aka: Project Berkley, Shenmue: Isshō - Yokosuka, Virtua Fighter RPG
Moby ID: 3558

Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 90% (based on 58 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 4.1 out of 5 (based on 163 ratings with 8 reviews)

Graphical showcase concealing an average game

The Good
The initial "wow factor" of this famously expensive, extremely hyped-up game is very high. Immediately upon firing it up you begin to bask in the warmth of its visuals. The graphics of Shenmue are quite amazing. The game presents a fluid, detailed 3D world with some very impressive effects. The only thing that blew me away more around that time was Ultima IX, but Shenmue beats it in the smoothness of its character models. There are quite a lot of people walking around the streets of Yokosuka, and they are all different. Even the most unimportant characters, casual pedestrians, have each his or her own face, body, and clothes.

You can explore the game's world at your own pace. Mind you, it's not large at all, it's just busy; but hey, you can't demand too much from a Japanese adventure. At least here you have a reasonable freedom of movement, and physical actions are finally allowed. You can look at, touch and take some objects, including those unimportant to the actual story. You can talk to any character you meet. You can practice your fighting skills or go and play classic MegaDrive games for the whole day. You follow a certain schedule, meet your girlfriend from time to time, go to work and come home to sleep. Oh, and you can feed a kitten!

I liked some of the realism injected into the gameplay to fit the deliberately prosaic plot. You need money to buy a ticket to Hong-Kong, where you hope to track down the murderer of your father. So what do you do? Descend into a dungeon, hack some monsters and see how their dead bodies miraculously turn into gold? No, you get a job and earn the money!

I didn't hate the fights and the quick time events. I didn't exactly love them, either: they were, so to say, tepid - definitely not too off-putting and not particularly exciting. Without those action segments, however, the gameplay would have been significantly more boring. You literally sigh with relief when a fight breaks the overwhelming monotony of the game.

The Bad
Alas, Shenmue is a typical example of an overhyped game. People talked about groundbreaking concepts and revolutions in game design, but those were just words: the actual game is remarkably timid, shying away from any kind of serious concept and trying to convince the player to be satisfied with casual minigaming.

I'm anything but an expert in fighting games, and that's why my experience should really count here: I won all the fights in the game without any problem at all - and I haven't even trained! There is no challenge whatsoever in Shenmue. An even bigger problem is that the fights are not really fun - they are clumsy, repetitive, and way too infrequent to make a lasting impression. Indeed, Shenmue is much more of an adventure game with fighting sequences than the other way around.

And as such, it fails completely. The Japanese used to make good action games and their RPGs can be entertaining; but the overwhelming majority of their adventures are dull and pointless, being almost entirely devoid of true gameplay. Unfortunately, Shenmue is yet another one of those Japanese adventures: it just fools us into thinking it's more than that because of its free movement and fancy 3D. Seriously now: 90% of the gameplay in Shenmue consists of walking around and participating in uniformly dull conversations. There are no puzzles or challenging tasks of any kind. It's just running from one boring character to another and asking a myriad of unnecessary questions. In fact, even that doesn't matter: regardless of what you do, after a few days you get a call from a Chinese master, which completely negates all your previous achievements in the investigation - whatever they might have been.

It's like they didn't even try. And that's the game's ultimate problem: obviously, all the effort went into designing the visually impressive world, while gameplay was clearly an afterthought. There is absolutely nothing there that hasn't been done before many times and better. People went "oh" and "ah" at the sight of Ryo opening a drawer, forgetting they could open many more drawers (and find much more useful stuff) in simple RPGs of the 16-bit era. Once the novelty of seeing familiar actions performed in 3D wears off, you are left with paper-thin gameplay taking place in what is actually a small and restricted world. We are only talking about a few streets of a quiet town where you cannot even enter most of the buildings.

Another mystery, for me, was the praise directed at the story and the cinematic direction of Shenmue. At that point I could only ask: what story? Ryo's father was killed, so Ryo meets a couple of Chinese people who help him, earns some money and goes to Hong-Kong. This is, in all seriousness, the summary of all the important events that happen in the game. To get to them you'll have to endure days upon days of aimless wandering and inane dialogues. As for the game's dramatic qualities, they have been vastly exaggerated as well: the cutscenes are impressive only because they demonstrate the power of the game's engine. Otherwise, they are completely unremarkable and further undermined by bad voice acting.

