“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a very common and infamous saying which can relate to many things, including Video Games. Why change something that’s perfect? If it looks great and its controls are solid then why remake a game? Give it a new coat of paint, a bit of polish here and there and that’s all it needs, right?! However, after spending 25+ hours with both Shenmue games, I think I can safely say that the aforementioned saying isn’t true in the case of these two dated action-adventure RPG games. SEGA has done a great service for the fans, the fans who have played the games recently and vividly remember how they play, but as soon as you take off the rose-tinted glasses you’re left with a collection of games that have aged as well as three-day-old grapes (aka, raisins).
As a side note, I have no nostalgia for these games, I never played them on the original Dreamcast or Xbox, so my first impression of the game is based upon this collection and comparing the quality to videos on YouTube. As such, if you’re a fan of the games and you’re happy with the ‘controls’ then you’re most likely going to have a different opinion than me. However, I will be unbiased and see it from both sides, just keep in mind that I went into these with no prior knowledge or attachment to the franchise.
As you’re already aware, the collection includes both Shenmue I and II within the same pack, I’ll touch on both games separately below as each of them have their own weaknesses, issues and technical disadvantages. Do bear in mind though, these games aren’t remastered or remakes, they are merely ports or re-releases of the original games. Instead of getting a brilliant remake like Yakuza Kiwami, or a well done remaster like Darksiders, all we got was a port with a few enhancements.
Shenmue I: Story
Our story begins with Ryo Hazuki, our protagonist, witnessing the death of his father at the hands of a mysterious character dressed in a green gown. Even though Ryo arrived moments before the climatic end, he heard the two arguing over a ‘mirror’ and possibly a discussion about a man whom his father may have killed. With his last breath, Ryo’s father muttered the name of his killer, Lan Di, before passing away in his arms. All Ryo could remember about that night, “the night it snowed”, was the fact that Lan Di was wearing a green silk gown with a dragon embroidered on it’s back.
Four days had passed since his father had been laid to rest, Ryo couldn’t take any more – he sets out to find this ‘Lan Di’, discover what the ‘mirror’ is and it’s importance, and ultimately seek revenge on everyone who had a part to play in the death of his father. Our first chapter will see you move between a few small areas as you help people out, fight enemies and perform QTEs, all whilst learning new moves and seeking help from new allies along the way.
After you have completed the first game, you can import the save file into Shenmue II when starting a new game – this will carry over your moves, money and items you had on you when saved!
Shenmue II: Story
Because Shenmue II continues right after the finale of the first game, I’ve put the story info within a spoiler below. It’s not really spoiling much but it does touch on what you’ll be up to in the second game based on events that happened in the first.
After the events of Shenmue I, Ryo continues on his journey into Hong Kong thanks to the help he received from Yaowen Chen. Due to the final ‘incident’ with Master Chen’s son, Ryo is travelling alone as he seeks the stolen Phoenix Mirror which Lan Di took on the night he killed his father. With only his toys he gathered in his previous adventure, a decent amount of HKD (based on how much you had when you ended the game) and the second mirror, Ryo arrives at his destination.
Even though Ryo arrives alone, he certainly won’t participate in this part of his journey on his lonesome. He’ll meet new allies, learn new skills, and even travel to a few large locations as he tracks down his fathers killer and the second Mirror.
Controls (Both games)
The controls suck. It had to be said and I think that pretty much sums it up. As I pointed out before, nothing has changed from the original Dreamcast versions and everyone knows that early 3D games had terrible controls. Basically, we’re looking at tank controls (up moves forwards, back turns you 180 degrees and left/right turn you 90 degrees in each direction) but it’s not ‘normal’ tank controls as Ryo moves like a car! What I mean by that is, you push left and he has to walk forward to turn left, same with right., Sure, that sounds realistic, but he can’t turn on the spot which usually ends up with you getting stuck on walls, not lining up correctly to talk to people and causing a lot of headaches.
You can also hold down R2 in order to walk/run (depending on pressure) in a straight line – this is a nice feature as it saves you holding up on the controller all the time, but it doesn’t fix the movement issues. There is also the choice of using either the D-Pad or the left stick to move as both are enabled from the beginning. with the Right stick controlling your head for looking.
Now, my biggest issue with the controls in both games is the lack of any kind of instructions. Once again, the games are from an age where you got nice thick instruction manuals that told you what the buttons do and how to perform certain actions – but what’s the one thing publishers/developers don’t bother doing any more? Providing any sort of manual. They don’t even offer a digital manual for you to read through as far as I can see. Sure, you can press the Options button in-game and it pauses the game with some of the controls, but it doesn’t tell you everything.
