Review by: Blake Rice
Published: December 8, 2000
Yu Suzuki first made his mark on the electronic entertainment industry in the mid-1980′s with arcade releases such as the classic Outrun, and eventually went on to develop Virtua Fighter, which is widely regarded as the first true three-dimensional fighting game. Since then his name has become synonymous with excellent titles; Suzuki now stands alongside industry celebrities Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto as one of the best developers in the business. The original idea for Suzuki’s latest creation is not young by industry standards: he first conceived of the project in 1994. However, his ambition to create a game set in a fully 3D world was smothered by the technological limitations of the time, and development was stalled. It would take the power of the Dreamcast to finally make Suzuki’s vision feasible, and thus Shenmue was born.
Shenmue casts players in the lead role of Ryo Hazuki, a young man who has spent much of his life in martial arts training under the tutelage of a strict father. Ryo’s father, Iwao, runs a dojo in the Japanese town of Yokosuka, circa 1986, where he instructs the special martial arts style “Hazuki.” Martial arts skills are passed down in the Hazuki family, and Ryo has become quite proficient in fighting abilities. Although a little reckless, the young man leads a normal life, and is well known in Yokosuka, as he has been a resident of the town since birth. But upon returning home one day, Ryo finds that something is amiss: the sign outside his house lies broken on the ground, the front gate hangs suspiciously ajar, and an ominous black sedan sits parked outside.
Rushing inside, Ryo finds his father in the dojo fighting against a mysterious man, dressed in a green silk robe with an embroidered dragon on the back. He is asking Iwao about a mirror of some sort, but Ryo’s father is unyielding. Out of patience, the intruder takes Ryo hostage and threatens to kill him if the mirror’s location is not divulged. Defeated, the father yields and points to a cherry tree outside the dojo: the mirror is buried underneath it. This concession does not save Iwao, as he is then killed, leaving Ryo with precious few clues. Players gain control of the newly orphaned son when he awakens from a nightmare a few days after the incident: their task is to unravel the mystery surrounding Hazuki-Sensei’s seemingly senseless murder.
A traditional over-the-shoulder third person view is used to control the lead character, and gameplay is structured around three distinct modes: Free Quest, Quick-Timer Events, and Free Battle. Free Quest is the meat and potatoes of the game in which players will spend most of their time, exploring and interacting with the world. The best way to get started on the right track is to go up and talk to people: when Ryo nears someone, the A icon pops up and a simple press of the corresponding button will trigger a conversation. Another staple of the Free Quest mode is the zoom feature, which allows Ryo to look through a first-person view at objects by hitting a shoulder button. Once again the A button is used to interact: if an item may be used in some way, the camera will zoom in on it and a press of the A button will cause Ryo to use it. Doors, phones, and other obvious objects are also used in this manner, although it is rarely necessary to zoom in before doing so. The two other modes, QTE and Free Battle, provide an interface for the more action-heavy scenes.