Prepare yourselves people. One of gaming’s greatest flops is about to come back for another round. Shenmue I & II HD is set to release on August 21st for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. I highly advise that you check out the new trailer at the head of this page to catch a sneak peek of what to expect. Now, perhaps “flop” is a relatively strong word to use. Shenmue actually sold quite well, in fact it was one of the highest selling games on the Dreamcast. Shenmue II sales were never disclosed, but I suspect a similar outcome.
You see, the problem with the first game was mostly due to its ridiculously high development budget. Its immediate sequel was developed on a much tighter budget, but the fact that the Dreamcast flopped in the shadow of the massively successful PlayStation 2, certainly didn’t help. The reason Shenmue stands out as dominant as it does is because the whole plot was set to be relayed over the course of eleven chapters, spread over three games. Sadly, Shenmue III was never released, leaving the fate of the story open for nearly two decades.
I say that because Shenmue III is currently in development, albeit the only platform that it’s announced for is the PlayStation 4. Hopefully we see Shenmue III coming to Xbox One at some point, after all, it would hardly be ideal to see its two predecessors coming over to the platform without an ultimate conclusion to the story. Last we spoke to the developer, somewhat six weeks back, they reiterated that there are no plans for an Xbox One version at the time. That’s not a flat out no, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I’m going to be blunt.
Maybe if there’s a strong enough interest in Shenmue I & II HD, we’ll see some turned heads? It’s a guess for anyone right now. Whatever the case, Shenmue I & II are well worth your time and attention. The game is an action-adventure semi open-world experience that’s peppered with QTEs and the occasional brawl. There’s a few simulation elements present too, such as that of its day and night cycle, its management system and some interactive games (wanna play a game of lucky hit?) to help bolster the overall package.
By and large, Shenmue is full of interesting ideas and I dare say that it was way ahead of its time. The story is set in 1986 Yokosuka, Japan, when teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki returns to his family dojo to witness a confrontation between his father Iwao and antagonist Lan Di. Ryo intervenes, but is easily put on his ass. Lan Di demands Iwao give him a mysterious stone artifact known as the dragon mirror. When he threatens to kill Ryo, Iwao tells him the mirror is buried under the cherry blossom tree outside. It’s as simple as that.
As Lan Di’s men dig up the mirror, Lan Di mentions Zhao Sunming, whom Iwao allegedly killed in Mengcun, China. Lan Di delivers a finishing blow and Iwao dies in Ryo’s arms. Thus starts the beginning of Ryo’s quest to avenge his father’s murder, taking him to some wonderfully created environments alongside a stellar cast of characters. Many argue that Shenmue featured a level of detail that was considered unprecedented for games at the time, and I would wholeheartedly agree. Even now, these visuals truly blow me away.
There’s nothing by current day standards, but if you try to picture that these games released nearly two decades back, you simply have to appreciate the attention to detail. Hell, that’s just the game’s details. Throw in the fact that shops open and close, buses run to timetables and even characters have their own routines, and you can clearly see the ambition that drove these experiences forward. So, with such a fascinating world to dive into, how does the actual gameplay pan out? Well, this may be where we run into a bit of a pickle.
Back then, it was easy to forgive some clunky controls and the occasional bug. Nowadays on the other hand, gamers are much less forgiving. Shenmue I & II HD will be clunky, unresponsive and tedious when it releases next month. This is merely a product of its age and something I truly hope isn’t as much of an issue as I remember it to be. Outside of the controls, the gameplay and structure remains quite open. This can be said about the first game and indeed its sequel, irrespective of the differing locations and minor story shifts.
For instance, Ryo will receive a daily allowance which can be spent on a range of different things; food, raffles, toys, arcade machines, and so on and so forth. The game opens up later in and enables players to get a job at the docks, granting the possibility to work shifts and partake in some forklift racing. Again, think of the time that this game was released, pretty big stuff, right? One of the problems here is that the game can become quite a grind, even when improving your martial art capabilities. It’s repetitive, but utterly stunning nonetheless.
I absolutely cannot wait to give this game a spin. I’m curious as to how well this game has aged and how well the newer generation of gamers will accept it. The backbone of the experience consists of seeking out clues as to the whereabouts of your father’s murderer and bettering yourself across a field of different aspects, all whilst blending in and making it through day-by-day life. On that note, I haven’t played anything like Shenmue since. It’s a unique adventure that simply needs to be played by anyone who enjoys that formula.
The characters, much like the setting and locations, remain diverse, likable and interesting. I’ve purposely danced around much of the plot because I know this HD collection will open to the door to newcomers, and if that’s you, you’re in for a treat. You’ll need to forgive some issues, especially by today’s standards, but Shenmue isn’t as well known as it is for being shite. It’s well known for being distinct, engaging and open. Don’t pass this by. Did you play the originals? Is this the first you’ve heard of Shenmue? Hit the comments below.