Video Game Review: Shenmue (1999)

Shenmue

Release Date: December 29, 1999

Reviewed By: Adam

“He shall appear from a far Eastern land across the sea. A young man who has yet to know his potential. This potential is a power that can either destroy him, or realize his will. His courage shall determine his fate. The path he must traverse, fraught with adversity, I await whilst praying. For this destiny predetermined since ancient times… A pitch, black night unfolds with the morning star as its only light. And thus the saga, begins…”

“This first chapter of Shenmue kicks off Yu Suzuki’s cinematic Dreamcast tour-de-force, an exploration-heavy adventure that has players immerse themselves in Yokosuka, Japan. Players slip into the role of a young martial artist named Ryo Hazuki, who is on the trail of his father’s killer. On the way, players must talk with hundreds of characters, engage in martial arts battles, and marvel at the realistic depiction of the Japanese coastal town.”

Shenmue originally released on Dreamcast in 1999. I unfortunately never played it then. I finally had my first playthrough this past month on the re-released version (2018) for Xbox. Lets just say, this one didn’t age well…

I was looking for a Christmas themed game to play over the holidays. After a quick Google search and a few Reddit threads, I saw a couple people mention Shenmue as having some Christmas themes to it. Being as though I already had purchased the game when it was on sale, I decided this would be the one. Those people weren’t wrong either. While Shenmue doesn’t have a main Christmas theme to it, there is definitely some underlying Christmas spirit to it. The game takes place in the month of December and as you move towards the end of the game (or further into the month of December), the town starts to have some Christmas decorations pop up, snow, and even a Santa Clause walking around! So, if you too are looking for a Christmas theme game in the future, Shenmue is certainly an option.

Anyway, I had such high hopes going in. From reviews I had read, to clips I had seen, and the fact it would have an underlying Christmas theme… how could this disappoint?! Unfortunately, it did disappoint. Shenmue didn’t live up to the hype. However, I feel if I had a Dreamcast back in the day and the nostalgia connected to it, my opinion would be MUCH different.

The controls were stiff. The voice sound was weird, like louder than everything else. Almost as if you were in an empty, echo-y room. To be honest, I’m probably being too hard on these aspects, being as though its an older game.

But mostly, it was the timing of the game that was the most frustrating. You would complete tasks to move the story along, but the next part of the task wouldn’t be for hours later in the game or the until following day. This means a lot of waiting around, twiddling your thumbs. There were some things you could do to kill time, but after one or two days of that, it was old. There were several times I was playing late at night and actually fell asleep while I was waiting for game time to pass by. This is where I suggest some sort of fast forward button if there’s ever a remastering of this franchise.

It’s partially my fault though, I’ve been looking for a game similar to Legend of Legaia FOREVER and based off a few things I had seen and read, I thought this had some potential. I was wrong. The music and the “collections” vaguely hit a few things from Legaia I’ve been looking for, but overall, it wasn’t even close.

One thing I will give props to Shenmue for though, is the story. I did enjoy that aspect of the game. So much so, that against my better judgement, I plan to dive into Shenmue II later this year. I guess part of that is also my OCD saying I need to complete them all (there are three Shenmue games, however only I and II are currently on Xbox – which is my console of choice).

Speaking of completions, achievement hunting is something I’ve gotten into since Covid. For all of my fellow achievement hunters out there, Shenmue only takes about 20-25 hours to 100%. I do suggest looking at the achievements ahead of time or following a walkthrough if you only want to do a single playthrough because there are several achievements that are missable if you don’t do certain things correctly.

At the time of writing this, Xbox currently has the Shenmue I and II bundle for $29.99. If you are planning to get / play these games, I would suggest holding off for two reasons… one, I don’t think they’re worth paying that much for (at least this is how I feel after only playing the first game) and two, throughout the year you can find the bundle on sale for under $10. Now, at this price, Shenmue is worth the buy!

We’ll see if Shenmue II can change my mind about the series, but for now its getting labelled Shen-MEH from me.

W2B Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Extra Scenes: None

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