It is on rare occasions for a game to consist of the most charming yet absurdly mundane tasks, but Shenmue basks in this idiosyncrasy and champions the realism in detail.
The remastered HD release of Shenmue I & II gives us the opportunity to relive the beginnings of Sega’s epic tale of revenge through — despite the plot’s premise — is driven by the triviality and repetitiveness of everyday life.
Ryo Hazuki, the stereotypical, buffed, stoic, yet slightly dense teenaged hero, had just arrived home in his family’s karate dojo, where he meets a Chinese martial artist, Lan Di, who has been questioning his father to hand over an ancient mirror.
With Ryo’s timely arrival, Lan Di threatens to harm the Hazuki heir if he refuses. Unwilling to risk his son’s life, he admits the location of the mirror but suffers a fatal blow anyway. He dies in Ryo’s arms as Lan Di leaves, and thus begins Ryo’s ultimate desire to seek vengeance.
In the sequel, Ryo’s mission takes him to Hong Kong and Guilin where he meets new friends and learns more of the mirrors, his father’s history, and his own destiny.
I was glad to have begun Shenmue with no prior knowledge to the series, and naturally, the first thing I did was apparently the driving force of the entire game — interaction.
Ryo’s room was just like any other protagonist’s room, but Shenmue’s charm of realistic detail became apparent through the simple actions of opening drawers and cabinets then finding that they’re filled with regular household clutter. Ryo’s dresser itself has completely organized drawers with an area for his socks, shirts, and school uniform.
Items that may or may not be useful to the storyline can be acquired through any container found, but I can tell you now that not everything in your inventory will have any use or an explanation, they can be as simple as pictures — like owning a wallet filled with photos of your loved ones.
For a game released before the hyper realistic graphic designs of today, Shenmue is more. It made me crave for video games of similar aesthetic and the calm satisfaction of having to look around and interact with as much items in the environment as I can.
You could sense the time and thought the artists and developers had put in for the sake of a world that closely resembles are own in 3D fashion.
Besides zooming in at literally almost everything, the gameplay also centers on Ryo’s dialogue with the townspeople and city folk. Shenmue, more than an action-adventure, can also be described as a mystery-detective game due to the enormous amount of inquisition.
It was peak mundanity as I spent hours just asking people where to find anyone who may know of certain information to progress the story. This is the only way to progress further if you find yourself having no clear objective yet. It’s also one way to know of your next location, as Shenmue features large areas that truly are easy to get lost in.
It can also be a tad frustrating when people I ask and stop on the street know absolutely nothing, but I press on anyway in hopes for further action — which does come, gradually.
Shenmue II’s interaction changes only slightly due to Ryo having more dialogue options — whether it’s to ask about the current objective, or where to find odd jobs to earn more money.
That said, the game relishes on slow-paced progression. It takes its time to build the story through relations. Without initially intending to, you become attached to the people you pass and interact with every day. It requires sincere patience, but I think that this kind of pacing adds to the overall charm and beauty of Shenmue.
Of course, I did mention that action does gradually come. Promising on the action-adventure aspect of Shenmue and the fact that Ryo does hail from a karate dojo, combat sequences happen within the story.
Ryo makes an awful lot of enemies as he tangles with a large syndicate throughout the game, and you’ll see the muscle challenges get tougher and larger. Ryo can learn more moves from a variety of people that you can use and practice in your free time. Practicing can help with memorizing moves and timing during combat.
Besides this, QTEs happen unexpectedly. Its timings are effectively mixed while dealing with the mundanity, which I found to be balanced and well calculated. Shemnue II features more difficult QTEs, making a huge difference in gameplay compared to its predecessor.
Understanding that it is an old game, I can forgive the muffled voices. Dialogue delivery (or dialogue in general) in English dub may be problematic for some characters, and slightly cringe-worthy due to either over-exaggeration or robotic enunciations, but it becomes bearable.
Praise-worthy actors, of course, belong to those voicing Ryo and Wuying Ren. But everyone couldhave been more elevated with better dialogue writing as it pained me to keep hearing Ryo repeat the last sentence of whomever he is conversing with.
However, what I found most lovely was the music that would sometimes play in minus one karaoke tunes as if giving you the feel of being in the small streets of Japan. In Hong Kong, the music becomes better along with the change of scenery. Details like this, if you’ve already noticed, are a huge win for me as it enhances the experience.
Shenmue is game that truly becomes captivating because of the experience and the story that surrounds itself with mystery. For those without the patience, the progression may not be what others are looking for, but I think more story-heavy games should incorporate that kind of steady build-up that balances with timely action sequences that makes it feel a little less linear than it actually is.
I think this is why the game has stood the test of time because of its odd combination of muscle and monotony. I do wish Sega had decided to continue the saga early on because now I have to suffer months of waiting before finding out what will happen next.
Disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by Sega.
Shenmue I and II – Review
Almost perfect if not for the nitty-gritty. If it’s quite there but not enough to push the boundaries, it’s still an awesome game.