This is it! The piece de resistance, the creme del le creme, the number one game on a forgotten system,Shenmue. Many fans of the game, still hoping to see the now evident, non existing finale of this acclaimed series somehow make a comback on todays generation, but from the years of yesteryear, we can still enjoy the first chapter of what would of been the greatest epic in video gaming history.
In Shenmue you star as Ryo Hazuki, a spirited teenager who wishes to avenge the death of his father by the hands of a mysterious man named Lan Di. Ryo, swearing vengence on his fathers death, goes on en epic journey to hunt down Lan Di. He travels through Yokosuka, taking jobs, making money, and fighting his way to gain access to Lan Di.
The story has the makings of an epic story, the great hero avenging the father from evil. This is perhaps it's greatest strength, besides the revolutionary gameplay setting it created back in 1999. Although it is unfortanate that we will never see the ending to this storyline as it should have been, Shenmue is a game that is memorable for many reasons.
The first is the free-roaming, MMORPG esque gameplay that lets you immerse yourself into a world that Ryo is in. The game simulates real-time very well with a day and night system, busy workplaces, character routines, and special "Fast Action Button smash" moments intermixed with the gameplay. To put it simply, there is so much to do that is not part of the storyline, and it is almost all worth trying once.
This seamless blend of story and real life also has it's own perks. For example, getting a job may lead you to more than money, but also closer to Lan Di. You also have access to special little prizes that, while never affect gameplay at all, are neat to collect, sell for money, and even view, as they show a history of SEGA made games, from Virtua Fighter to NiGHTS.
In fact, the fighting system the game uses is based off the Virtua Fighter layout, so similar moves will be noticable here. The system is well made, and makes the games faster moments exciting, as you can punch, grab, kick and parry various attackers, sometimes fighting five thugs at once. Combos can be done with quick button sequences and movements on the Dreamcast controller, and you can even learn new moves during the course of your quest from various disciplines of jujistu, tai-chi, and tae-kwan-do, just to name a few.
The game is also one of the more beautiful Dreamcast titles out there, with a detailed world in the large scale form. The streets are croweded with NPC's selling wares and shouting for your attention; the weather shifts from sunny to cloudy in seconds, and the overall realism the game has, right down to the buttons on Ryo's vest, is impressive.
Are there any pitfalls? The game suffers poor sound, thanks to horrible english translations and even worse voice overs. There are also some sound effects that become noticable when fighting enemies, such as grunts of pain or displeasure. These get repetitive to easily. Finally, the game has a very strange pacing, ranging from mundane boredom to super-fast action. You can go weeks without touching an aspect of the main storyline, just to explore the city, but this gets tedious quickly. Or, you can do a chapter in the storyline, only to ignite a chain of events that leads to numerous fight sequences. This pacing is a bit uneven.
But in the end, Shenmue is the best game on the Dreamcast. While the system may have come and gone so quickly, many of it's pinnacle titles, such as Shenmue, live on in some form or another. And like the Dreamcast, Shenmue is a game that is forgotten amongst the big blockbuster titles of Halo and Metal Gear Solid; A game that can never compete on the same scale as the popular kids in the playground. We still love Shenmue, both fans of video games and RPG's in general, so make sure to pick this one up from the bargin bin the next tiem the Dreamcast is on sale, you will not regret it.
Final Score- A