To provide the setting, my brother had just left for work and I sensed a window of opportunity to Solid Snake into his room to play the Dreamcast. Mild curiosity struck as I stared at this plain looking copied disc, resembling something like “ya boy’s” dead ass mixtape. I saw the word ‘Shenmue’ scribbled in green marker ink. “What the fuck is a Shenmue?” I wondered. My modest expectations were short lived, having been immediately captivated by its gripping narrative, action-filled gameplay and highly detailed aesthetics. The Shenmue series left its mark for many years on an impressionable pre-teen version of the UK based 6 God – me. Whilst waiting for Shenmue 3, I can do little now other than write this lame account of my cherished memories.
The story is centred around the 18 year old Ryo Hazuki as he sets out on a personal quest for revenge, uncovering family secrets along the way. From an unsuspecting cutscene you could suddenly be thrust into a reaction sequence, I found myself on the edge of my seat for many QTE scenes, frantically trying to remember button combinations, being slightly off rhythm. Failing to carry out the correct sequence could end with an undesirable outcome for Ryo, or at worst a dreaded ‘Game Over’. There’s lots of Virtua fighter-esque combat, with one particular instance where Ryo has to fight a whole bunch of 80’s street punks before rushing to rescue his childhood friend and/or sweetheart.
The game was largely exploratory, providing an ambitious, early take on the open world concept. The possibilities were seemingly endless, allowing players: to purchase and collect toy capsules; visit local convenience stores; play Sega games in the local arcade; and interact with locals. Throughout both instalments I was able to visit: Yokosuka – a seemingly homely Japanese Town; a vibrant and busy Hong Kong; and a rural Chinese setting of Guilin, all three environments were immensely detailed, providing me with lasting experiences of places I had longed to visit. Shenmue was very immersive with lots of scripted voice dialogue, although some of the lines were kind of suspect, providing awkwardly funny moments in the game (i.e. “I’m trying to locate some sailors”).
Looking back, Ryo was difficult to relate to with his stoic personality and today I have less tolerance for similar characters – preferring Goro Majima to the often two dimensional Kazuma Kiriyu of the Yakuza series. That being said, this mattered little back then, as I held huge admiration for Ryo’s courage, strength and selflessness. On numerous occasions, Ryo helps the vulnerable and rescues loved ones from dangerous types – an all-round great guy. Most importantly, he was the hero figure I needed, rescuing me from an era that glorified Captain bro-dude and DangerMan of DC/Marvel’s infinitely painful universe. Thanks Ryo.