D3T / SEGA (studio)
21 August 2018 (released)
29 August 2018
The Shenmue games are revered by many across the world of video games. Though they may not have made a massive amount of sales (perhaps partially due to only being released on the doomed Sega Dreamcast) they certainly left their impact. And now, after two decades since the original release of Shenmue 1, Sega has seen fit to finally re-release the pair on modern systems. How does this series hold up?
For a start, both games are heavily intertwined, so you won’t just be able to jump in on the second game, as you will be afforded no recap of the first game. Therefore, I will review both games together here, as Shenmue 2 for the most part makes only minor improvements to the first game in terms of its gameplay. However, for a game so story-driven, I found myself struggling to be interested in what was going on. That’s not to say it didn’t try; from the very moment that main character Ryo’s father is murdered, the stakes are high, but the game fails to maintain that tension for any amount of time. You spend a vast amount of time going from person to person, gaining information as you go, with only a few quick-time events and the very rare combat moment to break the ling stretches apart. By the time I had reached the fourth hour in the first game though, I was getting very bored. I can understand games that like a slow pace, but I can’t think of anything I’ve ever played that progresses this slowly, and with so little to do in-between.
Those who have played the Yakuza series (arguably the spiritual successor to this series) will find the gameplay design familiar, albeit with a few extra features about. You are able to freely roam the different areas of the game and interact with the various people that are out and about, as well as take a break at the arcades. There is also an active time system in the game, and days, weeks (even months) proceed as you proceed with your activities. Shops and other people all have their own timetables and places to be. On paper, it’s a great idea, attempting to give the city its own life in a way few (if any) games did back in the late nineties. However, this system quickly becomes a source of great frustration, especially in the first game where there is no time-skip. Say you have to meet somebody at a specific time? Then you’ll have to wait for the time to pass until they arrive. And with there being so little to do, you will quickly grow bored as you wait, sometimes as long as a quarter-hour of real time, just for someone to get where they are supposed to be. If they’re even there to begin with…
And then there’s the combat; or rather, the quick-time events, with the occasional real-time fight. The quick-time events aren’t too terrible, as you can recover from making a mistake in most situations, but even back then using this in place of actual gameplay was, in my opinion, a massive copout. When you have a combat system, you should use it, but this game does its best, particularly in the early stages, to avoid at all costs having you participate in a proper fight. When I finally got some action, several hours had passed, and I was thrown into the ringer with absolutely no instructions on how I was supposed to fight. Forget that I was up against a gang of sailors, I would have struggled against one man with how confusing the system was.
As far as remasters go, this hardly qualifies as one. The graphics have been ‘upscaled’, but upscaled still doesn’t change the fact that the graphics are two decades old, almost. And while the gameplay is now in widescreen, most of the cinematics and cutscenes are still in the old 4:3 format, even though they render in-game. And then… there’s the sound. Abysmal dubbing aside… the compression on the sound in this game is appalling. It sounds like someone tried to fit all of the files onto a floppy disk. This is unacceptable in this day and age. At the very least, the English dub should have probably been dropped, as it sounds much worse (both in talent and quality) than it’s Japanese counterpart, which is at least somewhat bearable.
In the end, I feel like I am doing this game a disservice. There are many people who will claim that these two games are amongst the greatest ever made, making me feel like I’m missing something. But I just don’t see it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve played games that followed in its footsteps and did everything it did better. Perhaps it should have received a full remake to modernize its more aging features, rather than just a port. The bottom line is this; I can’t rate a game based on how others think of it.
Or to be more blunt… I’m not interested in Shenmue III anymore.
++ Unique and (for the time) new game ideas
- Lack of widescreen format
-- Heavy amount of downtime
-- Highly dated gameplay
A PS4 copy of Shenmue 1 & 2 Remaster was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.