Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016
With the popularity of open-world games such as Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, Fallout, Red Dead Redemption, and Watch Dogs, the question is what is one game that predates all of these?

That game is called Shenmue, which was released for the Sega Dreamcast in November, 2000. Shenmue is an open-world action-adventure video game. Shenmue consists of open-world 3D environments interspersed with brawler battles and quick time events. It features a level of detail considered unprecedented at the time, including a day-and-night system, variable weather effects, non-player characters with daily schedules, and various minigames.

It was created by Sega AM2 and Yu Suzuki, the creator of many Sega arcade games like Hang On, Out Run, and Virtua Fighter. Suzuki wanted to create a longer game experience. Suzuki wanted to make an epic RPG spinoff game of Virtual Fighter which would feature the Virtua Fighter character “Akira” as the main character. AM2 began work on this RPG for the Sega Saturn set in the Virtua Fighter world.

In 1997, development was moved to the Dreamcast, the game was named Shenmue and the Virtua Fighter connection was dropped. It became the most expensive video game ever developed at the time, with an estimated production and marketing cost of $47 to $70 million USD, though some of the development also covered Shenmue II (2001). Unfortunately, Shenmue turned out to be a commercial failure, despite having mostly positive reviews.

The story revolves around 18-year old Ryo Hazuki, who seeks to avenge the murder of his father in 1980’s, Japan. His father’s murderer was a Chinese man by the name Lan Di. Lan Di came after Ryo’s father in search for two “mirrors” which look more like medals with symbols on them. The two mirrors are: the dragon mirror, and the Phoenix mirror. Later on in the game, it’s revealed that he only took one of the mirrors, which was the Dragon mirror.

The next day, Ryo goes out to search for the men that killed his father. He goes around his hometown of Yokosuka asking people for clues. The beginning of the game revolves around you as Ryo asking people questions such as “Have you seen a black car?” “Do you know anyone that might be Chinese” “Do you know where I can find sailors”. Due to this slow and admitting mundane part of the game, people back then gave up playing the game. Although, the people who kept playing patiently with an open mind realized that the story gets more exciting and interesting as the game progresses.


Gameplay in Shenmue is diverse. While most of the game is spent walking around the Japanese locations in a third-person 'chase cam' mode (talking to people, searching for things, and so forth), it is interspersed with many 'mini-games', including forklift and motorcycle races, bar fights, chases down crowded alleys, dart games, and fighting sequences. You can do other things like buying drinks from vending machines, taking care of a cat that had been abandoned, buying capsule toys, listening to music on a cassette tape bought in the game, and going to the arcade to play classic Sega arcade games made by Suzuki himself.

The battles pit Ryo against one or more enemies. Ryo has a large list of martial art techniques. The player has the ability to enter a practice mode of sorts, in which Ryo will practice his various martial art techniques, either alone or with a friendly opponent. This helps to increase the player's familiarity with the battle system. While progressing through the game, players have the ability to learn more techniques, adding to Ryo's collection and ultimately making him a more powerful martial artist.

During the majority of Shenmue, the player will explore the Yokosuka area. Often, these leads will be gained by talking to local people who can provide important clues. If the player so desires, they can explore the area simply for fun without progressing through the game. Furthermore, talking to a variety of local people that although will not progress the narrative, can greatly enhance the player's understanding of the plot or gameplay mechanics.

There are also several side quests for players to engage in throughout the game. These will not affect the main narrative, but might provide Ryo with useful items or further develop characters and storyline for the player.

Shenmue includes a system to produce the game's in-universe weather conditions. Named the Magic Weather System, it is one of the most important elements for creating the game's universe. For every day that the player progresses through, weather conditions are randomly generated. Conditions vary from rain, to snow, to overcast skies to sunny and several other variations. Furthermore, weather can change throughout the day.

For example, a rainy morning followed by an overcast afternoon and evening. The weather has direct impact on how the game looks - on a rainy day, people are walking around with umbrellas, and on a snowy day, the street is covered with snow. The conditions generated are reflective of the season in which they take place. In addition, records of actual real life weather forecasts of the Yokosuka area during 1986/1987 were implemented into the game, giving players the option to experience these weather conditions in addition to those which are randomly generated.

Shenmue takes place within Yokosuka, Japan. The four main areas of Yokosuka available to the player are detailed and offer many paths for exploration. The Hazuki Residence is located in a small community called Yamanose, where many of Ryo's childhood friends and neighbors live. Directly next to Yamanose lies Sakuragaoka, a slightly bigger neighborhood. There are several points of interest here, including Setsu Abe's candy shop and Sakuragaoka Park.

Dobuita, the second largest location in the game, is a busy town that boasts a wide variety of people and activities. Dobuita offerings include an eclectic and diverse selection of shops in the game, from convenience stores to specialized antique shops where valuable martial arts scrolls can be purchased. There is also a red light district with several bars, restaurants, a small slot machine parlor, and a mahjong parlor. The bus service that allows Ryo to travel to the New Yokosuka Harbor District is also located here near a tobacco shop.

Moving on to the characters and story, Ryo has many friends and people who were friends with his father. The first is Ryo’s father himself, Iwao Hazuki. The family’s housemaid, Ine Hayata. Fukusan, an old friend of Iwao. Ryo’s apparent love interest Nozomi, who is daughter of the owner of the flower shop in Dobuita. Tom Johnson, a hot dog salesman from New York, he likes to chat with Ryo, whenever he comes across him around Dobuita. Without spoiling too much, Ryo meets many more characters throughout the game such as Chai, who is a deformed minion of Lan Di looking for the Phoenix mirror. Master Chen who is located at the Yokosuka harbor at night, he knows about Lan Di’s origins. Finally, Shenhua, the girl that appears on the game’s cover, yet doesn’t make any appearance until somewhere during the second game.

Many reviews praised the game's graphics, realism, soundtrack and ambition. IGN called Shenmue "a gaming experience that no one, casual to hardcore gamer, can miss." Eurogamer called it "one of the most compelling and unusual gaming experiences ever created." Although, Game Informer criticized the game's lack of action, writing: "Determining your character's next move requires little more than talking to someone, who will then tell you who to see or where to go ... all that's left is a guy walking around an amazingly detailed environment. If I wanted to experience that, I could see it in another game with proven endless entertainment value. It's called life." While Shenmue is a great game, there are some flaws, most notably, the English voice acting. Some of characters such as Ryo who is voiced by Cory Marshall, just sound very monotone.

After the release of the first game, Shenmue 2 was made as a last attempt to save the Sega Dreamcast, alongside Sonic Adventure 2. What’s interesting is that Shenmue 2 was later ported to the original Microsoft Xbox, but the Dreamcast version never got released in the US. This was because of a deal that former Sega of America CEO, Peter Moore, made with Microsoft. Peter Moore is now the president of EA. Even though fans were happy that the game was released in the US at all, fans were still enraged. This is because the Dreamcast version which was released in Japan, and Europe, had Japanese voice acting with English subtitles. Also for the fact that in the Dreamcast version, if you complete the first game, all the items, capsule toys, fighting moves, and money you earned, could be transferred over to Shenmue 2. The Xbox couldn’t do that obviously because it’s on a different system.

Since the demise of the Dreamcast, the Shenmue series ended on a cliff hanger ending. Fans were heavily disappointed, and wished for a sequel to finish the story for literally over a decade. People began saying “forget it, Sega will never make another Shenmue game, they are now just a shell of their former self!”

Then the unimaginable happened. Yu Suzuki revealed Shenmue 3 at the Sony E3 presentation on June 2015, 14 years after Shenmue 2. Fans and critics were shocked and crying tears of joy at the announcement. Shenmue 3 was being funded through Kickstarter, and it went on to be the highest funded gaming Kickstarter project of all time, receiving over $6 million in crowdfunding. The Kickstarter donations ended July 18, 2015. The game will be released for the Playstation 4 and PC.

Recently, Sega has been thinking about making a HD remake of both Shenmue 1 and 2. Although, they have to deal with copyright issues before doing that. This would be great, because people who never got the chance to play the games on the Dreamcast, can now get it on newer consoles. When that happens, I recommend checking it out.

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