We look back on Yu Suzuki's love letter to gaming fans.
As a first of its kind, Shenmue introduced a magic weather system that changes at random throughout the game. It also invented F.R.E.E. (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment) - the true roots of quick timed events (QTE) incorporated in many of today’s games.
Shenmue’s open world game-play served as a catwalk for aspiring game developers to take heed and produce their own AAA titles. Even the current generation of games have been unable to deliver something of this calibre.
This game had it all; an arcade parlour where you could stray from the narrative to play Space Harrier and Hang On, between a few games of darts or QTE boxing. Feeling lucky? – How about entering a raffle at the local convenience store to win a Saturn game. Proceed to have your fortune read, then play it back at the Hazuki Residence when you return home.
For a game that surfaced before the millennium, it remains a hard act to follow.
Shenmue begins on November 29th 1986. The fictional character Ryo Hazuki returns home to find his father Iwao Hazukiconfronted by a mysterious man. After a tense confrontation with the exchange of some powerful words, Iwao Hazuki is dealt a fatal blow - a helpless Ryo looks on until he musters enough energy to reach his dying father. Iwao’s last words to his son are: “Keep friends... those you love, close to you”.
So begins Ryo's plight...
Amongst this tale of revenge is an unrequited love story that unfolds between Ryo and a girl, Nazomi. As the narrative takes shape, Ryo'slust for the truth keeps him from seeing what they share through her eyes. YuSuzuki shows that he is both a masterful storyteller as well as a highly accomplished games developer.
He keeps you gripped as this tale of unrequited love unfolds to a touching climax, one that stays with you long after the end. Even though Shenmue teaches you to keep friends, the actuality of the plot is almost focused on the sorrow of when two people part.
Upon building strong relationships withkey characters, their departure during the game leaves you to cope with the change in equilibrium. This is where Shenmue begins to make the transition from RPG to something more.
There are some memorable characters that Ryo meets along the way. ‘Mark Kimberley’ stands out in the first instalment. Ryo befriends Mark during his time at the harbour during the latter stages of Shenmue. Every night, Mark looks out to sea in search of his brother who has mysteriously disappeared. From the offset, we know his brother’s fate was decided by a gang who operates at the docks called the Mad Angels. It also transpires that they are linked to Lan Di - the man who killed Ryo's father.
Shenmue would also deal with contemporary issues facing Japan at the time such as the "Americanization" of the newer generation who some believed were forgetting traditional Japanese ways. This becomes apparent through various flashbacks Ryo has over disputes with his father who wants Ryo to embrace traditional values only to have him refuse. Other examples such as the clothing worn by characters in the game and merchandise present in the game add to this theme.