For example, it took me about 10 hours until I realise you can hold L2 in order to ‘look’ at things and then press a button to interact with them. I was wondering why I couldn’t buy anything from the shops – it was because I wasn’t ‘looking at them’ first. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a massive issue because it is an old game and they were different back then, but if you’re going to take out the manual and port the game, at least see if there are important things in there which gamers who haven’t played these games would find useful first! Click here for the Shenmue I Manual (From DigitPress.com). Click here for the Shenmue II Manual (From GamesDatabase.org)
Controls: Shenmue I
Other than the above movement issues, the other commands within the game are straightforward. Cross usually refers to talking, Square is interacting with things and your diary, and Circle is cancel. Nice and simple. The controls weren’t the main thing that annoyed/bugged me about Shenmue I – that’s something I’ll come to shortly.
Controls: Shenmue II
Okay, here we have the first major issue I had with the second game – the controls are even worse than the terrible controls in the first game. I may be exaggerating a little, but believe me, they’re pretty bad. Unlike the first game, where Cross was talk and Square was ‘do’, in Shenmue II it’s a free for all. Circle, Square or Cross relates to talking to someone – based on what the game feels like saying in the command prompts, Square can be to open a door, read your diary, talk, buy something, answer a question etc… Numerous times I went to play a game with the gamblers but ended up in conversations because the button prompts were different from usual, or I cancelled the conversation because Circle now stops rather than continues.
It’s all very inconsistent and leads to a lot of frustration. I imagine this would have been an issue back in the day too but I’m not sure. Obviously, the same motion control issues from above are apparent in this game too – with a few other annoyances like pressing R2 in some buildings lets you run but in others, it goes into a slow-moving first-person mode and L1 applies camera filters on the screen… that’s right – the game has a camera mode from the original version of the game but the filter button is L1 which changes the colour of the whole screen every single time you accidentally press it.
Other than walking around and talking to people, you’ll be involved in two main gameplay mechanics – Free Battle mode and QTE. Now, we all know and hate QTEs and Shenmue doesn’t disappoint. Lightning-fast QTEs where you can’t make more than two errors or you have to do the whole thing again (including the sometimes lengthy opening cutscene). Also, you have some ‘Freeze mode QTEs’ which are basically a QTE of Simon Says – but super fast. These remind me a lot of the QTEs in Fahrenheit.
The Free Battles are what you would expect – you vs enemies in a free-for-all combat segment. I would say it’s like Yakuza but that would be one of the biggest insults to Yakuzas smooth and fluid combat mechanics. It honestly feels like you’re playing Virtua Fighter, but with a bunch of opponents all attacking you at the same time. Also, the combat is pretty bad. You’re tasked with finding ‘combat scrolls’ as you play the game which unlocks new moves for you to learn and master – so that’s pretty cool as there is a lot of moves to unlock. The issue here is that there are a lot of moves to unlock and you have no way, outside of training, to see what the button combinations are in order to pull them off.
If I was to step back in time to the year Shenmue came out – I would probably be impressed with the combat and the controls as there wasn’t really anything else out there with this kind of immersive detail. However, we’re in 2018 and this is why developers remaster or remake their games, they fix/modernise their old games to make them more appealing/ user-friendly for the newer generation. I feel a lot of people are going to buy these games on the hype and come away disappointed with the presentation and mechanics.
The vast amount of time you’ll spend in both games will be walking around and talking to people – both games are lacking in keeping you engaged in my opinion. Let’s start with:
What can be done, in Shenmue I:
I was excited to play Shenmue as I’d heard so many good things about it, yet that all fell apart after I’d been playing the game for a few hours and realised how shallow the game actually is. There are a few SEGA arcade games in the arcade centre for you to play through and you have a job of moving crates (which is mandatory) later on in the game. Other than that, there are very little other things to do in the game. The Fork Lift Truck job gets very boring, especially on your dinner where you have to wait for two hours (about 10-15 minutes in real time) until your shift continues.
In regards to waiting – Shenmue I has a lot of it. If you have to meet someone at 7 pm and you have nothing else to do beforehand then expect to wait around 35-40 minutes in real life as the in-game clock slowly ticks away. I love games with in-game clocks where everyone has a routine, but taking away the ability to manipulate it for the purpose of progressing the story isn’t always the best idea. Especially when the game is already thin on content outside of a few activities and combat training (which I did once and still beat the game).
The main quest line is very unappealing and almost boring as well. Instead of getting side quests or exploring and finding new and inventive things to do and people to talk to, you simply talk to a person who tells you to see another person. You talk to them and either they give you an answer and/or they tell you to talk to another person. That’s the majority of the game – a fetch quest of sorts where you are just told who to go to and what to do every step of the way. For a game everyone classes as being ‘open world’, it’s very linear in nature.
