Jan 8, 2017

03: Virtua Fighter RPG

Today we have the first big one for the year. Shenmue ist just the perfect game to play around Christmas or during winter in general. But unlike Doom I don´t play this one that often, in fact it was only my 2nd complete playthrough and the first one was a few years ago. My overall opinion on this game changed a lot during this playthrough, after I finished it for the first time I would have recommended this game to everybody, but now I wouldn´t do that anymore. You see, Shenmue´s biggest strenght is the insane amount of freedom and attention to detail it has, and in the end that is also it´s biggest downside. You can open (almost) every drawer and closet you see and pick up a lot of things in the gameworld, most of the time you won´t find anything that is usefull or even needed, however in some cases you are requiered to do just that, and if you are not the type of person that just explores and tries random stuff in games anyway you could easily end up running in circles for hours without ever knowing that to do. I.e. around halfway through the game you have to sneak into a warehouse to meet up with someone. Once you arrive there you quickly realize that you can´t find anyone there. What you are ment to do here is to pick up a certain Item from one of the shelves to trigger a cutscene, however prior to this you where never required to pick up any item in the gameworld to progress in the game, you might as well still don´t know at this point that you even can pick up almost anything. But I´m getting a bit ahead of myself with the issues I have with the game.

The Story is a simple and basic one: Your father get´s killed and you want to revenge him. Lan Di, the man that murdered your father, is after the Dragon Mirror that your father owns, according to an old legend this Dragon Mirror is the key to great power, however it is useless without it´s counterpart, the Phoenix Mirror. As it turns out your father had both Mirrors and Lan Di obviously didn´t know that. You play as Ryo Hazuki and you have to find out where Lan Di is. And right there is this really big issue I have with the game: Ryo knows who is looking for, he has a name, he knows how Lan Di looks like, he knows that he uses a rare fighting style, so chances are that someone else with a Martial Arts background could know who exactly Lan Di is and where to find him. And considering that Ryo´s father himself was a Martial Arts Master with his own Dojo and, as it later turns out, unique fighting style chances are high that Ryo knows a couple of people that could help him. Obviously that would make way too much sense and it probably wouldn´t make a interesting game and because of that you have to find him the hard way by finding clue after clue the hard way by asking people, beating some guys up with a fairly in-depth fightinh system similar to Virtua Fighter and not screwing up completely during a Quick Time Event. I do understand why Ryo doesn´t ask if anyone knows where to find Lan Di, but it would be much more believable if the didn´t have the name from the get go, and considering how much attention to detail the game has and how realistic the entire experience is, this one detail really sticks out once you start thinking about it.

And the. at least by todays standardts, small Open-World really is very realistic, it was modelled after real, existing places after all. You can enter many Shops and Restaurants, you can talk to every single NPC you see and every single one has voice acting. Sure, many will only say that they don´t have time or don´t want to talk with you, but at least you get a fully voiced reaction each time you approach a NPC. You can also buy certain items at the super market, mostly cassete tapes with music from the games Soundtrack and food for a littke kitten you can take care of, you can buy capsules with random little toys in them to build up a collection of various characters from Sega games. cars and random objects or you can visi the local Arcade to play Arcade-Perfect Ports of Hong-On and Space Harrier as well as a game of Darts and a QTE-Trainer. If you have some time to fill, and you will often run into a situation where you have to wait for something to happen, you can also visit the Dojo or various other places like Parking Lots or small Parks to train your fighting moves. Stores are only open during certain times of the day, NPC´s do different thing at different times of the day, the weather can change over the course of a day and you have to be at home at 11 PM the game will just send you back home becase it´s time to get some sleep. And if you get told to meet someone at a certain time you have to wait to further progress. All this really helps to make the game feel believable, and don´t forget that all this was done back in 1999, back then hardly any other game felt so realistic and even today you won´t find many games that will let you interact with so many random, useless objects as Shenmue does.

Visualy the game still holds up very well. Sure, the overall Texture Quality is low by todays standardts, but especialy when played with a VGA Box you can make out a lot of details. In addition the main cast of characters has very detailed character models down to the hands being modeled with individual fingers. Some of the models used during cutscenes, like i.e. Lan Di or Shenhua / Sha Hua are so detailed and well textured that they wouldn´t look out of place in some modern titles. Overall the visuals can compare to some of the games released in the middle of the PS2´s life span. The Sound is on a similar level. The Soundtrack is incredible and unlike most Dreamcast games it´s played mosltly by the Dreamcast´s Soundchip in Realtime instead of using compressed Audio Files. This gives the game a very high quality to it´s music tracks. Most of the Sound Effects you hear throughout the game come with fairly high quality as well, however the same can´t be said for most of voice acting. I don´t know if the same is true for the original Japanese version of the game since I´m only familiar with the english voiced PAL Version of the game, but a lot of the spoken dialouge has very obvious background noise from the compression, to make matters worse some of the voice acting is on a very amateur-level in terms of the actual acting part and some if it even has a slight hint of echo that was probably left from the original recording session. But considering how much voice acting the game has and how much I love the bad voice acting in the original Resident Evil I can´t and won´t complain too much about this.

Even though the game has a lot going for it on the technical side and in terms of world building, the controls can be really annoying at times, especialy during the first few hours when you play Shenmue for the first time. Your modern gamer senses want to control Ryo with the single Thumbstick the Dreamcast controller has, however that only controls the camera. Ryo himself is controlled with the D-Pad with A being you main Button to interact with the world and B to cancel most interactions. The left and right triggers are used to switch into a first Person view and to run, and it´s up to the player wich trigger does what. The Y Buttons opens your Inventory wich has all the Items you bought or found, you can view your notebook from here, view the list of moves you learned, view your collection of capsule-toys and listen to cassette tapes you own if you found the cassette player. In addition you can save the game from the inventory at any point in the game to resume at the exact place where you saved. The issue with these controls is that Ryo has the turning radius of a cargo ship when running and even when walking you will have trouble to enter a small passage because when you turn left or right while standing you automaticly move a bit forward as well. Sure, you get used to the controls, but some people might be scared away right at the start. Every once in a while you get involved in a fight, most of them are during the last third of the game. These fights feaure hand-to-hand combat with everything you would expect from a fighting game or brawler and with the expection of one or two fights even people that don´t play fighting games on a regular basis won´t have too much trouble winning these fights.

Like I mentioned earlier Shenmues greatest strenght and weakness is the great freedom it gives you, and because of that you absoluely have to be the kind of person that want´s to explore a games world and try stuff for the sake of trying. You need patience for the game because sometimes you have to play the waiting game and even though you as the player might already know what you have to do to progress you might have to do something else before you can actualy progress. In a sense Shenmue is a evolution of the Adventure-Genre, similar to those classic Point & Click games you spent most of your time with garhering information and solving a few puzzles along the way. But if you are not the types of person that likes to explore in their games you will hate this game because sometimes it will require you to do stuff that you might not know is even possible. Since I already played Shenmue 2 in the past as well I already know that it is the better and somehow more streamlined game and in comparsion the first game feels more like a technical demonstration of what the Dreamcast can do. Instead of playing the game you might as well just watch the official Shenmue Movie that came bundled with the XBox Version of Shenmue 2, that Movie is mostly made from the cutscenes to tell the entire Story, in terms of actual gameplay you wouldn´t miss much that way.