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
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
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
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.