What to do, in Shenmue II:
Now we’re talking, the developers took it up a notch and really went above and beyond in creating Shenmue II. Sure, we still have the simple ‘go here, do that, talk to this person, then go there’ mechanics with the story, but there are a lot of other places you can explore and investigate along the way. Unfortunately, most of these other places you can go to offer literally nothing to the story! For example, I found a Kung Fu shop and I was looking forward to talking to the guy in charge about maybe training me or sparring with me. However, all I could ask him was directions to the next waypoint the game had told me I had to go to. Again, Shenmue II has a much bigger map and many more people and things to interact with, yet it’s more linear than a Telltale story!
The in-game clock is a little better in Shenmue II. If you approach an event that requires you to wait until X-o-clock then you’re given the option to ‘wait’. If you choose this then the time will fly by in seconds – something both games should have had implemented for this release. It also seems like time moves slower in this game with Shenmue I taking about an hour to pass a day and Shenmue II taking about 70-90 minutes.
In terms of actual side-mission content. In Shenmue II you need to raise money to pay for your lodging and other items, so you have to find a job. As such, you can participate in a number of different jobs, go arm wrestling, streetfight, play in the arcades, gamble, etc… So there are quite a few different things to do outside of the main story. Are you forced to play or do any of these? Yup – if going for the platinum – but generally you don’t have too. If you want money – go play High or Low in the docks and rack up about 15-20k within 20 minutes as I did.
The next big contrast between the two games lies within the locations and the level design. It’s clear that they were a lot more ambitious with the second game – a move which may not have come off quite as they had expected it too…
I know the way: Shenmue I
When I first played Shenmue, I thought the level design was pretty poor. You can’t go up the steps if an NPC is also using them, it took too long to walk from one place to the next with no decent fast travel, you have to literally wait for the bus, etc… But, after playing the game for a while I got used to its mechanics, I knew where everything was, the maps we nice and clear and the levels weren’t too big but also not too small – they felt decent for a game of this time period. My only issue with Shenmue I was the lack of a mini-map or a map you carried around as that would have come in handy on more than one occasion.
Just ask for directions: Shenmue II
Shenmue II is a clusterfuck of poor level design crossed with a terrible map system and even worse navigational prompts. The developers clearly wanted Shenmue II to be much bigger than the original so they decided to create Hong Kong by cramming it full of shops, houses, parks, street vendors and constructions, yet they did so at the sacrifice of making it easy to actually understand where you’re going. At first, it wasn’t an issue – there was now a mini-map, great! (although it’s not labelled, thus making it useless) and people generally pointed in the direction I needed to go. Then I got a little further into the game and instantly became lost with very little to guide me.
I found that you can view the maps on the street as you could in Shenmue I, only this time you have to ‘L2 look’ at them and slowly move the Left Stick in order to look around the map so you don’t ping back to the centre of the zoomed-in map. I also found out, about 4 hours in, that you can talk to anyone walking around and they will offer to take you to the place you’re looking for. Which is great – a free escort! The only issue is that you walk terribly slow and it sometimes takes about 20-30 minutes to get to your destination – as in real-time. I personally found Shenmue II to be almost impossible to work out where I was going as a first-timer.
Both games suffer the same issues here even though both have their own unique issue as well. The issue here is you have to remember that it’s a port of the original game and not a remaster. As such, you can opt to display the game with its original resolution or a HD one (which I presume is 1080p) but all that does is clean up the outlines of the objects and characters. Within these nice straight lines are probably the lowest quality textures you’ll see both this and last-gen. Again, this is because the game is using all the same assets from the original game and not new ones. This is a big mistake in my opinion.
Sure, purists and those who adore the original games will most likely love the game and they’ll be so happy that they get to replay them again on their chosen platform, but I feel they should have spent some time on touching up the textures and making them look better on the current-gen machines. I imagine that within a few weeks there will be mods on PC to patch both titles with new HQ texture packs which fans will put together and implement into the game.
The issues I had with each game was the first Shenmue looks even blurrier than the second game with peoples clothes bleeding into their skin and accessories. However, Shenmue II is too dark. As you’re walking around the streets, you don’t even know what’s on the wall, it could be a door or just a flat wall – you can’t see because of the brightness of the game (with no way to increase it via the game itself). At the end of chapter II, I couldn’t find a woman I had to say bye to until I realised she was stood in front of her house in the shadows – it was that dark!
Also, all the cutscenes in both games run in 4:3 (even though you can play the game in 16:9. In Shenmue I they are your regular 4:3 but in Shenmue II they are widescreen in 4:3, so it has black bars at the top, bottom, left and right – I think that may be getting fixed in a patch soon.
