Shenmue and it’s sequel are the very definition of a marmite game. Those that enjoyed them see them as classic games that rank amongst the best games ever made. Those that didn’t cannot understand why. But I think most people agree they were indeed some of the most influential and innovative games ever made. Particularly the first title with it’s idea of a open world with NPCs living out their day to day lives. A day/night cycle where certain quests were only available at certain times of day. A fully voiced sweeping narrative that is comparable to more modern titles like The Last Of Us in it’s story telling. At least compared to other titles released back in 1999. Many of the buildings could be entered, complete with a Sega Arcade with beloved Sega classics like Outrun and Space Harrier.
The game starts with (Spoilers) your father’s murder at the hands of a mysterious man called Lan Di who is looking for a family artefact called The Dragon Mirror. Over the two games you play as protagonist Ryo Hazuki who sets out to track down his father’s killer and retrieve the Dragon Mirror as he stole it after threatening to kill Ryo so his father would reveal it’s location in the opening cutscene of the first game. During Ryo’s journey he must gather clues to track down Lan Di, meeting lots of other people who help him in his quest. Of course these favours come at a price and Ryo has to do different tasks for them in exchange for this information which makes up the game’s missions in order to progress.
That is why a lot of people have described Shenmue as a detective game. Similar to classics like Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego? Or the recent Sherlock Holmes games to give you a more contemporary example. I quite like that and agree with that description. Although there is action in the games it is never the main focus of gameplay. The game mainly involves exploring the world, which is broken up into a number of city hubs, and piecing together where Lan Di heads next. The games also introduced the world to Quick Time Events which has become a staple of a lot of games ever since. This is also used sparingly at various action moments in the game. A cutscene plays out and you have to press the buttons that appear on screen with the right timing for those unfamiliar with Quick Time Events.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics in these remasters have not been given a huge improvement over the originals. If you still own a Dreamcast and the original games you won’t see a huge improvement in the games visually. What we have here are 1080p up-ressed versions of the original games with a few nice modern graphical effects like motion blur and bloom. Which does improve the lighting quite a bit and looks very nice. Particularly in brighter and more colourful areas or in the neon signs above bars at night. The games also have a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio option for gameplay. Although cutscenes are still rendered in 4:3 which can be a little jarring especially in a game where there are cutscenes every few moments. Constantly switching back and forth I found a little off putting and pulled me out of the immersion. So I preferred to stick with the 4:3 aspect ratio and have the same screen throughout. The best compliment I can say for these remasters visuals is that they look exactly as I remember them.
The music in both Shenmiue games is for me one of the games’ shining achievements. The beautiful Japanese/Chinese orchestral score throughout the titles is for me some of the best music I have ever heard in a video game. Although I am quite a fan of Oriental music in general so your mileage may vary depending if you have similar taste. For me it elevates the experience and is well suited to the slower paced nature of the games. It only furthers it’s ability to make me get lost in this world. Going to the arcades, throwing on some music on the jukebox and playing some old Sega classics to while away the time until my next story mission. Shenmue is a game to sit back relax and get lost in.
The voice acting now, however, takes away from that a bit. It really shows it’s age in the wooden delivery and lack of emotion in the characters voices. The dialogue and story is a sign of the time. When video games were really just starting to expand their art form into telling fully fleshed out stories like this. It is not a deal breaker but definitely stands out against more modern games, however innovative it was when it was first released.
So as I have mentioned the main story progression of Shenmue involves detective work. Questioning NPCs and travelling around the world of mid-late 1980s Japan & China. The cities and surrounding areas are based on their real life counterparts and are very similar to the real life places with many of the same shops and landmarks. You also can get a job to earn money in the game which involves driving a forklift truck and moving boxes. Which is actually quite a bit more fun than it sounds at least in small doses. You can race the forklifts as well which is good fun. Combat is based on the Virtua Fighter engine so plays like a 3D beat em up. You can unlock new moves and combos as you progress with some cooky unlikely Kung Fu masters. The characters you meet are fun like the Japanese man dressed as a stereotypical Jamaican man complete with colourful clothes and who says mon quite a lot. He runs a hot dog stand. There are other humourus characters like this that adds a bit of light hearted humour to the game. As I have mentioned the game features QTEs at various events and in the arcades there are a couple of QTE games you can play.
Shenmue 1 & 2 HD is a fine package for the price of £24.99 for both games is excellent value. Having said that if you did not like these games back when they original released in 1999 & 2001 respectively. These remasters does little to change anyone’s mind. If you like Shenmue then these are the best versions available now although the improvements aren’t huge for the price they are asking seems fair to me. In terms of length what you have across both games here is a good 30-40 hours of gameplay in each game. As I said the games look as good as I remember them looking when they were brand new on my Sega Dreamcast going on 20 years ago. For people like myself who have a lot of love for the series and want to revisit them before next year’s sequel Shenmue 3 arrives then this is a fine package for that. Where your mileage again varies if you own the originals and a Dreamcast (or Shenmue 2 on Original Xbox) then perhaps this is not worth picking up.
Shenmue 1 & 2 HD are as good as I remember them, for better and for worse. They have aged a fair bit in the last 19 years but are still highly enjoyable. They are two of the most unique games ever and offer a very different slower paced game compared to most other games. With a engaging story, world, characters and soundtrack that I could spend countless hours losing myself in. If this sounds like something you would enjoy but have never played Shenmue then I would recommend giving them a try. Particularly if you enjoy Sega’s spiritual successors in the Yakuza games. Or perhaps if you want to try the series before the new game next year then this is a good entry point at a very reasonable price.
Published & Developed by: Sega
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4 & PC
Release Date: Out now