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Shenmue Review

Brian_Gee By:

Ryo's big adventure.

Have you ever had one of those days where you wake up and just don't feel like yourself? That's exactly what happened to me a few days ago. I rolled out of bed only to notice a bandage on my face and the Dragon Ball-ness of my hair. Things got even stranger when I grabbed a fresh pair of boxers only to notice the name "Ryo" written on the tag. Suddenly, it all came back to me. I am Ryo Hazuki. My father was murdered and it's up to me to avenge him. I must seek out the killer and deliver him a message...

If it wasn't for my considerate co-workers, I might have permanently forgotten my true identity. I am an editor for the esteemed Game Revolution and the last few days was only a game.

That "game" was Shenmue, and it indeed took over my life. Luckily, I have survived to tell the tale. From famed game designer Yu Suzuki comes a masterpiece of video gaming, and although it isn't perfect, it marks a revolutionary step in video game design.

The year is 1986. The place is Yokosuka, Japan. Players take on the role of Ryo Hazuki in a quest to solve the mystery of his father's murder and extract vengeance on the killers.

Shenmue is basically an adventure game that borrows aspects from RPGs, fighters, and even racers. Much of the game is spent exploring Ryo's world and following clues to find his dad's killer. A lot of detective work is involved, and since all the rituals of daily life (working, sleeping, etc.) still carry on, the game's slow progress can be a test of patience.

Often, Ryo must meet specific people at certain times and places. Missing these events could lead to the loss of a valuable clue. Fortunately, not every single clue is needed to solve the mystery. Also, if some key event is missed, the game will automatically rewind itself to a point where players can have a second chance.

The world Ryo inhabits imitates real life to a near perfect degree. You can interact with almost everything in the game. Want to go through all the kitchen drawers? No problem. Thirsty? You'd better decide on what type of soda you like. Feel like playing some arcade games? Head over to the You's Arcade, strap yourself in, and play a pair of Sega classics. The amount of detail wrapped up into Suzuki-san's masterpiece is simply amazing.

The RPG aspect of Shenmue involves gaining items as well as building up your character's traits. As a martial artist, Ryo needs to hone his skills for battles to come. Players choose what course his studies will take and advance specific statistics for each move Ryo learns. They can even discover new techniques for Ryo by exploring the right places.

The real world is not a friendly place, and the world in Shenmue is no different. Fighting often takes on a Virtua Fighter style of play and pits Ryo against some shady characters. With a huge library of possible moves and combinations, Shenmue's free fighting bits almost feel like a true fighting game. It's only missing this one thing.

In addition to the real-time fighting, Shenmue incorporates timed events a la Dragon's Lair. A scripted action appears and players must push a certain button at the right instance. Since it's only occasional and doesn't take up the bulk of the gameplay, this type of play adds a fresh feel and more excitement.

Not satisfied yet? There's still more. Vehicles exist in the world of Shenmue and there will be occasions when Ryo must test his driving skill. Whether it be a forklift or motorcycle, you'd best be ready to show off some serious speed. Racing in Shenmue, who knew? Again, most every genre here is covered.

The control takes some getting used to. Moving around isn't as intuitive as you'd hope, as the standard camera seems a bit too low. But after a while it becomes a non-issue.

The amazing level of detail wouldn't be the same without life-like graphics, and in this, Shenmue does not disappoint. Arguably one of the most graphically advanced console titles to date, this game's got all the graphical flavor you could want. Textures are spot-on and characters have unique facial animations that help bring them to life right before your eyes. Weather changes also occur in order to match the game's clock and calendar. It's all here - every little juicy detail.

Additionally, the game brings new meaning to the word "cinematic." The transition from gameplay to cut-scene is seamless, as almost every cut-scene is rendered flawlessly in-engine. You never break from the story to watch some flashy FMV. At times, it feels like you're playing a movie.

Ambient sounds are also done very well. Birds chirping, wind blowing, cars passing; it's unbelievable how much detail is in here. However, the voice-acting demon that has plagued many a console adventure game has struck again. With a multi-million dollar budget, you would think that the so-called "voice talent coordinators" would be able to find some decent voice talent. Gamers everywhere are sick of hearing the producer's father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommates do the voice acting. Almost any bum could have done a better job.

The only other gripe I have with this game is that it doesn't really end. Like the first book in an epic fantasy series, Shenmue leaves you wanting more. It's pretty disappointing to reach the end of a game only to find out that it's not the actual end of the game. Also, the next chapter will most likely take its time in making an appearance and will add to the cost for the entire experience. Still, I logged close to 40 hours of game time, and I certainly didn't explore every nook and cranny.

The initial reactions I've seen for Shenmue have been mixed. Some love it and some hate it, but pretty much everyone can agree that it's a departure from the norm. The important thing to keep in mind about Shenmue is that it's an adventure game. The pacing can get slow and often you'll spend a great deal of time wandering around talking to people. This is not a good game for the impatient, quick-twitch action junkie.

But it's a great game for everyone else. While Shenmue may not initially appeal to the mass gaming audience, it sure as hell appeals to me. This is truly a game that everyone needs to experience at least once. All it requires is patience, so keep this in mind.

A- Revolution report card
  • Revolutionary level of detail
  • Superb graphics
  • Very cinematic
  • Varying types of gameplay
  • Whaddya mean it's not real?
  • Slow going
  • Poor voice acting
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