Shenmue Review (RETRO)

by October 23rd, 2007
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Perfect opening….but will we ever see the ending?

‘Why don’t you get a job?’

This was the advice my brother gave me, and he was right! In between avenging the death of my father and fulfilling an ancient prophecy, I could also apply for paid work to fund my miniature toy addiction. This only happens in one game: Shenmue.

gamers are blessed with an unparalleled level of freedom

Although described as an adventure, Yu Suzuki’s Dreamcast masterpiece is in a genre of it’s own, where gamers are blessed with an unparalleled level of freedom. You may be on the hunt for a killer but, as with anything in life, there are plenty of opportunities to procrastinate. You can easily spend your days collecting SEGA miniatures from capsule machines, playing some of Suzuki’s classic games at the local arcade, or chilling with friends like the lovesick Nozomi and Tom, the hip hop hotdog vendor. It’s only after you’ve finished that ‘just one more go’ of Space Harrier that the story really begins.

Of course, a murder investigation is a dangerous game and, in Shenmue, there are many ways to play. As well as defending yourself from armies of thugs in Kill Bill style street brawls, a Quick Timer Event (QTE) system is used to navigate a variety of nerve-shattering action sequences. This idea of rapidly pushing buttons as they appear onscreen was first used in the original 1983 Dragon’s Lair, but since Suzuki’s touch it has become a staple part of many recent releases across every console, including Tomb Raider: Anniversary and Heavenly Sword.

And this is not the only example of Shenmue shaping the gaming world today.

From the rise and fall of the real-time sun to the occasional downpours of skin-shrivelling rain, Shenmue was the first game to accurately recreate the seasons. Although elements of time and weather have been repeated in such popular series as Grand Theft Auto, only in Shenmue’s Yamosaka District will you feel the full experience; watching pedestrians suddenly shelter under a rainbow of umbrellas, or even catching Santa Claus as he walks the streets before Christmas.

ShenmueAdmittedly the game is not perfect, with some moments of camera angle annoyance, yet a greater complaint is that the series was never completed. A sequel was released but certain changes made it a little less enjoyable. For example, when working on the docks the second time around, gone are the childish early morning forklift races and in their place is a manual lifting mini game as tedious and leaden as the boxes you are carrying. Nonetheless it was still a success and the cliffhanger ending kept the fans wanting more. Now, after years of speculation all eyes turn to the Xbox 360, the most likely console for a final instalment.

Whether the ending ever comes, we can still say with certainty that the opening is legendary. Accompanied by a soundtrack of such tear-swelling beauty, Shenmue’s simple story of vengeance soon develops into a compelling supernatural mystery in something so closely mimicking reality that it is insulting to call it a game.

The Good: Possibly the most lifelike game there is to date. Beautiful soundtrack, razor-sharp graphics, and a compelling storyline filled with action. Shenmue shaped the gaming world today.
The Bad: There are times when poor camera control interferes with the gameplay. The sequel was a little less enjoyable, but nonetheless it is a shame a third game was never released. Or is it just a matter of time?

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Diamond Y AwardDiamond Y Award
5 5 / 5
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Tim Regan

I recently graduated from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, with a 2:1 degree in Law. Since then I have been writing film and video game reviews for websites on a voluntary basis in hope of becoming a full time reviewer in the future. When I am not writing reviews, I am normally meeting with friends, or continuing my lessons in Ballroom, Latin American, and Street dance that I began three years ago.

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About Tim Regan

I recently graduated from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, with a 2:1 degree in Law. Since then I have been writing film and video game reviews for websites on a voluntary basis in hope of becoming a full time reviewer in the future. When I am not writing reviews, I am normally meeting with friends, or continuing my lessons in Ballroom, Latin American, and Street dance that I began three years ago.