This review will probably lose us the one fan/reader we have, but I feel as though there are a few things I need to get off my chest.
Shenmue is not a very good game. #AngryFanboyActivate!
Starting the game
Right, so you insert the disc, select “New Game”, how long is reasonable for you to wait before you are allowed to first press a button and have control over the protagonist?
5 minutes? 10 minutes? In Shenmue it is around 15 minutes of intros, cutscenes, talking, before you’re finally in control. This sets the scene for the rest of the game perfectly.
You very rarely do ANYTHING. This, is not, a fun game mechanic.
Time is everything
1 day, is roughly 60 minutes of gameplay.
Mornings and evening differ; rush hour and weekends are all reflected in how people will interact, the problem is, is that it is fucking boring waiting for a key event.
During the “Go to Tattoo Parlor” section of the story, I got there at 2pm on the Friday, and was told I had to wait for the dude who would come at 3pm the next day. So, I had an hour wait in real life for a game to trigger a cutscene. This is NOT a fun gaming mechanic.
On disc two you have to start waiting for busses, and you know what? Waiting 10 minutes in a game for an imaginary bus IS NOT A FUN GAME MECHANIC. If I wanted to wait for a bus I would go to an actual bus stop.
Waiting for night time in the docks is not fun either… Waiting on the lunch break for afternoon is not fun, driving a forklift for 3 hours to get 5 cutscenes to advance the story stops being fun.
Since the world operates a “real time” mechanic, shops open and close at regular times, so if you are a little too slow doing something, you will then have to wait 30-60 minutes for the shop to reopen. I know, I know, REALISM, and all that, but if I wanted to go to pub and it was shut, I would have to wait. Waiting an hour to be able to ask somebody in a shop where Dave is (the mirror in this case) is NOT A FUN GAME MECHANIC.
Below, is how I fill the time.
I can’t really do the story justice, but basically, dad dead, you angry, something about a mirror, Chinese Mafia.
Shenmue is a well written story, but to be honest, it is more fun watching the Shenmue movie.
Ryo is 18, and has a bed time, and pocket money. Infact Ryo has a rather strict curfew of 23:30. If you are out and about, you will be teleported back home, and be scolded by your mum for being out too late.
The main story can only be accessed at certain times in the day, but let me explore when I want to, don’t force me to explore on your terms, stop offering a world to explore, and then prevent me from exploring it… This, is a wasted opportunity in the game design .
Quick Time Events
Nobody likes them, and Shenmue was one of the first to use them, but…
Shenmue does it well, there are less than 20 in the whole game, and you have to wait 65 minutes of solid storying to come across the first one (which was Press B) … Shenmue never overdoes it, and when they are used, you can understand the reasoning for it, rather than having a “fight scene”. This, is a well used game mechanic.
Shenmue employs a proper fighting system with
Street Fighterish Virtua Fighter controls, it means combat has a surprising amount of depth. You can Arkham Asylum your way through it with casually timed X presses, or, you can go full Street Fighter and input ever more complicated moves that will punish you if you fail, or, will let you go full on murder/death/kill on whoever is on the receiving end of your mad ninja skills. Or, like me, assign the hardest move to “R” and spam “R“. This is a FUN game mechanic.
It did however take 2 hours of solid play to get to my first fight.
Other issues in the game involve the training segments. To improve a skill you need to practice it, sadly, it takes hours and hours of practicing a move to master it.
Shenmue is pretty much a 90s point and click, without the obtuse combine random item puzzle system that was so loved.
The first “mission” is to find out about the “Black Car”, you have to go to town and speak to everyone. Most people will say they know nothing, some will say speak to Dave. The dialogue then changes to “Do you know where Dave is?” to which everyone will respond with “I don’t know” until you find either Dave, or someone who knows who Dave is. You speak to Dave, and he says you need to go speak to Bob, and the cycle repeats. You walk around press “A” at people, until they tell you what you want to know.
If you know where you are going it is easy, but like a point and click, you have to jump through hoops A/B/C/D/E/F/G to get to H, you can’t just go straight to the place you need to be, you need to unlock it. This means you can’t bluff your way through the game, but it is a little infuriating when you have to do obvious schlepping.
Sometimes, you can get an item prior to the point you need it, like the candles, or the lightbulbs, but you would never know to go into the shop, and buy these items until you are told to, so chances are, you’d never decide to buy a lightbulb…
The overall game mechanics here work, and it is nice, it is just held back by the game designers insistence you experience the story at their pace. This is a good AND bad game mechanic.
