Sega’s classics, Shenmue 1 and 2 are out now for modern consoles, and the impact they have had on gaming is obvious with common mechanics used in titles such as Dead Rising and the Yakuza franchises. While the legacy of these titles is vast, do they hold up today? With exception of the story, world, and combat, these titles have aged poorly, considering the audio quality, waiting mechanics, and movement controls have aged atrociously.
The Shenmue franchise has a grand story. Our hero, Ryo Hazuki, is seeking revenge for the death of his father at the hands of a mysterious man named Lan Di. This tragic event leads our young protagonist to seek out information about this vile man to avenge the family patriarch. He does this by talking to various friends, neighbors, and miscreants who might have knowledge relating to the incident. This story works well because these are people Ryo has built relationships with, and gives the story depth knowing that all the NPCs have some role in the unraveling of the events of the story, as well as giving the world life with their realistic interactions with the world and each other.
Along with the world feeling lived in through character development and story, Shenmue does a great job with the weather and season mechanics. If it is December there will be snow showers and a man dressed up as Santa spreading Christmas cheer, or rain showers in the spring. These nice little touches amplify the simple realism that the development team was aiming for during the conception of these games.Where Shenmue shines but is rarely seen, is the combat. Fighting has a different feel from the other elements of gameplay and feels like a tournament fighter in the vein of Tekken or Virtua Fighter. Taking down groups of enemies requires different combos, grapples, and blocks to survive each encounter. When these sections come along, they are great, but when these encounters can be hours apart, it just left me empty and wanting more opponents to take down.
While I did enjoy the combat, I can’t say the same for the general movement controls for Ryo. Shenmue relies on an independent camera and uses tank controls. These controls do not work well, considering most of the places you visit are smaller enclosed areas, such as shops and homes. Getting around an obstacle, such as a table or chair, can be taxing. The only two options are to swing Ryo around the long way, or try to get him to make him do a complete 180 by tapping backwards, which was usually unresponsive. This movement also makes interaction with characters and signs difficult, because he must point in the direction and directly in front of the object or person. They tried to compensate for this with a first-person angle, but if there are multiple items within the field of view it may not swing directly towards the object desired. For the time, these controls might have been satisfactory, but they have not aged well and could’ve used a bit of fine-tuning to make them more accessible to modern audiences.While the controls have aged poorly, the real-time moment to moment mission structure is appalling. Other titles, such as the aforementioned Dead Rising franchise, utilize this mechanic to add restraints to quests, giving them more urgency. Shenmue has no real consequence for missing a time limit and just pushes the event to the next day, which can drag on for a long time. I would be fine with this mechanic if I could make the time pass or go to sleep for an amount of time, but our protagonist won’t go to bed until 8:30 at the earliest. With that and the lack of side objectives in the world, the only things left to do are collect Sega character figures or play Space Harrier in the arcade. At one point I became so irritated with this that I booted up my Xbox and played Dead Cells to pass the time until the next objective. This mechanic was a massive killjoy for me, and I shouldn’t have to wait to play the next part of such an intriguing story.
Audio quality and the dialogue is rough, where the actual audio is bad and sounds like the performer is a mile away from the microphone, the actual dialogue sounds like the actors read through their lines for the first time in most places. The worst offenders of this are the child actors when they garble random nonsense, like “Let’s play Baseball!” Part of this issue stems from the fact that the developers decided to make every piece of dialogue fully voice acted. This odd quality of sound could be results of audio artifacts left over from the original Dreamcast release, according to the YouTube channel, Rerez. While this issue might have been incredibly hard to fix, I feel like they could’ve done something to remedy this in the cutscenes.
Shenmue has an important place in gaming history, I will not deny that. The legacy these titles left behind have radically changed the way we view games, but there are too many poor design choices for these games to be more than a well-made blueprint for better franchises. I spent too much time waiting and sitting through cutscenes to enjoy the few instances of gameplay that were few and far between. If you are interested in picking these games up for the first time, I highly recommend you don’t, because from my personal experience, nostalgia might be the only thing that drove the reputation of this franchise.
- Developed by Ys Net
- Published by Sega
- Released on August 21 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC
- Reviewed on PC using a review code provided by the publisher