30 Reviews in 30 Days, Day 27 – Shenmue

As I have said before, the Dreamcast is my favorite console. No, it does not have the horsepower of the 360 or the PS3, but there was something about it that just stood out.

For a system that had such a short life span, there were some amazing games made for it. I’ve already done reviews of two of them: Jest Grind Radio and Marvel VS Capcom 2. Granted, I did review the 360 version of the later, but it was based on the Dreamcast’s nearly flawless arcade port. There were many others, from Skies of Arcadia to Grandia II.

Still, one game stands out above all the rest. One game that, when I was able to get my second Dreamcast, I knew I had to get. One game that those of us who still own the console just cannot imagine not having in our collection.

That game is Shenmue.

Like nothing you have ever played

So just what is it that makes Shenmue so good? Well, it is a little hard to explain, but since this is my review of one of my tope 5 games of a;; time, I will try.

It all starts with the opening movie. Ryo Hazuki is returning to his family dojo when when he witnesses his father Iwao being attacked by a mysterious assailant. Ryo tried to intervene, but the man manages to take him down. He then threatens to kill Ryo if his father does not tell him where the Dragon Mirror is located. Iwao relents, and the mysterious man’s henchman track it down. The man then reveals himself as Lan Di, the student of a man he claims Iwao murdered. The two face off one last time, with Lan Di easily dodging the attacks of his older assailant and brutally attacking Iwao, leaving him for dead. As Lan and his henchmen leave, Iwao has just enough life left in him to apologize to utter a few last words to Ryo.

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In Shenmue, you play Ryo, a 18 year old trying to avenge his father’s murder.

You awaken a few days later, still recovering a bit from the battle with Lan Di. The only clue you have about the man who killed your father is a vehicle some of your friends saw leaving the family home the day it occurred. As Ryo, you will explore the nearby town of Yokosuka, trying to put together the clues behind your father’s hidden past and avenge his death.

So the game draws you in from the beginning, helping you identify with the main character and giving you a reason to play. The strong story, however, is only part of what sets this game apart.

A questing we will go

The main part of Shenmue is spent on a quest to avenge your father. You do this by exploring the the nearby town and your family’s estates, trying to find clues as to what happened that day and where Lan Di can be found. These clues will lead you from the shopping districts to the dankest of bars, following a trail that gets more twisted as you go.

Of course, there is a downside to the questing. As you roam around the city, you will end up asking the same questions of the people there over and over again. All you need to do is say to anyone who has played the game “Do you know where I can find some sailors?’ and you will illicit a knowing smirk. Still, the conversation system was pretty sophisticated for its time. and your dialogue with the main characters in the game is fortunately much better than that.

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Amazing graphics help you really get into the story, despite the sometimes repetative quests.

Now if all you did was the questing in this game, it would get pretty old pretty fast. Fortunately, Shenmue has a little more going for it.

Let’s get to the action

Shenmue was created by legendary Japanese developer Yu Suzuki, the creator of such games as Space Harrier and Virtua Fighter. Though it is not like me to name drop in a review, that lineage plays a major part in the gameplay of Shenmue.

At various points in the game, you will enter into combat. The combat plays out very similarly to that of Virtua Fighter, with the main difference being you are often taking on more than just one person at a time. You have to master different attacks and combos to make it through the battles, and the more you use the moves in combat, the more proficient your fighting becomes. You can also find areas to train scattered throughout the town and even in your own dojo. On top of that, you can find new move charts in shops that will make you a better fighter, and you will run across people in the game who will teach you new attacks and tactics.

Then there are the Quick Time Events. Shenmue may not have been the originator of these strategic button presses through cinematic sequences, but it did help pave the way for what is now commonly used in games like God of War.

Still, one thing truly sets this game apart. As you near the end, you are faced with one of the most impressive battles in any game ever.

70 man battle Royall!

You make some powerful allies in this game. You also make some powerful enemies. Near the end, you and a character by the name of Gui Zhang must fight side by side against a wave of 70 opponents!

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Survive QTEs, traing for the 70 man battle, and even get a job.

No, I did not get that number wrong. You face off against 70 fighters in this battle, something that just makes many other games pale in comparison. If you are foolish enough, you can try to rush through this, getting to a point where you are being attacked from all sides. It is much better to take a more measured approach, however. If you stay next to Gui and only advance as you defeat the enemies around you, you will face smaller groups of attackers at once and have a chance to recover between fights. Being a little more deliberate in you approach will help you make your way through an experience unlike any other. This is where you really need the training and moves you have picked up throughout the game. I found one particular combo very effective in this battle, and mastering it helped give me the upper hand.

Oh, and the best part about this battle? Beating it and the game gives you the chance to play a new mode that takes you directly back to it.

The unfortunate fate of the franchise

Ask anyone who has ever played Shenmue, and they will tell you it left a lasting impression on them. The game was only meant to be one part of a much larger story, with Ryo leaving Japan for China at the end, left with more questions about Lan Di and his motives than answers. Unfortunately, only the sequel was ever completed, and Suzuki pulled out of the production when he learned it would not be released on the Dreamcast. As a result, Shemue 2 lacks the elegance of the original, though it is still a good game in its own right. There have been rumors of a Shenmue 3, but Suzuki himself has said production on what would be the final chapter has been put on hold. It is too bad, really. Shenmue was Suzuki’s pride and joy, and a legend like him deserves the chance to finish his story.

An amazing story, unique gameplay and the mother of all final battles make Shenmue a game worth playing. Heck, even the part later in the game where you get a job is fun. And I haven’t even mentioned the graphics, which put most PS2 and even some Xbox games to shame.  With equal parts fighting game, free-roaming RPG and cinematic experience, Shenmue gets a 5 out of 5.

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2 down, 3 more to go. The 30 Reviews in 30 Days has just about come to an end.

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