One of the best games ever made.
Shenmue has a very unique approach to its gameplay. The game is played out in real world days and nights, which pass by at around a minute real world time for every half hour game time. There are people in the town and its surroundings that go about their daily life, each one has their own unique routine. Day turns to night and back to day with stunning realism, loads of things in the game can be interacted with such as buying toys from gumball machines or playing games at the arcade. This is a very cool feature as you can actually play space harrier and hang on. When you do so, the game switches to a kind of emulator which runs the original arcade code identically to the original arcade hardware.
Story wise this game sounds like nothing special at first glance, your father is murdered and you have to find the people who killed him. However, the way the story unfolds is beautifully done and thoroughly absorbing. Gameplay has several styles the main one being adventuring. You have to walk around town talking to people and gathering information, at certain times you'll get into a fight. In these situations you are treated to a kind of Virtua fighter battle mode which works beautifully and is loads of fun. There are also quick timer sections in which you have to press the directions that appear on screen in order to avoid danger in much the same way as the old Dragons Lair games. This may sound bad but it works well within the realms of Shenmue and is not overused. Audio, with the exception of the voice acting (more on that later) is perfect with sounds of birds in the distance and the bustle of the market place being perfectly realised. The quest is huge and since the story is part of something much bigger, doen't finish thusly leaving you hungry for more. Just as well then that a sequel is available November 2001.
There are very few things that I didn't like about shenmue. The voice acting is poor with some very monotone performances which really hurt the feel of the game. This is a real shame. The problems extend to the dialogue which is often stilted and unnatural and can even mislead you a little. An example being that someone may say something that seems to indicate there is nothing more they can tell you yet further prodding releases even more info which was vital to continuing. This is a rare thing however.
The Bottom Line
Shenmue is one of the most beautiful games ever made. It is a form of RPG with adventure elements but cannot be put into any one category. This game is also unlikely to see the light of day on any system other than the Dreamcast which makes it the best reason to have one. Warnings do go out to those of you that don't like a slower paced game as you may find yourself getting bored. For the rest of you all I can say is you must have this game.