In the words of the late Barry Chuckle, “Oh dear, oh dear…”. It’s not good guys. Shenmue I’s sound quality is really bad – it sounds like all the lines were recorded by regular people at home on their crappy 1990 microphones (which is probably true). I do recall reading a long time ago how they got anyone to do voice acting and it really tells. Not just in terms of the acting side (which is pretty bad) but the overall quality. We have been told there is a patch coming tomorrow but the patch notes only state it’s going to fix a few missing lines and missing sound effects, so I think the poor quality is just because that’s what it was like originally.
Shenmue II, however, doesn’t suffer any quality issues as the voices and sound effects sound fine – for the most part. Somehow, Ryo has become incredibly stupid and lost all traces of his personality on the boat trip to Hong Kong. He’s supposed to be 18 yet he talks like a 9yr old child as he repeats everyone and pronounces a lot of words incorrectly. It’s quite funny yet also off-putting.
Speaking of pronouncing though, Shenmue I is terrible for that. Take Mark, the Fork Lift instructor, for example. In one conversation he called me Dio, Eio, and Gio! It’s like the voice actors weren’t advised how to say the names…
All of the below have been reported to SEGA so should be resolved soon – but as of 1.01 on both games, they are still there.
• The game regularly screws up the cutscenes and shows you a black screen followed by janky animated characters – a reset or re-load fixes this.
• When doing fork Lift truck training, the truck moves on its own causing you to fail over and over. You have to hold L2 to stop this from happening.
• The combat mechanics are all labelled wrong in the pause menu and the training sections. L2 is the button you can map an attack to, not R2, but you can’t test it in training as L2 brings up the move list. Even the subtitles are incorrect in telling you about this.
• When you wake up on the boat and have to go to the junkyard – the game crashed 4 times at this point, the first time losing me 3-4 hours of gameplay. Since then I’ve saved regularly as there is no autosave.
• When it reaches 11 pm, Ryo automatically looks at his watch. The next day, X and O commands in the lower right of the screen are the watch operations and not the correct ones. A restart or re-load fixes this.
So yeah, there are a number of issues, not including the ones in the patch notes I have for tomorrows patch. Just save regularly and re-load the game if anything starts acting ‘strange’.
I went into Shenmue really hoping to love the game as I love the Yakuza series and I’ve been told that Yakuza was almost a spiritual successor to it. However, I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t find the story that compelling or entertaining, the visual quality has clearly aged with its almost 480p assets within 1080p geometric edges, the combat is very chunky and ‘Virtua Fighter’ style, the game is comprised of an endless point A to B quest, the voice acting is really bad, and the controls really put the nail in the coffin for me. I imagine this is down to the fact I have no nostalgia for the game and I’m looking at it with fresh eyes and obviously comparing it to modern titles. However, if the game had received a real remaster with updated textures, improved controls and a re-recorded voice track, then I’m sure it would have felt like a completely different game.
For example, take a look at my review for Outcast: Second Contact. That was a remaster of a 90’s PC game which I loved both on its original release and its remaster as it was fully modernised with improved controls, new textures, new music and new features. For me, that’s the way these old 3d games should be treated – re-releasing them as-is isn’t a great experience.
However, the more I played Shenmue I, the more I got used to its flaws – I’m right near the end of Shenmue II and that one hasn’t clicked with me at all though. Don’t get me wrong – I can see the appeal and I can imagine they would have been great back in the day – but as a game I can buy today, on my current-gen console, would I expect more? I would honestly say yes. I didn’t give them a terrible overall score though because the humour is good, the voice acting is ‘so bad, it’s good’, and it did kind of keep me entertained for about 10-15 hours before the boredom and frustration set in.
Shenmue I & II are fan service to those who have been asking SEGA to re-release the game for the last few years. They would regularly say “We don’t need a remaster, just re-release it” and SEGA heard you and gave you your wish. Aside from a boost in resolution and a few graphical touch-ups like bloom, you’re looking at the same textures, controls and voice acting used in the original games, games which haven’t aged well both visually and mechanically.
If you’ve played the original games and enjoyed the way they looked and controlled, then this is the collection for you! If you’re a fan of modern 3rd person games like Yakuza and you want to dabble in its grandfather then the collection is cheap enough, it’s just a bit ‘messy’.
Shenmue I & II£24.99
- Two games for a low price
- Interesting to see where a lot of modern games get their inspiration from
- Good music
- Easy Platinums (just full of missable trophies)
- You can now play the games in native 16:9
- Terribly dated controls with no modernisation
- The story is a bit 'meh' with Shenmue I being a long A-B fetch quest and Shenmue II basically the same but in a rat maze
- The voices in Shenmue I are really poor quality
- Shenmue II is too dark with no means (other than the TV) to increase it
- Aside from a resolution option, it's a direct port of the DC version with little to no enhancements or improvements - not good on a 42+ inch TV