Japanese murder mystery
When his father is murdered, a young Japanese boy must solve the crime in a quest for vengeance. Prepare to relive on of the most revolutionary games of its time. Shenmue I and II is available now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Voyage to Hong Kong
In Shenmue I and II you will play as Ryo Hazuki, a Japanese teenage martial artist searching for his father’s killer. Shenmue I sees Ryo interacting with the daily routines of his rural Japan hometown while uncovering clues. As Ryo digs deeper into his father’s past, he quickly identifies the culprit as the notorious Chinese criminal Lan Di.
By Shenmue II Ryo has left home and is full pursuit of Lan Di as he arrives in Hong Kong. With a few new friends joining his party along the way, Ryo now intends to confront Lan Di and finally avenge his father’s death.
Ahead of its time
When Shenmue was first released in 1999, it made a number of leaps that were then revolutionary in video games. It features a persistent in-game clock, and people and events follow routines based on a fixed schedule. Even the buses run on a timetable in Shenmue I and II.
This might not seem to impressive by today’s standards, but at that point in gaming history it was very ambitious. Games that would ultimately define the modern open-world genre (such as Grand Theft Auto III) had not come out yet. Shenmue was one of the first big titles to introduce these elements of social and life simulation in gaming.
For this reason Shenmue holds a lot of nostalgia for many gamers. I personally own a Sega Dreamcast console purely to go back and replay Shenmue on occasion. Not everyone has access to older consoles however, which is why it’s such a joy that Shenmue I and II have been re-released and introduced to modern gamers.
What’s new with Shenmue
Shenmue I and II is not a full-out remaster, so don’t expect something significantly upgraded from the original releases. That said, Sega has still managed to make some improvements designed to make the games more playable for a modern audience.
HD resolution rendering
The graphics in Shenmue I and II have been given a new HD coat or paint, and the game plays in full 16:9 aspect ratio (cut-scenes still play in their original 4:3 ration though).
To be honest I didn’t really notice or feel a difference in the graphics. I’m sure if they were running side-by-side the difference would be observable, but in reality it feels about the same. Truthfully that’s just fine with me though, Shenmue looked great for its time and I’m happy to keep playing without worrying about higher frame rates or new textures that could be.
The user interface has been given a makeover in order to add some features more familiar to today’s gaming environments as well. Perhaps most importantly, Shenmue I and II has introduced the ability to save at any time.
A few decades ago we RPG gamers were more accustomed to save points that came few and far between. Today’s gamers generally do not have the patience for these tactics however. Sega certainly did the right thing in patching the games with a “save anytime” feature.
Dual vocal tracks
Shenmue I and II also features both the English and Japanese audio tracks. This is great news for many western enthusiasts of eastern games who enjoy hearing the subtitled vocal performance in its original Japanese.
Sega claims to have updated Shenmue I and II with modern controls. This might not be exactly what you would assume however. In this case, “updated controls” just means that you can use the left analog stick to control Ryo’s movement, as opposed to relying on the directional pad.
The movement itself still relies on traditional “tank style” controls, where the left analog stick is used to control both forward/backward movement as well as turning. Players not used to this early form of controlling movement in a 3D space may find it a bit difficult to get the hang of.
Finally, do not forget that a release on modern consoles usually means the addition of unlockable in-game trophies and achievements. My fellow PlayStation trophy-hunting cohorts will be happy to know that Shenmue I and II offers a separate platinum trophy for both games in the bundle. I was able to achieve the platinum trophy for Shenmue I fairly easily in a single play-through, and am quickly closing in on the sequel’s top prize as well.
The games within the game
Some of the most fun features of Shenmue I and II are all the side activities that Ryo can participate in. Since the story line often paces itself with timed events, you will often find yourself with time to kill. Interacting with the inhabitants of Ryo’s town is one way to pass the time, but there are plenty of fun and fully fleshed-out mini-games to participate in as well.
For starters, Ryo can visit the arcade and play full versions of classic Sega arcade games! Titles that can be played from within Shenmue I and II include Space Harrier, Hang-On, and Afterburner.
Ryo can also play games at local bars such as darts and pool, or even visit the casino to try his luck at the slot machines. Not only are these mini-games entertaining, but winning can provide a source of income in the form of cash rewards. Of course playing isn’t free, so be careful not to find yourself in too deep of a hole.
Shenmue I and II is a collection of two absolute classics. While this release does not do much in the way of a significant makeover, I think that much of the charm comes from playing them in close to their original state. Those with nostalgia for the original releases will enjoy this faithful port to current generation consoles.
Some modern gamers may have difficulty seeing the appeal. However those with an open mind stand to benefit from experiencing a true slice of gaming history. Shenmue I and II pioneered some of the most fun social simulation and time-based interactions that we enjoy in open-world games today.
+ Faithful ports of these classic pioneering titles
+ Updated user interface
+ Save anywhere feature
+ Full playable Sega arcade titles
– No update to outdated tank controls
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5