Shenmue I & II hits me right in the throwback feels because it’s my childhood which goes to say something about my age but I digress. Now for those who never grew up in the early 2000s Shenmue on the Dreamcast was at its initial launch a black horse title that Sega released and didn’t have any real initial backing except the hype you could see through a dial-up connection on the GameFAQs forums. No one really knew what to expect with it and then the game hit, and simply put it was one of the best games ever to be released on the Sega Dreamcast.
We had Phantasy Star Online; we had Sonic Adventure and then we had Shenmue and the game was simply amazing, not without its faults but let’s dive into it real quick you play as Ryo Hazuki a young man with something to prove, and on one fateful day you witness your father get murdered for an ancient Chinese mirror, This starts Ryo on his quest for revenge and the journey therein. However the entire game is basically boiled down to its core getting from point A to point B and as such, it involves a lot of mini-games, storytelling, and capsules collecting old Sega goods for your bedroom.
Ryo traverses his local town looking for clues about who the person who murdered his father was and as you progress through the story and find out Lan Di murdered his father and he comes from China your priority changes during the gameplay and your focus then becomes pursuing Lan Di to China so you can uncover the truth behind the mirror and his father’s murder; through countless trial and tribulations not to mention mini-games just to get there.
Now from a personal perspective, this game helped lay the foundations for what has been the vilest thing in gaming the dreaded quick time events; early on you encounter these and they are simply infuriating, like playing Simon Says until it leads to the continuing screen. It’s difficult, it’s irritating, and it’s all together infuriating but if you can keep your cool and manage to get past those infrequent idiocies then you are presented with the few moments where you can use your combat skills.
Because in Shenmue the game does have fighting mechanics; after all Ryo Hazuki is a martial artist just like his father Iawo Hazuki, before him; now combat in the game is similar to that of a 2D fighter but done from a 3D perspective; your attacks are done simply by combining buttons together in the hopes of hitting your opponent; however if you are like me and are unfamiliar with 2D fighting games get ready for a massive learning curve and a lot of game overs. However the game is forgiving in some regards as Ryo, can train at his Dojo with his friend so you do have ample time to learn the controls before you actively get your butt handed to you by the unforgiving NPC. The game as a whole though isn’t the problem I have actively encountered through my years of playing these titles; where Shenmue shines the brightest is where a lot of game developers seem to put little effort into now a day’s.
The story; the characters, the settings the developers spend so much time giving backstory and depth to the characters in Japan; in Shenmue that they feel alive from taking in a stray cat and feeding it, you feel bad for it, you want to take care of it so you bring it food that you spend your money that your character earns throughout the game. You hear and listen to your friend’s problems in the game and you want to help them, train with them, and fight with them and the game effect’s you on a human level.
You start to realize that you have become invested in these characters, and their stories you want to know more about Lan Di, Ryo, and his friend Masayuki not to mention his love interest Nozomi Harasaki and as the journey unfolds you get to know more about these characters and the world building involved that helps you feel more accomplished as you get to the end of each game. The sacrifices that they all make to help you on your quest as you seek to avenge your father’s death and also what it means to the player to continue on this long and arduous story…
The story is what shines the best in the Shenmue Series and its thanks to Sega that we will finally get some closure for the series as well; the game was so popular but the Dreamcast nearing its lifespan near the end of production for Shenmue II decided that they should port Shenmue II to the Xbox instead of the Dreamcast; but I was able to play a portion of it back then thanks to my brother’s clever modding. Shenmue is one of the best games out there it’s possibly one of the most defining games of a generation and remains strong even now I am personally so happy that the series has made its way to the PC so everyone can enjoy this masterpiece.
Sure, the game does have its faults but from beginning to end the game also has a lot of great features as well and you can even collect Sega games inside the Sega game to play more Sega games; and let’s face it, that’s just icing on the cake. Shenmue is a game that can challenge and will challenge both old and new gamers alike with its unforgiving controls; and its beautiful story that keeps making you want to come back for more despite the stress you’re under from playing it.
Also, the music is simply tear-jerkingly beautiful; and if you don’t want to play the first game and not become highly involved like a lot of other gamers you can actually just go watch Shenmue the movie; which covered all the important bits from the first game regardless if you do want to become emotionally invested in a really great game series than I highly recommend Shenmue I & II to everyone.
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