The Bottom Line
Shenmue has lavish visuals and a few nice ideas here and there, but it's hard to understand why it was considered a revolutionary game by some people. It is, at best, a mildly entertaining collection of minigames superimposed on visual splendor without any actual gameplay backbone. The sequel is indeed more dynamic and more fun to play, but I'm not at all surprised the series was discontinued: the second game has already squeezed everything possible out of the nearly empty formula that tried to pass for a breakthrough in game design.

Dreamcast · by Unicorn Lynx (180476) · 2019

Hello, My Name Is Ryo Hazuki, You Killed My Father Prepare To Die

The Good
Shenmue is a difficult game to label. It is part RPG, part fighting game, part adventure, while the story is a mystery, an action/adventure, and foreign. This game also showcased the true power of the Sega Dreamcast, and is further proof that it was an excellent system that died too soon.

Ryo Hazuki’s life is torn apart when after returning home from school one day, he finds that there are men in suits led by a man in Chinese silk, questioning his father. The man wants to know where a mirror is. When he gets it he asks about a man Ryo’s father killed. Then using a style of martial arts that has not been seen in centuries, he swiftly kills him. Thus begins Ryo’s quest for vengeance, a much bigger fate awaits him, will he succeed? Well that is really up to you. Needless to say the plot in Shenmue is one of the finest ever written for a videogame. Better than most of the stuff Hollywood turns out. It is very enveloping as well. Every time you un earth a clue new questions emerge. Shenmue is one of those few games that had me addicted, even and injured hand could not stop me from playing.

The Graphics are amazing, to think that a Dreamcast game that only came out a year after the systems launch could look this good. It makes we wonder what Dreamcast games could have looked like if the system has not died so early on. Everything in Shenmue looks good, and almost all the items in the game can be manipulated. The buildings in Yokosuka as well as the characters are incredibly realistic looking. The faces of the characters are particularly well detailed.

The Sound and Music is strong as well. The score contains lots of tracks, all varying, from pop, to rock, to R&B, to orchestral. Even classic videogame music! The voices are good, the main characters are very good. But the occasional NPC sounds dumb, but in a way that is more realistic. In real life not every one sound like a voice actor. This was one of the first games to be fully voiced.

The Gameplay, is a amalgam of game types. The meat of the gameplay is exploration and talking to NPCS, as well as fighting and QTE’S. Which has not been seen since Dragon’s Lair. But are much better in Shenmue as they never get Ryo killed, unlike Dirk The Daring. Other game types abound, like sneaking into a warehouse, Sam Fisher style. Pet care, playing classic arcade games like Hang-On, and Space Harrier, buying sodas and toys,(for all those collectors.) and racing a motorcycle. Shenmue was also one of the first games to successfully merge different gameplay types. The only other game that comes to mind before Shenmue, was Omikron: The Nomad Soul. Shenmue does a better job then Omikron however.

The Bad
On the bad side, we may never see a Shenmue III, although there are hints of a movie, which is not the same as playing a game.

The Bottom Line
Overall Shenmue is not a game for everybody. Few games are. Interestingly enough it has enough different gameplay types to satisfy most. If you are a like me and still play your Dreamcast, give Shenmue a try.

Dreamcast · by MasterMegid (723) · 2006

An amazing, incomparable experience. Pure genius.

The Good
For every clone of Ocarina of Time, there is only one Shenmue. Ocarina of Time was the poor mans adventure, simply a 3D version of a 2D game which is Nintendo's style. It added very little to the established conventions of the series, relying on gimmicks such as time travel (which affected little not pertaining to the plot) to sell units. While Shigeru Miyamoto was busy scribbling his brain farts onto a notepad and sliding them under the door of whoever would read them Yu Suzuki was working on what would become the most engrossing, cinematic adventure I have ever played.

You play Ryo Hazuki, a young man, burgeoning on manhood. His relationship with his friend Nozomi is a source of much drama throughout the course of his adventure. At the beginning of the game Ryo's father is killed by a mysterious Chinese fellow named Lan Di. Shenmue then chronicles Ryo's day to day exploits as he tracks Lan Di down around his home and neighbouring areas. The story is heartbreaking at times, the sound design marrying perfectly with the action on screen to produce a delicate harmony of thematic elements. In addition to Ryo's search for Lan Di and his awkward relationship with Nozomi minor characters in the game also feature their own developing personal lives that you can check up on from time to time. One of the best story features I noticed was the inclusion of the telephone. You can call Nozomi occasionally and other people too and have conversations with them. Doing this is a great way of gaining a deeper insight into the characters outside of traditional cut scenes.