There are only 8 “missions” in the game, and if you were allowed to, you could blast through it in about 2 hours. The problem is, you HAVE to wait, and it is infuriating, the bus, the tattoo parlor, the blokes at the arcade, waiting for night time at the docks, 5 days of jobbing to get 5 shitty cutscenes, all you do is wait.
Since you have to be places at a specific time, it meant I couldn’t/wouldn’t explore as I didn’t want to miss the time trigger, and risk another full days wait.
- If you break the missions down they are: The Black car, where you speak to 3 people to find the answer.
- Charlie, where you speak to 3 people to find the answer
- The Letter, where you… speak to 3 people to find the answer
- Master Chen, where… you speak to 3 people to find the answer
Notice a pattern? Because this pattern repeats itself for missions 5 to 8, with very little variation. You do get a job driving a forklift truck, which is probably the most fun part of the game, but is dragged out over a minimum of 5 days, meaning the fun wears thin after 2/3 days of it.
Shenmue had some very good ideas, the story is beautifully crafted, the world is full and vibrant.
The problem is the game does all it can to prevent you experiencing the game. The time restraints are a pain, the hoops you jump through on the main story are simply bad game design.
This is a 2 hour game forced out to 15 hours.
It isn’t a bad game, it just isn’t very good.
Pros: The story telling is top notch, the STILL game looks good, the soundtrack is great
Cons: Soooooooo much waiting, too many hoops to jump through, you actually don’t do very much for most of the game
BONUS SECTION/ Stuff I couldn’t cut from this review
Shenmue cost $47million to make! In 1998! Keeping in mind Unreal Tournament cost $2million, and EverQuest cost $3million, Gears of War only cost $10 million in 2006!!! So JESUS CHRIST what did they spend that money on!!! To put this into perspective, EVERY single Dreamcast owner would need to buy TWO copies to turn a profit. This is why it took so long to get Shenmue 3 people…
Shenmue was originally going to be set in the Virtua Fighter Universe, and Ryo was originally going to be Akira from Virtua Fighter, however, as the game was developed Shenmue was made into it’s own original story.
Ryo controls like a car in Grand Theft Auto, which, is BADLY. Ryo handles like a shopping cart going down hill. Nudge left or right, and he will physically step in an arc, meaning you can’t line up a view (to take a screen shot of something), you move forward with “up“, but you can run by using the “L trigger“, Ryo also corners like a car, to be honest, I feels like a racing game when he runs around due to the control system. This isn’t inherently bad, it is just a little odd and take a few hours to get used to.
For a game so centered on storydriven narratives, the main cast offer little to no story development. Nozomi (apparent love interest) could infact be replaced by leaflet, for all the story she helps with.
Fuku-san is possibly the worst, most pointless, wet lettuce of a character to have ever been conceived. He only seems to exist to tell your mum on you…
Your mum, doesn’t really offer anything, except telling you off when you’re late home.
After that, there is the Gollum like baddy (Chen), who appears 3 times in the game? Once in a cutscene and twice for fights, he apparently is the main antagonist in this game.
Lan Di, the man who kills your dad at the start is not really seen again, you gotta wait for the sequel…
After that, there are no “main” characters, everyone you interact with stops being of use once you have interacted with them the first time (The Hobo is the exception), it makes it very hard to care about any of the characters, as they are all instantly forgettable. This is a real shame considering how story driven the game is.
Getting a Job
On disc 3 when you get the job on a forklift truck, it quickly goes from “most fun part of the game” to “most tedious part of the game” VERY quickly. You have to work a minimum of 5 days on the forklift, this is 10-12, and 2-5, 5 in game hours is about 30-40 minutes. this means, that over 5 days of game time, you will spend around 3 hours 20 minutes driving a forklift truck. This, IS NOT FUN. If I wanted a forklift truck simulator i’d buy one!
The racing sections are pointless too, they are fun at first, but I really wish they were optional, they offer nothing other than the collectible figures.
You know what is a really fun game mechanic? Remembering 10 digit phone numbers. No, not really, I was being sarcastic. I had to resort to taking photos of the notepad to be able to make the calls in the game. Some sections require you to make phone calls to progress the story, if you get the “passwords” wrong, you’ll need to dial the whole number again, in lumbering 80’s phone fashion.
If you want further character development, and get all the info, side quests completed, you’ll need to spend a lot of time calling characters such as Nozomi, while I like this feature, I did find it really tedious having to spend 2 minutes dialing a phone number, this could have been resolved with a) a redial button, b) a non shitty phone. I know it was the 80’s and analogue phones were the norm, but come on…