By Sam Coles:
Nostalgia it’s one powerful drug, I say this as it applies to this game well to those who have played it. I for one have never played these games and I’m sorry they are not very good, now I don’t care how old a game is as I long I can pick it up and enjoy it. Shenmue is clunky and boring to play, plus this is just poor remaster with some technical issues that prevent me from enjoying the story.
You play as Ryo who has returned to find his father is being attack, it’s not long until he is murdered and Ryo is injured during the endeavour. He wakes up and begins an investigation of who attacked and killed his father. It’s a classic revenge tale nothing wrong with that, here is a tip for playing through this story switch the voice acting to Japanese with English subtitles. The English dub is atrocious, now I know it has its charm but when the game tries to convey an emotional scene, it’s like a child’s rendition of Hamlet as the dialogue is wooden and ear grating.
The gameplay is all about exploring and talking to people as well as just taking the world in, all inhabitants have their own schedule which was impressive especially for a console game in 1999. There are combat sequences similar to the Yakuza games, which to no surprise some of the developers who worked on this game moved onto the Yakuza series. They are not great they lack impact and unlike Yakuza you can’t stove someone’s face in with a bicycle, it feels like a rough draft of what is to come. You can also play mini games and iconic Sega arcade games, you can really tell that Yakuza took notes from these games, but unlike Shenmue the Yakuza games are exciting rather than tedious.
To go back to the schedules with the people of the world, you can only visit people or complete tasks at certain times, so far not so bad. However in the first game you cannot fast forward to time, so you find yourself waiting around, loitering in the streets like a hotdog vender. Fortunately they did fix this in Shenmue II and I know they want you to explore and play around with mini games and talk to other characters, but some people just want play the main story and don’t want to waste their time.
I can’t really critique the visuals to today’s standards as these games are from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s, but what I can say is that they are very impressive for a console game from the late 90’s, as the best looking games at the time was Metal Gear Solid or Ocarina of Time. The scope of the open world is really impressive and we had not seen anything like it on console before.
Let’s talk about the technical issues; this has to be one of the poorest remasters I have ever played. First the cinematic scenes run in an aspect ratio of 4:3 even when you choose 16:9 in the main menu, I thought this was a bug when I started the game originally but no the widescreen aspect ratio only applies to the gameplay. It gets really distracting when you’re running around, and suddenly the screen shrinks like automatic doors that stop halfway. The first game also has terrible audio when it comes to dialogue, it is heavily compressed and it crackles all the time where it sounds like they recorded it in a bathroom.
Overall I can understand the framework of what Shenmue established, but as a video game it is tedious and snore inducing. With its technical issues and laziness of the port I can’t recommend this game, while I understand the influence for the future of open world games, which Grand Theft Auto III did better 2 years later it’s just not fun to play with a story that is poorly written and mind numbing gameplay.