Shenmue is different in the sense that everything it does is an effort to differentiate itself. Suzuki San incorporates a flood of ideas into the game and while if others attempted this, the game would seem fragmented, Suzuki San's genius shines through and it all works.

Shenmue is not an open world game, but it does incorporate a world. It is strictly linear, but everything in this linearity seems to exist. Every single person on the street has something to say, with their own distinctive personality. You encounter different people depending on what time of day you go out, some more willing to give you information or directions than others. While Suzuki San wanted Ryo's world to be perceived as realistic he still does his best to emphasise that this is a game. While the vending machines have been criticized by some less than reasonable people they play into the collectibles that could be traded with the Shenmue Passport disc when the service was still active. Elaborating on the living world Ryo inhabits you can pick up nearly everything loose in his house, look at them and put them back down. There is no real practical purpose for them other than to emphasise that Ryo's world is tangible. It's so clever. The player can also play arcade games like Hang On and Space Harrier, or a game of darts of practice the game's QTE system using QTE Excite. High Scores for these games could then be shared online with other Shenmue players.

The QTE system was one of the most heavily advertised features of Shenmue before its release. These sequences are scripted story sequences that feature quick timed button presses necessary to advance the story. If you miss a button press it doesn't always mean you will fail, but most of the time you will need to restart. Shenmue is by no means the first game to feature QTE's. The concept has been around as long International Track and Field but Shenmue is the first game to incorporate them into the progression of the story.

Shenmue isn't all love stories and Space Harrier. Ryo has a plethora of martial arts move he can execute, learning more from scrolls or helpful NPC's. You can practice these in your father's Dojo or around Yokusaka or Dobuita. You then utilize these moves in what is dubbed "Free Battle" a system wherein a cutscene will trigger a fight between Ryo and whoever seems to be antagonizing him. The system takes a little getting used to, being a hybrid 2D/3D fighting engine. The moves you end up being able to pull off though make it worth learning the system. It's satisfying being able to successfully shadow step behind an enemy and then paralyze them with a punishing blow to the back of the neck.

Then there are minor incidental details about Shenmue you might even not notice, because they are so well integrated into the core game. The weather in the game is called "Magic Weather" and in Japan you could dial up your Dreamcast to the internet and Shenmue would download the forecast for your area, changing the weather to match what you could see by looking out of the window. Finishing the game allows you to play with the actual weather from 1986 painstakingly researched for you. The time I mentioned before adds a degree of strategy to how you play the game. You can head into town, looking for clues but if you spend too much time in one place you might miss someone, so you need to plan accordingly what you are going to do that day. You have no shortage of things to do though to pass the time. You can find and talk to Nozomi, give someone a call, grab a Soda, play a game or simply walk around and soak up the guy walking around with a Santa suit on. Whatever you want to do, is up to you. The game doesn't tell you how to play it, it lets you work out what you want to do in this living world.

The Bad
While the music is beautiful, cinematic in its own way the voice acting in Shenmue comes off as lacklustre at time. Ryo's voice sometimes lacks emotion however I believe this is primarily because of the way he was raised, his character is very emotional.

Eventually you have to get a job to advance the story. Compared to the previous section of the game you've just played this tends to drag a bit. There are lots of exciting fights though, so it is balanced in that respect.

You can no longer use the awesome internet features of the Passport disc that comes with Shenmue. It's a shame because there is some really cool stuff on it.

The Bottom Line
Shenmue is Yu Suzuki's magnus opum. It went places that no other game had gone before. It went somewhere different while remaining comfortably familiar. You are engrossed in Ryo's plight as he searches for Lan Di and how his world changes as he matures through this experience. The music is an amazing, cinematic achievement and the graphics are beautiful. Ocarina of Time is often quoted as the best game ever made, but if you ask me it was more of the same flushed with gimmicks that appeals to only the most low brow of gamers with a closed mind.

Shenmue is a masterpiece of the highest order, polished to an incandescent sheen and in a place no other game will ever go.

Dreamcast · by AkibaTechno (238) · 2010

One of the best games ever made.

The Good
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.

The Bad
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.

