September 11, 2018
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A classic, a legend, a fan favourite has finally come back after all these years with the re release of Shenmue I & II in HD. Can it still capture our imagination or is its time well past?


It only took more than a decade, but Sega finally released Shenmue I & II for modern consoles. I have a very vague memory of playing the original on the Dreamcast, so having the opportunity to dive back in and really explore why these games were lauded was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

In Shenmue, you play as Ryo Hazuki, a regular teenager who one day witnessed his father be murdered in front of him by Lan Di. This is the catalyst for Ryo to begin his journey to avenge his father and along the way, learn a lot more about himself. his role and his destiny.


Back when the original game was released, not only was it accomplishing feats that should not have been possible on the hardware at the time, but giving us a glimpse at what the future of open world games can look like and while this is of course a literal port with HD visuals, it only made me appreciate what the team was able to accomplish even more.

So what's really new in this case? Well apart from the resolution boost, not much else to be honest. For the hardcore of us you have the option to either play in 4:3 or 16:9, however cut scenes themselves are still displayed in 4:3 which I found really weird after playing an extended period of time in wide screen, but not too worry its something you'll get used to.


You are still able to explore the world freely and speak to its inhabitants, most of whom were a lot nicer in the sequel and controlling Ryo in a battle is straightforward, but hard to master, especially against the more difficult opponents. 

As for the combat, you gain more experience as you continue through the game. Speaking or helping certain individuals will even aid you with new moves and at some points you are able to get some practice in. One of the most obvious places being the Hazuki Dojo. 

If you are not running around doing the story quest, there is an abundance of activities to get stuck into. There is of course a lot more in the sequel, however most things that cross over are the arcades, shopping and the most notable and realistic action that I remember from the early days, actually having a job... That's right, you will eventually go to get a job to earn money in order to further your goals or simply pay rent for your virtual apartment.


This seems to be a factor to just immerse you further into the world and add a greater sense of realism to it. It makes everything feel connected and just furthers the idea of a moving society, that have their own tasks and schedules.

For everything the game includes, when you really look at it as a whole it comes down to experiences and the people you meet. Those who help you by giving directions or tips and those who go against you by actually brawling or setting you up. Its these experiences that shape Ryo and the world that surrounds him. 

It even goes so far to include time in the mix as an important factor as days go by and seasons pass. The final point here being that the game needs to be completed by a certain point in time which is unprecedented even today.


If there is one area of Shenmue that really threw me off was the controls, especially when it came to manoeuvring Ryo around different areas. It seems like this part was kept intact and while I'm all for preserving history, perhaps this is one aspect that could have definitely used a touch up in order to bring it more in line with how characters are controlled today. 

Other than this, QTE's or Quick Time Events still work and look great, especially for the more cinematic moments. This is something that was really pioneered through these games and so its good to see that it has stood the test of time.

With Shenmue basically being the blueprint for how the Yakuza series would eventually turn out, it makes me ask one question. If Shenmue managed to run strong, would the Yakuza series even be here? It is an interesting comparison. one that I'm pretty sure won't go away soon, but a lot of open world type games owe a lot to what Yu Suzuki and his team were able to achieve back in 1999.

Shenmue is a part of gaming history and while it does have its flaws, its characters, interactions and world building were well ahead of its time, even by today's standards. As previously mentioned, my memory of the original release is a little spotty, so being able to re experience this has been a great joy. It just makes me look forward to Shenmue III even more!


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