Developer: d3t Ltd.
Release Date: 08/21/2018
Also Available On
Shenmue is one of those games I never got a chance to play and have wanted to all these years. You always hear people talking about it, it pops up in “Best Of” videos and “Worst Of” videos, especially for the Dreamcast system itself. Shenmue was a beast all on its own back in the day as no one had tried these gameplay ideas before. Sure, it’s an adventure game on the surface, but it’s also a life simulator, fighting game, and mini-game extravaganza all in one. It’s weird, beautiful, ugly, and frustrating all at the same time, and yet somehow it all kind of works.
You play as a high school boy named Ryo Hazuki. He gets home one day and his father died while fighting a Chinese man named Lhan Di. He steals something called the Dragon Mirror and you must somehow get it back. The weird thing about the story is that the end goal never really matters, but all the stuff in-between. What is this Dragon Mirror and why does Ryo need to get it back? It’s really never explained except something about fulfilling a prophecy and the end times will come if Di keeps it…I don’t know, the story is so unbelievable and weird.
The game starts out like any other adventure game as you wake up in your room and commence rummaging around the house pulling open drawers, finding items, and trying to figure out where to go. Thankfully that’s something Shenmue does do right as I rarely didn’t know what to do or where to go. After setting foot in the village I watched a few cutscenes, knocked on about a dozen doors, and kept going through the town figuring out where to go. Eventually, I ended up in the main city where half of the game takes place. The first few hours have Ryo running around asking questions to get clues to then go to that person or place for either a cutscene or more clues. This continuous cycle of clue finding felt satisfying as I met some interesting characters and felt connected to the world of Shenmue.
Sadly, there’s a huge disappointingly frustrating factor about all of these events: They are time-sensitive. You have to wait for in-game time to pass before certain events unfold. That wouldn’t be so bad but you can’t skip time so I literally went and did other things like chores, cooking, or playing a different game while time passed. Sometimes it would take almost 45 minutes for time to pass where I need it to be, then a small cutscene would play out, then it’s back to waiting again once I find the next clue that requires more waiting. It would also be fine if there were things to do, but outside of a few real Sega arcade games, and collecting Gotcha prizes there are no side quests or anything to do. It’s so incredibly boring to sit and wait through all of this, and if you miss your time frame you have to wait again. Waiting also goes for catching the bus to the harbor and working a real forklift job.
Oh my God, yes the infamous forklift section of the game. This literally took up an entire 4 hours of the game. You work 8-5 for 5 in-game days driving a forklift from one end of the harbor and loading boxes into a warehouse. It’s both beautifully addictive and stupidly frustrating and annoying. All of this is so the Mad Angels, a drug cartel, in the game will pick on you because you’re new and you can obtain information from them after every fight. Not to mention the annoying forklift race at the beginning of each day with the same track. Man, it’s so stupid and frustrating and I both loved it and hated it.
After the forklift section, there are a few more fights and the game is done. The fighting itself is surprisingly impressive with responsive controls, fast and fluid animations, and plenty of combos. Outside of the Free Battles, there are QTE battles which can be hard as well as the reaction time they give you is literally milliseconds. The visuals of the game haven’t been updated all that much. There are newer lighting effects, and better shadows, and the characters have smoothed over textures, but overall it still looks like a 20-year-old game. There are still plenty of bugs and glitches such as being stuck in first-person mode after driving the forklift, hard crashes, and objects disappearing completely.
The music is annoying and repetitive with only one short track per area and it just isn’t very good, the voice acting is awful and even the Japanese voice track is questionable sometimes. The audio in general still sounds compressed and really bad, and the game is just really rough around the edges. So why should you play it? It’s a weird piece of gaming history on a system that died faster than it could blink. The characters are interesting and the various activities are fun, but the long waiting and various missteps keep Shenmue from being a fantastic game.