The R/R/R Files: Case #011 – Shenmue
Welcome to the R/R/R Files, where we look at whether or not an older title should be re-released, remade, or rejected. This next game in the series is a Dreamcast “classic” that for me is a bit of an elephant in the room. Since the rest of the console’s library is currently up for inspection, with a personal favourite given the green light in the guise of Jet Set Radio, now seems like a more than appropriate time to look at the game that has divided my opinion for years.
Case #011 – Shenmue
Other Platforms: Xbox (’03) – Came with Shenmue 2 as a movie.
- Was originally a 11 chapter epic, Yu Suzuki said that the story would be split into three games. Shenmue represents only chapter 1 of the story, while chapter 2 was noticeably missing as Shenmue 2 is Chapters 3 & 4.
- Was the harbinger of the QTE plague of 2005/2006 that gave us God of War and Resident Evil 4, among the rest of the bandwagon.
- Was the direct influence behind the Yakuza series – another cult series for SEGA fans.
What is Shenmue Like?
On a technical standpoint, there are a ton of milestones that Shenmue achieved. A visual powerhouse for 1999/2000, the game sported character models that the rest of the industry could only dream of at the time. Featuring a depiction of Yokosuna that is transforming from a Japanese culture into a more Americanised image, the game had its setting down to a tee and was unlike anything seen before. Some would also argue it is unlike anything seen since, though as the spiritual predecessor to the Yakuza series I would argue that this is unlike most games.
But to be called a game and then to be sold on the same shelf back then as Sonic Adventure, Jet Set Radio and the like? Let’s just say I’m not so convinced. As an adventure game, it doesn’t really work due to having not only terrible dialogue/voice acting, but also the most restrictive day/night cycle in gaming. As a fighting game, it doesn’t really work due to the mass grinding you must do to master moves by sparring against nothing, and the overall lack of fights during the quest doesn’t solve the problem. As a mini-game collection it is a little more successful, thanks mostly to the ports of the arcade versions of Super Hang On and Space Harrier, though the collectables take up a lot of the game in general and operating forklift trucks is like chaperoning a baby using a supermarket trolley as a pram.
It is also the harbinger of my most loathed videogame mechanic of all time – the Quick Time Event. Sure back then it was interesting and new, but what it makes games come down to is a pretty version of Simon Says. Yes, I’m aware it was Resident Evil 4 and God of War that popularised the idea, but think about it. Every cut-scene has a chance of featuring a random QTE, which forced players to keep on their toes. Thankfully the trend is largely out of fashion now, but they are still around in one or two sections of more recent games. Azura’s Wrath is essentially one giant cut-scene with shooter/fighting parts, and we largely have Shenmue to thank for that – for better or worse.
Critically acclaimed (how?) at the time, Shenmue quickly became the game to own on the ailing Dreamcast. It would only be a couple of years later before a sequel arrived. Shenmue 2 was released in Europe on both Dreamcast (November 23, 2001) and Xbox (March 21 2003). This was also well received, but with the collapse of SEGA’s console market and its transition to the publisher model, the cracks began to show.
Ever since 2001, Shenmue 3 has been teased for years by Yu Suzuki – series producer. He originally intended it to be an eleven part epic, but so far we have only seen three parts in two games. Protagonist Ryo has made a few cameo appearances in recent years, most recently in Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing, so while SEGA haven’t touched the franchise in years, they certainly haven’t forgotten its success – rather just ignoring the fans requests.
How easy would it be to port?
There are no problems with this concept as HD ports of other Dreamcast games have been done before. What is much trickier is the idea of size. Both Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network titles currently have a maximum size cap of around 2GB, which according to an article ran by IGN in 2009. To fit all four of the discs onto one file would take a miracle as the total file size would be significantly over 2GB (pushing 2.5GB).
I think the only really fair way to do this is to have two verdicts. One from myself on a personal POV with my experience with the game, and another from the commercially minded me. We’ll start with the personal perspective: This is not a game. They even released it in movie form for the Xbox when Shenmue 2 was released. It isn’t a particularly good movie either as the dialogue is terrible and the story to me holds about as much interest as a puppy doing the Charleston. Don’t get me wrong, the technical achievement is a wonderful thing and the fighting was top-notch, but it was so rare an occurrence that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was turning into a game. Oddly, I still own my Dreamcast copy of the game. Not quite sure why though as replaying it for this article didn’t change my mind greatly (I do now understand the artistic merit behind the concept). But I simply cannot endorse the re-release/remake of the origins of Quick Time Events.
Now for the more impartial R/R/R verdict. The fan-base is vocal enough for demand, and the fans have been known to defend the franchise to the death. Just so long as there are no flame wars for my personal experiences with Shenmue, we should get on fine. Those fans probably should be appeased at some point, or they may get more irate. Should it turn out that SEGA can compress the game into a HD re-release, I have one simple request that would make it bearable. Re-write the translated script and then re-dub the game in English.
Dave: Reject and send to the bottom of the deep.
R/R/R: Re-release in HD with refreshed dub and script.
What do you think though, should Shenmue be re-released, remade or rejected?