Shenmue for Sega Dreamcast: Nick's Review

"Dreamcast" was, at one point in time, the name commonly associated with cutting edge video game technology. Sega was on top of the entire world with a Dreamcast crown, and with their regained power, they shot out exclusive after exclusive and created a legacy that was short lived, but well remembered. Between 1998 and 2001, the Sega put out Sonic Adventure, Space Channel 5, Phantasy Star Online, Samba De Amigo, Chu Chu Rocket, Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, and Sega Rally 2, just to name a few. But while most of these games were great and well advertised, Sega named one of these games as the game changer. It was a game so massive and so groundbreaking that they put over $40 million dollars into it. That's a lot of money to bet for a company fresh off the Saturn. What is this game, you may ask? I'm pretty sure it's the one in the title. It wouldn't make any sense to make this introduction if I was introducing Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. No, I'm talking about Yu Suzuki's gaming opus, Shenmue, released on the Dreamcast in 2000 here in the US.

Shenmue's story is incredibly basic if you boil it down to its plotline. The game opens in Yokosuka, Japan 1986, and main character Ryo Hazuki returns home to find his father confronting a mysterious Chinese man named Lan Di, who is demanding a "Mirror". Daddy Hazuki refuses to give its location, prompting Lan Di to grab and threaten to kill his son. He gives Lan Di the mirrors location, they have a fight where Hazuki is killed, and Lan Di leaves with the mirror in hand. Ryo swears to avenge his father's death by tracking down Lan Di and kill him. And from this point on, the entire game is about Ryo finding leads on Lan Di, inching him closer and closer to revenge. Along the way you meet a cast of colorful characters that aid and/or hinder your journey. The story isn't about the goal, but rather the journey. The game is full of characters you solve problems for, and it gives a nice sense of satisfaction when you're a help to someone, similar to Majora's Mask. What's different about Shenmue though is that sometimes these events are randomly chosen to a given playthrough. One time, you might run into some bullies on the street that trigger a cutscene and a battle, and another time, you might not. This helps keep the story fresh even if you're playing the game for the fifth time through.

But that's only one reason Shenmue keeps drawing me back, even after all this time. Shenmue isn't about one thing, or a group of related things. Shenmue is about total freedom, and I love it. Normally, a game that has this many things to do screams "unfocused". Assassins Creed III is very guilty of this. That game didn't have one connecting theme that tied the whole game together, it was a series of almost completely random gameplay elements threaded together through a story. If ACIII could talk, it would say "We have to hunt the deer. Oh, now we have to sneak passed some guards. Oh, now we have to get on our ship and upgrade our ship. Oh, now we need to rescue the prisoners". Shenmue is very different with its gameplay approach. There are a ton of different objectives to complete (Sneak pass the guard, fighting, QTE's, Forklift Driving etc.), but it's all for the sake of one concrete objective: Finding Lan Di. You sneak pass the guards because you know it'll help you get closer to Lan Di. You fight the biker gang leader because it'l help you get closer to Lan Di. It all flows together, and you completely understand that what you are doing is accomplishing something. Except when you don't want to be accomplishing something that is.

Shenmue also has one other main component: wasting time. You need to go to the Tattoo shop because someone there has information, but it doesn't open up until 12 pm the next day. So what do you want to do? Do you want to play Space Harrier in the arcade, or do you want to spend 100 yen on another toy capsule? Do you want to get a soda, or perhaps train in a parking lot? How about buying a cassette tape, playing darts, chatting it up with Tom at the hot dog stand or learning new techniques via purchasable scrolls? Yes, Shenmue is filled with a boatload of things to do to kill your time. And every one of these is either designed to better you as a player, such as sparring or a QTE arcade machine, or is just designed to be a good time, like toy capsule collecting and Hang On. It's never dull waiting around as a result.

Now, no video game is perfect. Shenmue is guilty of having the worst voice acting I've ever heard in a video game. People find this to be a part of Shenmue's charm, but play one of these games in Japanese some time. I can assure you, it feels like your ears have been saved by the heavens. But what's strange is that Shenmue has done such a good job providing an atmosphere that I can see why people attribute it to Shenmue's charm. Video Games are an illusion. We buy into that illusion based on how alive the world we play in feels. Not exactly real, but alive. Shenmue feels like a place, and that trademark terrible voice acting is a part of that place. It's so consistently wooden that you'd think that everyone here talks in that language. And you know a game has done something right when these voice performances get this big of a pass.

Let me be honest with you: I could go on for a long time explaining why Shenmue is a great game and how absolutely fun it is. I didn't even cover its long history as a Virtua Fighter RPG and why we haven't seen Shenmue III for over a decade. But to put it lightly, no amount of explaining can do it justice. Shenmue is a experience.One that isn't about one thing or even an idea, but a feeling. We haven't been able to replicate experiences as words, so for now just take my word: play this game.

Final Verdict: A must play

One Sentence Reasoning: Shenmue is one of the finest examples of creating a world and immersing the player into it, if not the finest.

Have you played Shenmue? Tell us what you think of it!

This article is our 749th oldest. It is 1109 words long, and it’s got 1 comment for now.

  • Halaty

    Agreed. I remember I use to ovlorecck my Sega Dreamcast to play Quake 3 at an acceptable pace:P.As for Shenmue 2, it was really good the game did a good job at making you insecure and to feel like ur truly away from your safe zone (your home). The map was also like 5 times bigger than Shenmue 1, which made it a longer game all together. I Have Shenmue special edition and Europe Shenmue 2, I also downloaded the pal English dub from Xbox version of Shenmue 2, which is fun because I can play the pal versions and carry over my stuff:P.P.SThe dub english for shenmue 2 Xbox was awful, you Actually felt like he was in a recording room and not in the middle of a busy Street. everything seems to dim in the background, but meh its nice to have english sometimes for no brainer gaming:PVN:F [1.9.17_1161](from 0 votes)
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