By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on January 16, 2015
Aaaaaand... we're back! a new year, a new edition of the Big Red Timemachine, and a brand new time-travelling crew. After initially refusing to leave the year 1996, our old crew eventually got tired of said year, and returned home. After a good talking-to, they were sent on their way... never to be seen or heard from again...
Nevertheless, a new crew was soon found, and went straight into training. This is why (as you may have noticed) the last scheduled review of 2014 went missing, kind of like the old crew... coincidence? I think not! That's what you get for messing with the Big Red. Oh well, moving on! Our new crew literally could not wait to get their hands on the time machine's control stick, and jumped right in. Not actually knowing what they were doing, they landed right smack down in the middle of the cretaceous period. Not being able to find a power outlet for their laptops and coffee maker, not to mention almost being eaten by some very nasty creatures, they retreated to the safety of our time machine and, contrary to their first try, actually read the manual before pressing the hell out of every red button they could find. With a very unspectacular pop the time machine vanished from existence in the cretaceous period, leaving behind a very confused Pterodactyl, wondering where her new shiny egg went.
After upsetting history a couple of times (and who is to say that they didn't... no one would ever know, now would they?) Our brave crew managed to land in Japan in the year 1999, a few days before Y2K. On the 29th of December 1999 a game was released. No, not just a game, but a game the likes of which had never been seen. A game with a solid plot, awesome graphics, countless gameplay options, a vast open game world, enough characters to fill a large city and dialog up the yin-yang. The game I am rambling on about is, of course, Shenmue!
Originally released for the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, Shenmue actually blew us away! It was unlike any game we'd ever seen up till then. It follows the story of Ryo Hazuki, a young man who after returning to his family dojo, witnesses hid father fighting a tall unknown man. The man and Ryo's father however, seem to know each other pretty well, but are not really on the best of terms (to put it mildly). The tall man, called Lan Di by Ryo's father, clearly wants an item known as the "Dragon Mirror", which Ryo's father refuses to give up. After an intense battle, Ryo's father is thrown to the ground, and Ryo tries to save his father by intervening in the fight. Lan Di however, being much quicker and more agile then Ryo, knocks Ryo off his feet with a stunning hit and threatens to kill him unless his father reveals the secret of the Dragon Mirror. Fearing for his son's life, Ryo's father finally gives in and reveals the secret location of the mirror. After retrieving the mirror, Lan Di fights Ryo's father one last time and finishes him with one last deadly blow. He and his henchmen finally leave the Hazuki dojo, leaving behind a wounded Ryo and his dying father. After his father dies of the blow sustained in his last fight with the mysterious Lan Di, Ryo swears bloody vengeance upon those who killed his father. After a few days of rest and mourning, Ryo sets out to unravel the mystery of his father's killer.
If you're thinking: "Oh my god what a lot of text", then Shenmue might not be the game for you. The paragraph you've just read encompasses only the intro of the game. The game itself hasn't even started yet! But when you're ok with a lot of conversation options and cutscenes, then Shenmue is right up your alley. Absolutely loaded with conversations and non player characters, it's not so much a game as it is a journey. By exploring the rich environments in which Shenmue's story is set, you'll encounter a lot of people, talk to them (a lot) and even kill a few of them. Fighting is always story driven, so you don't get to randomly beat up everyone who looks at you wrong. When a fight occurs, it comes in one of two variations: free fight or QTE (Quick Time Event) In the free fight variant, you use mastered techniques to beat the saké out of every bad guy that attacks you. In the QTE variant on the other hand, the player has to follow a series of on-screen prompts to successfully bash an opponent's head in. Apart from being used in fights, the QTE principle is also worked into other facets of the game. A lot of times a QTE will occur to determine the flow of the story or even the outcome of the cutscene that is playing at that moment. At the start of the game the QTE's are simple and slow, but as the story progresses they become more complex and need to be executed with a lot more speed than before. Because of the fact that you'll never know when a QTE might be lurking around the corner, it keeps you on edge while playing, and by doing so, really gets you involved in the story of Shenmue.
Having in depth story-telling and lavish environments is all nice and good, but why stop there?! That's exactly what the creators of Shenmue must have thought. Even the non player characters in this game are voiced and have their own daily routine. Daily?! Yes, daily! Oh, didn't we mention... Shenmue has a day and night cycle, as well as ever-changing weather patterns. And that's something that was absolutely unheard of back in 1999! The weather could range from sunny to rainy to snow. And every weather change brought about a change in the look of the game. The non-player characters reacted to the change in weather and appeared in a different set of clothes, or carried an umbrella if it rained. Every weather pattern reflects the season the game is currently set in. Put all of this together with a greatly responsive control scheme, fun side-missions and a soundtrack that seamlessly reflects the grandeur of the game, and you have yourself a winner.
It doesn't matter how many other games I play, I never get tired of Shenmue. Only down side is, that the whole Shenmue adventure stopped after Shenmue II. This game was released in 2001 for the Dreamcast (featuring the Japanese audio with English, French or Spanish subtitles) and in 2002 for the XBox (featuring an English-speaking voice cast). After that... nothing! Well, when I say nothing, I mean: nothing tangible. A lot of talk and speculations, but not a game in sight! Oh well, maybe someday this monumental game series will have its final moment in the sun and provide us with the long awaited conclusion to its intriguing story. In the meantime, just play the first two parts until your fingers bleed!