Dreamcast · by Sycada (177) · 2001

A work of Art (Capital A intentional)

The Good
This game is full of firsts. Let me count the ways:

  1. It's the first dubbed game I have ever played where I didn't feel compelled to assemble an elite cadre of ninja to hunt down and punish the voice actors for their crimes. It's bad, but oddly fitting. Ryo's speech is stiff and stilted, but so's he. His mom's voice is grating yet forgettable, and so's she. In fact throughout the whole game Ryo is either ignoring his mother, or trying to wheedle cash out of her. If the CAPalert guy did video games, he'd have a heyday with this one.

  2. This is the first game I have ever played where I can honestly say I was engaged and enthralled driving a forklift around all day. Granted, it's the first one that's ever tried, but that's beside the point.

  3. It's also the first one in which I got my throat sliced by a small gang of japanese schoolgirls. Why this doesn't happen in more games, perhaps I'll never understand.

    The Bad
    Though I loved the idea of upgrading Ryo's moves on a daily basis, I found the system confusing. I never found out whether your moves improve through practice or through that menu you get every night. I assume it's a combination of the two.

    The Bottom Line
    Most important, of course, is the reality of this game. I rented it, and had to play it for three days straight to beat it in time to return it. Upon quitting, I found myself constantly comparing reality to the game engine. At times, I found Shenmue to be superior. If that doesn't justify purchasing it, I don't know what does.

Dreamcast · by Tom Blackwell (6) · 2001

One of the most realistic games iv'e ever played

The Good
Almost everything. The towns for example, never before was a city made so beautiful and realistic! I also like the dialogs in the game, there almost never the same. The store is so rich and beautiful. The fighting scenes are great. The interaction is perfect. Everything is perfect!

The Bad
Nothing, absolutely nothing!

The Bottom Line
Well, if you have a DC and still haven't got this game, get it! It's the only game on DC that's still very good (along with Jet Set (Grind) Radio).

Dreamcast · by Goteki45 (323) · 2001

The only reason you need to buy a Dreamcast.

The Good
It's an involving story (the first of some 20 something parts I'm told) with spectacular graphics and an amazingly detailed world to explore. You can interact with almost everybody and everything. It's a fighting, adventure, and arcade game all rolled into one.

The Bad
The voice acting is so bad it's often funny. You may even find some Ryoisms working their way into your everyday language. It would be nice if there was a way to pass the time without walking around or spending your money. Often you have to wait for a specific time before you can perform a task and the waiting can get annoying after awhile.

The Bottom Line
It honestly defies description. There is not other game like it. It's a shame the DC had to die before we could get more installments. The second chapter is due out soon. I just hope they develop the rest of the story for another machine so I can find out what happens.

Dreamcast · by Courtland Funke (53) · 2001

The soda-buying simulator

The Good
The level of detail is unsurpassed by any other Dreamcast game I have ever seen, period. This is the closest thing to walking down an actual street in a claustrophobic small Japanese town besides actually getting a plane ticket and just doing it. Also, the playable Sega classics in the arcade will have you yearning for the days of the single quarter game.

The Bad
Um... where's the game? Fight sequences are extremely rare until the later part of the game, which tries to make up for the lull by having you beat the drud out of about 50-60 guys. Until then you're treated to Ryo's burning hunger for vengeance taking the form of him wandering around town looking largely apathetic to the events around him. The plot advancement is pretty tepid, featuring you asking every single person you come across the same question again and again, some of which the player has observed in the intro. It's a pretty boring verbal scavenger hunt. "Have you seen a... car?" "Why yes, it was a... black car." And thus you start asking everybody if they've seen a... black car. Ryo's personality is bad enough, but the budget voice talent will have even the most die-hard dub fan turning on the original voice track with subtitles. Also, considering this is about a sixth of the intended product... not cool.

The Bottom Line
It's a fascinating attempt, and certainly one that took a whole lot of sweat and love from the developers. I just couldn't imagine forking over full price for it.

Dreamcast · by Vance (94) · 2002

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Tim Janssen, Gianluca Santilio, Big John WV, Flu, Kohler 86, Parf, Riemann80, Wizo, Jeanne, RhYnoECfnW, Alsy, tbxx, Kayburt, Unicorn Lynx, Mike G, Baron79, Patrick Bregger, mikewwm8, firefang9212, lights out party, yenruoj_tsegnol_eht (!!ihsoy), vedder.