In the peak of Sega’s creativity, legendary developer Yu Suzuki was finally able to release the long-awaited and heavily-hyped project that was started on the Sega Saturn’s hardware, but was able to thrive on the Dreamcast’s extra power.
Shenmue defied traditional gaming genres and took elements from a number of game types. It features strong RPG elements, includes a fighting engine based off of Yu Suzuki’s other project, Virtua Fighter, and has the exploration aspects of more modern games. In addition it has a combination of story, environment, and graphical prowess that was not matched for quite a while.
Even though it is one of the Defining Games on the Dreamcast, Shenmue is not for everyone. It is not a fast-action game, but instead requires patience and long gaming sessions. Some may find it borning at times, but if give the proper chance, it can be an engaging experience.
“Wandering through the town, you’re bound to be impressed by the beautifully rendered environments. Streets, buildings, parks, all have been exquisitely and painstakingly detailed. You can examine everything up close and still not find fault in the scenery. You’re free to wander around wherever you want — I didn’t find many of the “invisible walls” that plague so many 3D games. Additionally, almost every item in the game can be grasped, picked up, and inspected. The details on these objects are every bit as intricate as those of the buildings and streets outside. The level of detail in this game is jaw-dropping, and being able to inspect all of these items up close helps to make you feel like you’re a part of this massive world.”
“Besides the absolutely stunning visuals and breathtaking soundtrack, Shenmue’s most amazing feat lies in the emotional interaction between yourself and other people, and the realistic nature of everything around you. Shenmue runs in real time, meaning the entire game is on a clock, albeit an accelerated one… As pieces of the plot unravel, there will be times when you are faced with various action scenes, with the most common being free fighting and Quick Time Event. QTE is a Dragon’s Lair style event, which is used in choreographed fight scene, a chase down the street, or anything else twitch-like. It was basically a way to make an “interactive” cut scene. They are a lot of fun, and if you screw up, they can (sometimes must) be done over.”
“The act of classification is done for the sake of simplifying ideas to ease comprehension. Somehow, the video game industry loves to go beyond ease of comprehension… nowadays, new categories are created in the video game industry just so products can be declared “first of its kind” or have a better chance at end of the year awards. This causes a problem for Shenmue because it combines elements from all types of categories and doesn’t specialize in any. Is it considered an RPG because of its leveling up of attacks and interaction with NPCs (non-player characters for you non-D&D types), or is it considered a fighting game because of its solid 3D fighting game engine? Perhaps its an 3D adventure game due to the immense exploration you’ll be doing, but what about the Quick Timer Events? Does that make it an action game?”
“It isn’t hard to be critical of Shenmue in retrospect, considering what was pledged during the pre-release hype. Indeed, initial stages of play feel nothing other than an empty graphical showcase, and it’s hard to shake off the feeling that style is dominating substance. Following a long introduction (during which Ryo’s father is killed by a mysterious man), the game finally opens in a family house where apart from repeatedly pressing the A button, there isn’t much else to do.
But impressions can be deceptive, especially as Shenmue isn’t particularly accessible or an immediately inviting experience to get into. Patience and a willingness to partake an explorative philosophy are required to wring the most from the game. One of the main attractions is that Sega has provided an intricate and believable world to interact with, flooded in detail and choice. Phone your friends, gamble, or simply visit the local arcade. Outside of the story, it’s up to you what to do.”
If you would like to read and see more about Shenmue and its following projects, I suggest you take a look at Shenmue Dojo — a top-notch site for Shenmue lovers and newbies alike.