I would like to start this review by coining a phrase from the movie Live Free Or Die Hard. “Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s classic, what sucked back then still sucks now.”

The original Shenmue was a game I never really got to play on the Dreamcast when it came out. When I finally got to playing it many years later I thought that it was just okay. While I can’t deny this game’s influence I also never really understood why some people put it on a pedestal as one of the best games in the genre. You play as Ryo Hazuki, a vengeful teenager on a quest to find his father’s killer in 1980’s Japan.

You accomplish this task by fighting thugs, searching for clues, uncovering secrets, and learning new martial arts moves from people you meet along the way. You can even play classic Sega arcade games.

Sounds like fun right? Unfortunately what I just described only constitutes for about 5% of the game’s content. The majority of the first game is bogged down by ridiculous amounts of filler and nonsense. The game tries to have a serious plot and get you invested in its characters, but all the characters are either so poorly written, so boring, so cliched in how they act and speak, or any combination of the three.

After Ryo’s father is murdered he doesn’t even call the police, when I tried calling the police he said “ I will avenge my father’s death on my own. Later on, when his girlfriend is kidnapped, I tried calling the police again and he says “There’s no point in getting the police involved at this point.” Our protagonist is an unlikable idiot who does nothing but makes things worse for himself. I never saw him demonstrate any emotion, added to this the abysmal voice acting and you have a contender for worst video game protagonist ever written.

The majority of the game works like this; you go up to people and ask them questions, hope that they either saw or heard something. Sometimes you might talk to a person, they tell you they have seen nothing; after questioning another person they tell me that the person I met before knows something so I ask that same person again and then they tell me they saw something. If this wasn’t terrible enough the game also has this terrible glitch that causes the camera to go haywire during many of its cutscenes.

While this may seem harmless at first it gets really annoying when you are trying to pay attention to what is going on and the camera just decides to act like an a**hole.

There are also some game breaking glitches as well. One time when I was next to a wall and a person was standing about a foot away from my character, an invisible barrier appeared and couldn’t move past them.

Everything just feels so fake and cartoony despite trying to be a serious game.
The game has an inventory system that you barely ever use because outside of a few key items that you will only ever use once, many of the things that you can buy serve no purpose. You can buy capsule toys, but you can’t do anything with them outside of rotating them. It isn’t until the second game when you can sell them.

So much time and effort went into trying to make everything seem big and (for the time) visually stunning that somewhere down the line the development team forgot that they were making a game.

There are a lot of things to do in Shenmue to pass the time such as playing arcade games, but most of the game consists of you waiting around for hours for one specific event to be triggered at a particular time. Games like Majora’s Mask did this and succeeded, but that game was packed with things to do.

The combat consists of a moveset similar to Virtua Fighter, but the game’s engine for the time just wasn’t meant to handle this many on-screen enemies. Often when I was fighting a large group of thugs, they would get between me and the (Awful) camera. Also although you are supposed to practice your moves to get good at them, (there is a progress bar that increases in length every time you practice one move.)  mastering one move never felt like it made the move more powerful. Not that it matters considering most fights can be beaten just by pressing the throw button.

The game was supposed to be an open world RPG hybrid, but the RPG aspects are so bare bones they might as well not even exist. You can’t increase your strength, or HP it doesn’t matter what choices you make the outcome will always be the same, and what’s worse is after you beat the game there is no new game plus so you can’t go back and replay the game with all your new moves and money. Not that you’d want to because it’s boring but there is almost no reason to go back and play this game.

I think what caused this game to suffer the most was that it tried to do too much and was too big for its own good. If this had been a simple 6 to 8-hour fighting game with the same story but with all the fat trimmed it could have been great. Instead, we got a 20 plus hour long mundane task simulator with many things to do, but most of them are boring. Bottom Line Its quality NOT quantity that matters.

It’s a shame too because the sequel Shenmue 2 was better in every way in my opinion.
Unlike in the first game, here your choices do have some influence on the gameplay. Early on in the game, one guy asked me to bribe him and the more money you give him the more info he gives you. You can buy and sell collectibles at various pawn shops that offer you different rates on different toys requiring you to pay attention to where you sell them. There are more interesting environments for you to traverse, as well as characters with more personality than a bag of bricks.

You can even make choices such as were and when to go to work, and the fighting isn’t complete garbage. You actually have to pay attention to your moves and most fights can’t be beaten by just mashing buttons.

It’s a shame that these two games were bundled together and sold for $30. I would have loved to have just paid $15 for Shenmue 2 but still, it’s not too bad of a deal. Regardless of what anyone may think of them, these games are a big part of gaming history and shaping the landscape for open world games. But whether this game is worth the price or not is entirely up to you. Just do yourself a favor and skip the first game.