Shenmue - Retroview

An Introduction
By: Solon

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 5
   Music & Sound 9
   Originality 8
   Story 7
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Completion Time 20-40hrs  

Hmm, the screenshot makes the game look uglier than it is..
Hmm, the screenshot makes the game look uglier than it is..

   So, this is the title I've been hearing about for so long. The title that claims to be the rival of all other RPGs, the title that claims to be the best above all, Shenmue. Well, I must say that it's overrated, it has some serious flaws, you know. But then again, there are some parts in this game that are unforgettable. You don't have to either love or hate this game.

   Let's start with the basic things, such as the interface and overall system. While Shenmue is mostly about running around talking to other people, you won't spend more than one percent of the gametime in some menu. The so-called inventory is very tiny, and you won't use it much. The note-book that Ryo always writes in is okay though, and the notes in the book is realistic, since Ryo often shortens words and sentences, making it look like he's in a hurry when he's writing (which he always is). Sometimes I had to read the notes twice or so to understand his grammar, but maybe that's just my bad english playing tricks on me.

   Sometimes I had problems hearing what the characters said as well. Some of the spoke with a very low voice, and some of them had a very strange dialect, making it impossible to hear anything. There were some other problems with the localization as well. For example, all signs and names were in japanese. Fortunately, I can read japanese that much, so I had no problem navigating through towns, but for the one who can't, it will probably be frustrating to zoom in on the building to get the english translation all the time. I guess I can't complain too much about the voices though, as there are more voices in this game than in any other... I don't even want to think about how much time the developers spent looking for voice-actors.

   About the visuals, Shenmue has to be the prettiest Dreamcast game that ever made it to the stores. Even though being about 3 years old now, it still has very good graphics. Especially the characters are well made, and highly detailed.

Ryo, our hero and martial artist
Ryo, our hero and martial artist

   Now that we've finished off the decent or bad parts about this game, let's get onto the good ones. The music for example. Shenmue has a soundtrack worth more than the price of the game itself. Some of the tunes are so powerful that players might find themselves totally lost in the music, and not listening to the dialogue at all. There are some flaws in the music section as know, the same theme played in every village. It's tiring, and I hope the future Shenmue games doesn't have this. Also, the soundeffects were a little dull. The ones in battle sounds more or less like the old Street Fighter games. I demand higher quality.

   Above all this, Shenmue is very original. And this is also where battle comes in. There aren't any experience points, levels, swords or weapons etc in Shenmue. There are two kinds of battles, one is called QTE and one is Free Battle. In QTE (I think it's quick time events) you have to follow a cut-scene and press certain buttons very quickly when the game tells you to. For example, if an enemy throws something at you, the game tells you to move to the left or to the right by showing an arrow in the middle of the screen. This is loads of fun. Free battle however, is not that cool. Here Ryo can move around freely and beat up enemies at the same time. There are tons of different moves to learn, and you perform them by putting in different combos on your controller, just like in fighting-games. You often meet like 5-10 guys at the same time in free battle, and all of them attack you furiously, making it impossible for any kind of strategy to work. Meaning, you will end up button-mashing in all free battles until you win, and since there is no game over in Shenmue (when you "die" you just get to do the scene over again) this isn't a problem. By now you have probably realized that Shenmue is incredibly easy. Quests are obvious, battles are simple, and since there is no game over, you don't have to worry about anything.

   Well, now that we have all of that behind us, let's talk about the plot. When I played Shenmue, it reminded me a lot of .hack://Infection. Shenmue is the first part in the series, and it will leave you with a real cliffhanger. However, the series will continue, and just like in .hack you will have to buy the upcoming volumes to find out how the story went on. In Shenmue we get introduced to Ryo Hazuki, a young man who just saw his father being killed by some martial artist. The martial artist, called Lan Di, also stole a mysterious mirror from your father. That's just about everything Ryo knows, and it will stay that way for a long time. Don't get frustrated if you don't know anything about the plot after finishing the first episode, because things will become clearer in Shenmue 2. This is just an introduction.

   An introduction being fairly short though, around 20 Hours I'd say. However, you always have the possibillity to do some other things in Shenmue. You can talk to anyone at any time. You can play games in the arcade, you can shop, you can take care of your cat, you can train martial arts etc. Since you will become tired of all this on the first run, you won't be playing this game again for a long time. The plot isn't that exciting in the first episode, so there won't be much to return to. In conclusion, Shenmue is overrated, but still an ok game. It's original, it has a brilliant musical score, a mysterious plot and good graphics. But still, it wasn't enough. I guess it takes the whole series to decide what you really think about it.

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