Inside a living breathing Japan set in the 1980s, you play the young Martial Artist Ryo Hazuki on an unforgettable adventure seeking revenge for his father’s murder. Ryo must unravel the mystery of a secret chinese cartel to find the location of his father’s murderer.
Developer: Sega AM2
Release: November 6, 2000
Our hero, Ryo Hazuki witnesses the murder of his father at the hands of a mysterious chinese man named Lan Di. Ryo must gather clues about his father’s murderer by questioning friends, neighbors, and fellow Martial Artists in his small town. In his hunt, Ryo will discover some of his father’s hidden past and make new powerful allies along the way. Ryo will have to look deep within himself to obtain the courage to follow Lan Di to the ends of the Earth to seek vengeance for his father.
Shenmue’s gameplay is sectioned off into three parts, Quest, Quick Time Events, and Battle.
Quest, is where most of the game takes place. This is where you will explore the world of Shenmue. Talking to NPCs to find clues to further the narrative. Opening any nook and cranny just to see what’s inside random drawers or what’s in the refrigerator. Step into the local arcade to play a few rounds of Space Harrier or Hang On if you wish. Even walk into a empty parking lot to practice a few techniques. There are also several hidden sides quests throughout the game, like having to get milk for a lost kitten which will change the world’s perception of Ryo. Leaving you to your own devices to find everything you can in the world. However, this can lead to unclear story objectives making you exhaust every single option in order to move the plot forward. Also near the end of the game, forklift driving does overstay its welcome making the game come to a crawl.
Quick Time Event or QTE for short. Are a sequence of events that require precise button presses in the correct order to trigger certain cinematic actions. A great example of this is when you need to save the local children from a gangster. A boy has a soccer ball and nudges it to Ryo’s foot. Allowing Ryo to kick the ball as hard as he can hitting the gangster in the face stunning him, allowing the child to flee from his grasp. Another one of my favorite scenes is when Ryo enters a bar, the patrons just start harassing him out of nowhere. Clearly in this scene Ryo is not messing around. A man charges Ryo and he stops him by giving him a Chuck Norris like spin kick sending him crashing into the bar breaking all kinds of glass in the process.
The Battle system is easily the highlight of Shenmue. If you have ever played the Virtua Fighter series of games you will be right at home here. Using real Martial Arts techniques for fast paced reactive battles. Battles often begin with Ryo vs multiple opponents at any given time all attacking you at once. Knowing when to punch, kick, parry, and throw are essential during combat. Ryo’s moves have a sense of weight, power, and flow to them. Hitting an enemy with a powerful move and watching them crumple to the ground delivers a great sense of satisfaction. Mastering combat in Shenmue is one of the most rewarding experiences in the game, making you feel like a true Martial Artist when you take out five surrounding foes with as few moves as possible.
Shenmue’s surreal world is fully voiced, every person has something to say. However, this comes at a cost. The voice acting throughout the game is very hit or miss on a ton of occasions. Speech is sometimes delivered awkwardly and out of place or some characters completely changing the subject mid sentence. Sometimes Ryo has trouble expressing simple emotions like anger or confusion in some scenes taking you out of the experience completely. Not all of the audio work is bad though, when you enter the arcade you hear all kinds of pings, pops, and beeps. Walking around town you’ll really hear the hustle and bustle of Japan. People ringing their bells on bicycles signaling you to move out of the way. Or the friendly hot dog salesman blasting his tunes from his BoomBox. Shenmue has some of the most profound music to ever grace video games. When you hear the main theme queue up you know right away you are hearing Shenmue.
Shenmue transcends the meaning of what a videogame is by delivering you a cinematic masterpiece that is worthy enough to be on film. This is a game everyone needs to experience in their lifetime, because there is no other game like Shenmue that exists. Even with the game's faults which can bring you out of the world can be easily omitted for what the game has to offer. If you ever wanted to live a true Martial Arts story then this is the game for you.