Reviews

Shenmue I and II review – Revenge Gets a Facelift

The original Shenmue was an unofficial flagship title for the SEGA Dreamcast on release in December 1999. Known for it’s Arcade successes such as ‘Space Harrier’, ‘Super Hang-On’ and the now defunct ‘Virtua Fighter’ series, SEGA AM2 decided to venture into the realm of story driven titles on the SEGA Saturn. Using Virtua Fighters latest engine, AM2 wanted to tell the story of the series main protagonist at the time. This plan later took a backseat in favour of a fresh face and a new environment. Well, Shenmue’s protagonist ‘Ryo’ takes a few facial features and his overall fighting style from ‘Akira’ at the very least.

Mid way through production, SEGA finally realised that the Saturn had run its course commercially and was beginning to flop. During SEGA’s new found investment in the Dreamcast, AM2’s focus also shifted to the new SEGA console. This writer couldn’t imagine a fully realised world on the Saturn doing the Shenmue series any favours. At its core, Shenmue was developed with the Arcade functionality in mind.

Who could blame AM2? It’s all they really knew. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the Shenmue series suffered from terrible texture ‘Shimmering’ glitches which turned detailed textures into a digital mess. Most console developers of the time used a process called Mip Mapping when applying textures in-game. This technique lowered the over quality of the texture but allowed objects and characters to stand out in the foreground of the in-game world.

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Speaking of arcade games, did one mention that the highlights of AM2’s back catalogue at the time was available to play in-game on Shenmue I? That’s right readers! Often regarded as a ‘best of’ title in its own right, many players will tell tales of their Space Harrier adventures before getting into Shenmue’s deep gameplay features.

Where’s Ryo?

In it’s original press videos, Shenmue seemed to be a game focusing in on the criminal underbelly of mainland China . As players of Shenmue I will testify too, Ryo’s first chapter of revenge is based within his local city in Japan. This would later be revealed as behind the scenes work for Shenmue II, which also explains how SEGA managed to turn around a more expansive and polished sequel 2 years after the original Shenmue release!

Although Shenmue II improved on the open world formula that the franchise had brought to mainstream gaming, it failed to woo the overall gaming community and find it place amongst mainstream fandom. Luckily for franchises such as Shenmue, there’s a cult status for that! This reviewer isn’t stating that the games were a complete commercial disaster, but they failed to meet the reasonable sales targets set at the time.

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The Shenmue franchise introduced a laid back attitude to the gaming industry and the content that was considered the norm in the late 90’s. Although other titles had achieved this on PC such as ‘The Elder Scrolls: Arena and Daggerfall’, Shenmue was the first console only outfit to pull the open world genre off which fired Shenmue into the limelight. The majority of the open world RPG’s that have come since Shenmue owe to the balsy development choices made by AM2.

Hmmm, new things…

Initially, Shenmue I’s release split critics down the middle due to it’s then fresh detective / exploring mechanics embedded deep within its core gameplay. The Shenmue series was also one of the first titles to display ‘Quicktime’ scenes outside of an arcade setting. This along with a very outdated motion blur effect make for a dated but revolutionary game engine from the late 90’s.

Furthermore, every character in the Shenmue series including NPC’s are voice acted, which is also another notch in the technological advancements bedpost. Being honest, this reviewer cannot put the quality of the voice acting down to the age of the game, it really sucks! Oddly delivered lines and queer pauses in sentence delivery make for some unexpected comedic moments. The Shenmue series has all the makings of an Eastern ‘B’ Movie, complete with inapt acting, obtuse camera angles and cheesy confrontations. These features complete the game, intentional or not.

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E3 2015 was a landmark event for various gamers around the world. News of a new Shenmue title surfaced along with remasters of the original games for current generation hardware. No matter what type of gamer heard about this, it was an unspoken rule that this was massive news. Imagine a slightly less important Half Life 3 announcement. (Sorry readers, but Half Life 3 would literally make peoples orifices bleed. All at once)

Be gone Emulators!

The Shenmue I and II re-release keeps everything that fanboys have grown to adore whilst opting to only optimise visual elements of the games. Dreamcast Emulator enthusiasts have been trying to perfect the visual Shenmue experience for years, from shader and VGA screen experimentation to implementing better physics and adjusting the field of view to 16:9. But thanks to this bountiful Remaster, FOV is at 16:9, all texture glimmer is eliminated and no physics or texture glitches remain. Even the motion blur has been rationalised slightly, Shenmue isn’t complete without motion blur right?

Both Shenmue I and II are the Vanilla Dreamcast versions with a facelift and optimised for current generation hardware. Players no longer need to hunt down a decent VGA adaptor for a better native resolution or download customer Emulator builds just to play the Shenmue series. This is without doubt the definitive edition of Shenmue I and II.

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This reviewers one major gripe about the new and improved Shenmue series is the movement mechanics. One can understand the physical limitations of one thumb-stick in the Dreamcast days, however this is 2018 and we have custom thumb-stick options. This writer felt that this was a massive oversight which has built an unnecessary barrier to deter new players from enjoying the series who missed out the first time around.

The voice actors were paid actual money…

The overall sound engineering remains untouched, and rightly so! Re-recording voice overs, sounds and soundtracks in crisp high definition without any compression distortion would ruin the nostalgia and original feel for the series. Gamers old and new need to understand that Shenmue I and II is a product of its time and behaves as such. Although many of the outdated mechanics remain, SEGA are simply giving the fans of the series what they want. A Shenmue re-release with a facelift that allows fanboys and fangirls to relive their youth in full nostalgia mode. In this respect, Shenmue I and II certainly delivers.

At the same time, if players take off their nostalgia glasses they will find quite a lazy remaster. As previously mentioned, some core mechanics remain untouched. There is a blatant display of unwillingness to modernise aging mechanics and gameplay features that could easily be rectified to enhance the overall experience. This reviewer doesn’t want an easier challenge, just the ability to walk up a flight of stairs without aiming with ones face and timing ones approach. These points should be considered on every remaster project, but Shenmue I and II has unfortunately fallen into the same trap most developers and publishers fall into whilst trying to bridge a gap until the new game arrives.

 

Verdict:

Graphics and Presentation: 4.5

Sound: 4

Gameplay: 4

Overall score: 4.2 / 5

Readers, if one didn’t play Shenmue I and II the first time around or just didn’t appreciate it, this release will not be a different experience. Graphical improvements do not change a games narrative quality and choice of mechanics on display. This reviewer doesn’t believe the Shenmue series to be a negative experience, but be warned that this collection is more or less the same series from nearly 20 years ago.

 

 

Platforms: Xbox One X (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 and Steam

Release Date: 21/08/2018

Price: £24.99 (Microsoft Store)

Publisher: SEGA

Developer: SEGA AM2

Pegi Rating: 16+

 

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