turn it off, but the text isn't well done because when text is displayed there are two colors used to differentiate who is talking, blue for Ryo, and red for everyone else, it can be annoying when Ryo is talking to multiple people.

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting... o/~  

   As I mentioned above the game uses voice acting, and poorly at that.  The rest of the sound however is very fitting.  Nothing to blow your mind, but nothing that will make you turn the sound down.  The sound effects are nicely down and sound genuine.  The music itself fits the scene and conveys the mood.  Overall just a nicely done effort.

   Looking for a new and innovative game play experience?  Then you have come to the right place!  This game will change the way games are to be made, it's practically a genre of it's own.  We can only hope other RPGs follow in suit and continue the strive for realism in a fantasy world.  Such care and effort is given to every facet of the game so that you really are getting a totality new gaming experience.  Words really can't describe it, you have to experience it.

   The plot is pretty standard, 'start out doing something small, turns into something big'.  Because this is the 'beginning' of the Shenmue story one cannot really judge the story well, because it is incomplete.  But the basic plot moves quickly, perhaps to quickly, and allows you to be placed right in Ryo's shoes in his quest for vengeance, pretty standard.  Of course if the whole story was about vengeance what fun would that be?  A deeper plot is foreshadowed; virtually promised.  The best way to sum it up is that the plot is sufficient, it meets the demands of the game and goes a little above the call of duty, but nothing that'll have you taken aback.  

   The game actually takes place in Japan so the player is quickly given a crash course in Japanese culture, but rest assured from playing this game you won't be able to go to Japan and just blend in.  They make it so our western minds can handle the culture change without any big problems so something are a little western.  Overall they did a very nice job of having a game that takes place in Japan not totally confuse an American player.

  Play it again!?  Yes please!  There is so much to this game that you cannot take it in in one setting.  It's a shame the game only takes about twenty hours to beat because there is so much effort and time poured into every nook and cranny of the game.  To truly appreciate everything that was put into this game you have to give it a second run.  After that though it may never see your Dreamcast for a while.

  Visually the game is unparalleled for real-time graphics.  Heck most pre-rendered graphics would like to look this good.  The detail and realism that this game has is not comparable to anything on the market now.  The movement of the characters is life like and jaggies are not to be seen any where.  Although this RPG has some loading time, the amount of visuals and other items loaded in that short time will knock your socks off.  Even vastly superior machines such as the PS2 and X-Box (from demos) cannot compare to the stunning visuals in this game; even Gamecube demos could learn a thing or two from this game.  

make like a tree and leaf
Falling, falling.  

  Do not take this game lightly, it will eat you for breakfast.  The QTE requires some really nice reaction time that will give some players trouble, the Free Battles are fun, but some enemies can posses a major challenge.  A good game play experience because all the battles are beatable, but in the same token do take skill and concentration.  The puzzles can also take some working out, as I said earlier you practically do detective work, luckily a fortune teller can give you a hint if you are stuck, for a small fee of course.  It's quite a change from the recent pace of RPGs that tend to be so easy to demolish. 

  One thing that will leave you hanging is the shortness of this game, with only really twenty five hours tops to play you'll be left saying, 'you mean that's it?'.  The old saying goes 'all good things must come to an end' and Shenmue is no exception, only it ends to quickly.  Everything about the game is beautiful, but you can only enjoy it so long.

  Buy it, but it now.  This is reason enough to own a Dreamcast if you really need yet another.  Everyone should experience this game.  The realism and innovation are something you'd expect from a company that has been making games as long as Sega.  The voice acting is pathetic, but is there really any game that can pull of voice acting?  Not yet.  The game is short, but you'll play it at least on more time to take in all the great stuff.  You also can get rated on the Shenmue web-page via your Dreamcast modem (or snazzy new broadband adapter!) with other players that have beaten the game.  Reason enough to go back through as well.  So stop sitting at this computer reading this and play the game!

© 1998-2017 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy