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Game Profile
November 07, 2000
Shenmue II

Shenmue II

 Written by Nick Schmidt  on November 27, 2000

Special: Watch as the "greatest game" gets the smackdown

For the longest period I had eagerly been anticipating Shenmue, Yu Suzuki's "masterpiece" of a game. Since the early days of way back when, when the game was simply known as Project Berkley, the countdown had been continuing in my mind. After looking at a million and one pictures, and seeing movie after movie, my mind was made up; I had to have Shenmue - the game that at that time, looked to be the best to ever grace our beloved Dreamcast.

Months passed, and even a year or two. The Japanese version came out, received rave reviews for the most part, and my anticipation heightened to an excessive level of perpetual drooling, and a daily routine of wetting my bed. Now I really had to have it. I mean, the magazines and websites said it was probably the most innovative game ever made. So why not get it?

Even more months passed, and my patience was dying along with my all-important resources; aka money. But finally, a few weeks ago, we, the gamers, were "blessed" with the final U.S. version of Shenmue. So like the obedient, young lad that I am, I went out with whatever money I had left burning in my pockets and bought myself a copy of Shenmue. As happy as a schoolboy, I rushed home with all four discs in tow. Finally reaching the safe haven of Dreamcast-Land, I proceeded to rip the first disc out of its respective holder and smacked that puppy within the confinements of the console, then finally pressing the all-important power button. Boy was I excited.

After allowing the proper booting sequence to pass, I watched the opening cinema in awe. It was obvious that the scene was the actual in-game engine, and it was also obvious that the cinema used an improved and more focused version of the engine so that the cut-scene could be as pretty as possible. It didn't really bother me that much, even though I would much prefer the regular game engine when viewing cinemas. "I'll just let this one slide," I thought. After the prologue had completed, I pressed the start button, created a save file, and my second-rate adventure began.

As we all know, the game opens on Ryo walking in on his father's murder by a mysterious man that goes by the name of Lan Di. After witnessing his dad's demise, Ryo swears that he will find out what is going on, and at the same time avenge his departed father. Thus begins the game, and unfortunately, it's all downhill from there.

Shenmue, in essence, is based on reality. Mr. Suzuki has gone ahead and tried to create the most interactive gaming environment ever. And while he does succeed, for the most part, there are many instances where this lust for reality really distracts from the game by making it even more frustrating than it already is. Let's look at the facts shall we?

Example one. When using the telephone, entering the numbers manually is necessary. Meaning, there is no "speed dial" in your address book that automatically dials the number for you, you have to put each number in physically. Great huh? Well, what makes it even more annoying is the fact that the game takes place in 1986, before the advent of the wondrous concept of what we like to call touchtone phones. This means you have to use a rotary phone for punching in each individual number, and then have to watch it coil all the way back up, then place Ryo?s hand on the next number, spin the wheel, watch it coil again, and so on. Yuck! Talk about not fun at all.

Example two. Realistic time really (And I emphasis the word really) sucks. It may seem cool at first, or in other games where the clock doesn't play that big of a role, like Ocarina of Time, but when everything depends on what moment of the day it is, things get extremely frustrating and cumbersome. Each shop has their own hours, so managing your "schedule" is essential to advance in the game.

For instance, let's just say that you needed to meet some sailors in the bar. But the bar doesn't open up until four o' clock, and it's currently nine a.m., what do you do? Absolutely nothing. Or you could go to the arcade, but I'll dabble on that dilemma in a minute. Okay, back to the bar. So the tavern finally opens, you go in and talk to the bartender, and he tells you that the guy you are trying to meet up with doesn't show until seven o' clock. Great, just freakin' dandy. Now, you have to waste even more time twiddling your thumbs waiting for the damn fools to get drunk at the pub all for a piece of information.

Alright, now for example three; the arcade. This is far and away the best thing that Shenmue has to offer to the poor souls who paid full admission to get the game. By including these games, it almost seems like an apology for the lack of real gameplay within Shenmue. When I found myself spending almost all my time playing Space Harrier and Hang-On (Which by the way are great games), I began to realize how sad it was that I wasn't even playing the game I paid to buy, but rather the diversions within it. Tisk tisk Yu.

Example four. The repetition that takes place inside of Shenmue verges on the brink of being utterly amazing, and not to mention annoying. The entire first disk is just Ryo walking around the city talking to people while trying to squeeze out an ounce of information. Now I know that this may not be that bad, but let me explain. You see, once you ask someone pertaining to a requested specification, like your father's death, he or she will always, and I repeat, always tell you they know nothing and that you should try to ask "so-and-so at this place."

So of course you go where they suggest, ask the person if they know anything, and they will say the same thing. Apparently nobody knows anything about anything that goes around in the city, even though they live there. And while querying every soul imaginable, you'll realize how many people you've asked the same thing to is astounding, and how they all reply with the same answer is equally as amazing. Every character's reply is so vague that you'd swear there was a conspiracy that the game was trying to not let you advance, it's so frustrating. Top this off with the fact that there are only two actual battle scenes and a handful of QTE (Quick Timer Events) within the entire first disc, and you'll soon realize how arduous and monotonous the gaming "experience" actually is.

Example five. The battle system is so incredibly weak and sloppy it gives Mr. Suzuki, the man responsible for Virtua Fighter, a bad name. Within the fighting experience, you'll be frustrated out of your mind, especially since the controls are so horrendous and unresponsive. Moves are painfully slow to pull off, and it takes forever for the actual game to respond to your button input, making fighting multiple enemies feel like a burden. Plus the QTE's are so lame that anyone unfamiliar with the game could have sworn they were watching someone play Dynamite Cop accompanied with a fancy coat of paint...

... Well friends, my ramblings could go on for much longer, but to save some space and your sanity, I think I'll just leave it at that. Don't get me wrong though, Shenmue is a very unique experience, it's just not for everyone. Maybe Suzuki-san was trying to be too ambitious and just fell short, or maybe the game just sucks... who knows. But I certainly don't see how many are hailing this as the best game ever. If I were to review it, I would probably give it a 6.5 at the highest. That may sound a bit harsh, but I think I explained my reasoning rather well in the above paragraphs. Just before you buy the game, realize what you are getting in to. And if you end up being disappointed, just blame yourself, because I told you so!

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