What this game managed to do on the Dreamcast was very impressive. Now does all that ambition turn into a fun game?
Going back to this game really shows off how much it expected players to take their time. Spend some time just improving moves and exploring the small town they handcrafted with a bunch of details. Sure it has a Virtua Fighter like combat system but you’ll barely even get to use it till the final section of the game. Most of what you end up doing is just talking to NPC's. When it was first released that was amazing yet looking at it now it sounds & looks dated. But first let me go over what's going on in the world of Shenmue.
Ryo is a young man who is living his normal life until one day a mysterious man named Lan Di showed up to kill his father. As you might expect Ryo didn’t take this lying down and from that day onward he decided to hunt this killer down. Even with his Hakuzi martial arts training he wasn’t quite sure if he’ll be able to succeed but some friends made along the way might make a difference.
Once all the drama ends an entire little town opens up to be explored. Each character is voice acted well enough for the time. Although the audio quality sounds really rough now. It really seems like the goal was to impress the player with all the different things you can look at along with the graphical style. At the time it was very good but it’s hard not to see how dated it looks now. Thus leaving the game to rely on its characters. Yet no one really gets much of an arch. Sure the game does add some depth to a few main characters yet most don’t do much other than say they know nothing about sailors or whatever Ryo is after at the time.
The fighting part does seem like it’s robust until you never get much of a chance to test your skills in anyway till the endgame. I honestly think I spent more time just practicing moves in game to waste some time till the next story bit happens. Spending hours of in game time just training up moves does have a zen like quality to it. Plus the moves do change if you master them. Still a lack of stuff to do in game is a bummer when it expects you to wait around constantly. The pace is just glacial compared to more modern games.
Overall the best stuff is just all the little things on the side. Being able to play Hang-On and Space Harrier in game was a fun time. Collecting capsule toys was amazing for a while too. Yet other than becoming a dock worker near end game that really is just about all your options for stuff to do other than figure out the next clue. While certainly not realistic some more possible fights could have alleviated some of the downtime a bit better. Plus like 30% of all fights are just QTE moments. Which does bring up one really good fact. This game doesn’t waste your time if you do lose. Either the fight wasn’t a fail state or it just loads up right where you left off. In a game that does want me to wander about it was nice to see this little time saver.
Looking over everything this game has offered has made me come to a very simple conclusion. This is a product of its time. A video game that is very hard to go back and play now. Unless you played this when it originally came out I highly doubt it’ll be worth checking out today. Yet it certainly left an impression on me since I pretty much remembered every scene of the game 10 years later. So yeah, while it may not be a great game anymore it does have value as a nostalgia piece. After all I did play all the way through this even though my review does have a negative tone. So this game does certainly do something that captivates players.