Shenmue review

alex9234’s Sunday Review

Welcome to another episode of Sunday Review. Today, I’m going to review the Sega Dreamcast’s most famous game. When this came out in 1999, it was the most expensive game ever made, with it’s marketing and production costs totaling a whopping $70 million. But, the good folks at Sega AM2 still managed to put out an amazing game, which is also the game that inspired future open world titles like Grand Theft Auto III and the Assassin’s Creed series. This game is Virtua Fighter creator Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece Shenmue, which came out on the Dreamcast in 1999.

The Plot

Shenmue takes place from late 1986 to early 1987 in the town of Yokosuka, Japan, located just south of Tokyo, and follows the story of teen martial artist Ryo Hazuki. Ryo had been living a fairly decent life, but it then comes to a tragic end, as he walks into the family dojo behind his house and witnesses his father, Iwao Hazuki try to fend off a mysterious man named Lan Di. Lan Di demands that Iwao hand over an item called the Dragon Mirror, but Iwao refuses to reveal where it is. Ryo tries to save his father, but Lan Di injures him and nearly kills him, but Iwao reveals the mirror’s location, saving Ryo’s life. After Lan Di’s henchmen take the mirror, he mentions the name Sunming Zhao, a man that Iwao supposedly killed while in China. Both men engage in combat one last time, and then Lan Di lands a fatal blow on Iwao, and he and his henchmen leave. Iwao dies in Ryo’s arms shortly after, and Ryo vows to take revenge.

Ryo then begins his investigation by interviewing people in Yokosuka about what they witnessed. Running short on leads, Ryo then receives a letter from a a Chinese man named Yuanda Zhu, which tells him to seek the help of Master Chen, who works at Yokosuka Harbor. Chen, as wells as his son Guizhang, tell Ryo that a gang known as the Mad Angels is connected to Lan Di’s criminal syndicate, the Chi You Men. He also finds out that the mirror that Lan Di took is part of a set of two mirrors. After much investigating, he finds the second mirror located underneath his father’s dojo, called the Phoenix Mirror. In order to learn more about the Mad Angels gang, Ryo gets a job at Yokosuka Harbor as a forklift driver. Eventualy, he somehow manages to anger the gang enough that they kidnap his best friend, Nozomi Harazaki. In order to Ryo to rescue Nozomi, the gang forces him to fight Guizhang, in exchange for Nozomi and a meeting with Lan Di. Ryo realizes that the deal is a trap, and he and Guizhang team up, defeat the Mad Angels, and rescue Nozomi. Upon his defeat, the gang’s leader reveals that Lan Di has fled to Hong Kong…

The Gameplay

Shenmue’s gameplay is open world based, and you guide Ryo throughout Yokosuka, searching for clues, examining objects, and talking to other people in town for information. Shenmue also features a 3D fighting system that is similar to that of Virtua Fighter, and Ryo can practice his moves in certain areas of town. The game takes place in real time as well, as shops open and close, buses run to timetables, and each character has their own routines that run according to the game clock. Ryo can investigate items and elements like tables, drawers, cabinets and shelves. Ryo also gets an allowance from the housekeeper Ine once every day, and can be spent on items like food, raffle tickets, music cassettes (well, it is 1986…), and capsule toys. Ryo can also go to the local arcade and play complete versions of the Sega arcade classics Hang-On and Space Harrier – games that Yu Suzuki also created. Ryo will eventually get a job and must transport crates between warehouses with a forklift, as well as compete in forklift races (LOLWUT?).

Yes, believe it or not, there are quicktime events, and this is apparently the game that made quicktime events popular. These quicktime events are important, as you have to complete them in order to advance the story at certain points in the game.

The Characters

Ryo Hazuki – Age: 18 – Ryo is the main character of Shenmue. He is the son of martial arts master Iwao Hazuki, who had been training Ryo since he was 7. Though he is devoted and shows a strong love for the martial arts, he has no interest in succeeding his father as master of the Hazuki Dojo. He also shys away from any involvement with girls because of an incident where a friend of his humiliated him for having feelings for a girl when he was a kid. After his father was killed, he swears to take revenge on Lan Di.

Nozomi Harazaki – Age: 18 – Nozomi is Ryo’s best friend. She was originally born in Vancouver, Canada, but moved to Japan when she was in junior high school. She is fluent in both English and Japanese and dreams of becoming a translator or interpreter in the future. Following the murder of Ryo’s father, Nozomi’s parents want her to move back to Canada, but her fears for Ryo later in the game, especially when Ryo decides to leave for Hong Kong, keep her from making up her mind.

Ine Hayata – Age: 64 – Ine is the housekeeper at the Hazuki Residence. Ryo lost his mother to an illness when he was only 3 years old, and Ine helped bring up Ryo after his mother’s passing. Ryo views Ine as a mother figure and has a good relationship with her. She provides Ryo with an allowance once every day, and she constantly worries about Ryo and his desire to get his revenge on Lan Di.

Guizhang Chen – Age: 30 – Guizhang is the son of Yaowen Chen, aka Master Chen. He works for his father’s trading business and is being trained in the Yan Qing Style, a martial art style handed down from multiple generations of his family, by his father. As an international businessman, Guizhang is fluent in many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, English and Russian. He eventually works with Ryo in helping him get to Hong Kong, and he also helps him rescue Nozomi from the Mad Angels biker gang.

My Thoughts

I had been planning to check out Shenmue for some time, as a friend of mine had a Dreamcast and this game, so I asked if I could start a file, and I played through about 3/4ths of the game, and I remember enjoying it very much. This game holds up very well after 18 years. The gameplay is very well done – it controls very well, the combat system is very well done, and I really liked the fact that in practice mode, you can learn new moves. The soundtrack is also very well done. Also, for a Dreamcast game, the graphics are great, with very detailed backgrounds and objects. The characters are also very well detailed as well. However, there are some issues. Though the quicktime events, for the most part, are fine and give you enough time to press the right buttons, they’re still easy to mess up on. Another issue is the game’s mediocre voice acting. It’s not terrible, it’s FAR better than that of Resident Evil’s, but it’s average to mediocre at best. Example:

In the end, Shenmue is still a great game, and arguably the best game in the Sega Dreamcast’s library. It helped set the standard for future open world sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto III, Assassin’s Creed, Yakuza, and Sleeping Dogs. Just thinking about it makes me want to get a Dreamcast and play it again.

My score: 9/10


Published by alex9234

A skeptical game writer who doesn't believe the gaming press.

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