Yes me as an avid gamer and martial arts movie fan does not like one of the most beloved games to feature kung fu – ever.
I’m not saying that I don’t like Shenmue to be “cool” as if disliking something popular is the ‘in’ thing to do. Truth is I’ve never liked it. I admit that at the time, back in the Dreamcast days of 1999 that Shenmue impressed me. It looked amazing with highly detailed characters, the semi-open world you found yourself in was jaw dropping at the time with people going about their daily lives and what not, then there was the basic premise of the game – a kung fu action/adventure/RPG. This was a cocktail I wanted a taste of.
But when I played the game, it left a very bitter taste in my mouth. It was kind of like seeing a McDonald’s Big Mac in a TV ad, that big fat, juicy burger looking so damn delectable with beautifully and perfectly layered crisp salad sandwiched between that golden brown toasted bun. The sauce just gently peeking out from the sides whilst being lovingly squeezed by those two beautifully tanned burger patties as the cheese gently wilted under the excitement of this orgy of food. Oh man, a Big Mac looks amazing in the ads…then you buy one and get this…
That is the disappointment I felt when I first played Shenmue. It just looked so damn good but when I took my first bite, all I tasted was disappointment. Like the world popular Big Mac, I just do not understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to Shenmue. How can something so bland and tasteless be so damn popular?
Maybe it was just me back then. I mean, people change over time, opinions and views shift and even drastically alter. Things you didn’t like twenty years ago can and sometimes do seem much better further down the line. So when it was announced that Shenmue would be getting a “remaster” (and I use that word in its loosest possible way), it piqued my curiosity. Maybe, just maybe the game is like a fine wine and has actually improved over almost twenty years, maybe if I were to play it today with the “improvements” made to this “remaster” – just maybe I could finally experience and enjoy what it was that impressed so many people back in 1999…maybe? So you know what? I bought the HD update of Shenmue for my Xbox One X.
As I awaited the release of the game, everything I disliked about it came flooding back. The incredibly slow pace. The awkward, stiff and clunky controls. The terrible voice acting. The uninspired story. But there was a ray of hope as this update adds new features such as an improved interface, modern controls, scale-able screen resolution along with a few other minor refinements. So yeah, sounds great and as if they’ve addressed some of the awkwardness the original had. So I was looking forward to it.
I guess I’d better get the plot out of the way first. Set in Yokosuka, Japan, 1986, you play as Ryo Hazuki who tries to track down Lan Di, the man who killed his father…well that didn’t take long – neither did my rediscovering my disliking for the game.
I have to applaud Sega for doing this, for bringing back one of the most beloved games ever to a new audience and old fans alike. They’ve done a good job overall. Yeah the game engine is old and looks it too, but the graphical upgrade is great now with a shiny new 1080p resolution over its original 480p, though you can switch back to its original resolution if you wish. Plus the game now plays in 16:9 widescreen, but sadly the cut-scenes play in the original 4:3 format. The draw distance has been increased and the whole game runs very smoothly as you’d expect. For an almost twenty year old game, it looks surprisingly great.
But its not without its problems. Shenmue is a painfully slow game and everything seems to take an age to do. As an example: doing something as simple as picking up an item. You start the game in your room which you can explore and examine it in detail. Look at a nearby cabinet (you have to press the look button to do so first) and there’s a lamp that you auto lock onto, then you have to manually move down to the drawers. Watch the animation as you have to open every single drawer in the cabinet, then watch the animation in reverse as you close every single drawer. And then when you find something worth looking at and even picking up, there is this awkward animation as Ryo picks the item up and holds it in his hands where you can then move the item around before pressing a button to add it to your inventory. The whole thing can take a minute or two…just to pick up an item, and you’ll find yourself having to do this countless times though the game too. Let this beginning be the standard to the setting of the pace for the entire game. Everything you do is syrupy slow and cumbersome, its sleep enduing.
Now I’m not picking on Shenmue for having outdated mechanics in this modern age of gaming. One of my favorite games from last gen was Deadly Premonition… I mean I really fucking love Deadly Premonition which in many ways shares a lot of similarities with Shenmue. While they are polar opposites in terms of setting and plot, the games are easily comparable via their mechanics. They are both slow, plodding games with terrible controls. They both feature horrendous voice acting and dated graphics. But Deadly Premonition has something Shenmue lacks, personality and charm. “Isn’t that right Zach?”.
That’s not to say that Shenmue doesn’t have any fun to be found as it does. The main game may be a complete drag but its also full of little distractions to keep you occupied. You can enter shops and take part in a raffle for prizes, collect mini figures based on Sega IPs such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Virtua Fighter, hunt out and collect cassette tapes, you can get a part-time job shifting crates around a warehouse, take part in forklift truck races. And perhaps the best part of Shenmue, you can go into arcades to play games like darts and even the Sega classics Space Harrier and Hang-On just to name a few. In fact as a little confession, back when the game was originally released I never bothered to finish it as I found it so boring – yet I was hooked by all the little mini-games and distractions Shenmue throws at you. Not much has changed just shy of two decades later either.
Just as a quick aside. One of the new features is supposed to be the addition on modern controls. As the original control mechanics are atrocious, having them updated for a more modern age sounded great…but where is the option to change the controls?
See, that’s a pic of the main option screen with the control setting and no modern option at all. Where is the modern control option that’s supposed to be one of the new updates?
Anyway, back on topic. The world created in Shenmue is impressive from just people watching as the residents of Yokosuka go about their daily lives to the little details and fun to be had that will not affect the main game such as feeding and caring for that cute little kitten. The world feels alive, with plenty to see and do. Its not quite on par with the modern open word games of today like Grand Theft Auto V or Assassin’s Creed: Origins for example but the world contained within Shenmue is a nice place to waste some time in regardless and when you think the game is coming up to its twentieth birthday, it shows how ahead of its time it really was.
Shenmue is horrible and has aged worse than Katie Price’s face, not as rough or suffering from so many “updates” though. No I don’t like Shenmue – I didn’t much care for it back in 1999 and I care even less for it now almost two decades later. However…I’m still going to play through it and finish it. As I said before I never did bother completing the game back when it was first released and because of that, I didn’t bother with its sequel, Shenmue II. I’ve heard the sequel is a far, far better game and seeing as the recent re-release comes with both, I may as well give it a go right? But first, I’ll have to suffer the boring mess that is Shenmue. How long it’ll take me to finish Shenmue I have no idea as just as back in 99, I’m getting more enjoyment out of playing classic Sega games in the arcade than the main game – so I’ve bought an almost twenty year old game to play thirty three year old games on my less than one year old, world’s most powerful game console. Ain’t gaming strange?
Can you believe Katie Price is only forty? I thought she was in her mid fifties at least with that face…
Wow I just wrote an article on Shenmue and didn’t mention sailors once.