The time has come guys, the time for me to delve deep into my gaming history, the time to look at what is; in my opinion, the greatest console of all time. The SEGA Dreamcast.
I have recently dug out my Dreamcast and its game collection for my own and my stream viewers entertainment.
I will be running a retrospective series looking at what the Dreamcast means to me through its game library. Being as topical as ever though I’m starting with the daddy of all Dreamcast games, the one that has been recently resurrected on Kickstarter; a game that is always mentioned in “Best Ever” lists.
My great Dreamcast journey began months before the machine launched, June ’99 I was in my local newsagent and saw the magazine sitting there. I’d heard mumblings of the new SEGA machine, but had seen nothing (except for a cinema ad in a barbershop) and hastily snapped up my copy and rushed home to watch the VHS tape that it came with.
That tape featured a short snippet of a game that looked too good to be true, a man in a brown leather jacket chasing another dude through streets and over a construction site – it looked incredible and I needed the Dreamcast to play it…
…it was glorious!
Shenmue was billed as a “full reactive eyes entertainment” game; quite what that meant is still a mystery to me! However Yu Suzuki also promised that ‘Shenmue’ would be unique; an experience like no other available. And boy did it deliver! December 2000 introduced me to a genre of gaming I still love to this day, ‘Shenmue’ was truly revolutionary and was like nothing before it!
To my knowledge there was no other fully explorable game world before ‘Shenmue’ – never before could players follow NPCs around and see them go to work, the shops and home. Players could open drawers, ring NPCs on the telephone, play the characters console games (and arcade cabinets), drive a forklift and sleeping are literally just some of the options open to the player. The world also had a dynamic weather system and a day/night cycle (a first in gaming to my knowledge).
Yu Suzuki had created a living, breathing world and it was one in which I found myself getting intoxicated with.
The opening was truly captivating and beautiful, it set the tone of the game gloriously. Ryo walks home to find all is not right – eventually he finds his way to his father’s dojo; just in time to see him murdered by the dastardly and nefarious ‘Lan Di’. The perfect kung fu movie opening was strengthened by the stunning graphics (the characters blinked dammit!) 17-year-old Luvva couldn’t believe what he was seeing, truly next-gen, the snow, the character models THAT music and the fight scene! “Holy shitballs” I thought under my breath.
It’s not often I call the opening to games perfect; I have no hesitation in paying ‘Shenmue’ that compliment.
Another thing I don’t tend to do in games is wander around the world, ignoring the story and finding other things to do and discover, ‘Shenmue’ gave me this, I looked after a stray cat, collected ALL the capsule toys in the game, unlocked the Saturn games to play in Ryo’s house, got the high scores in the arcade and wandered the streets helping strangers. My first play through was close to 100 hours and the vast majority of that was through mindless absorption in the world and all the mini games.
Kudos Mr Suzuki.
When I got round to the story I was not to be disappointed. Sure at its core it’s your traditional Kung Fu revenge tale, but in reality it is so much more. The relationships Ryo forges throughout are well realised and; on more than one occasion, genuinely moving. Every major character develops, the protagonists are all genuinely likable, the antagonists are all bastards (and all except one side step the cartoonish nature of villains prevalent in Japanese games)! Sure the voice acting is wonky and there is some cheesy dialogue in there too, but it was a fore-runner to fully voiced games that we are accustomed to nowadays.
The story takes place over the course of several months, we go from a snow swept Yokosuka to a golden summer, with seamless night and day cycles and weather that is unpredictable (but always beautiful) on the hunt for clues that will lead us to Lan Di. Through slow investigative sections following clues that Ryo puts in his notebook, fight scenes that have the complexity of fighting games of the era and QTEs that heightened the drama and were always major events! ‘Shenmue’ had it all!
Throughout my initial play through of ‘Shenmue’ I spent months of my life hunting for Lan Di. These months are some of the fondest remembered of my life and they are months I will treasure forever.
For me ‘Shenmue’ was; and still is, my favourite game of all time. It’s simple beauty, varied gameplay and arcing storyline that was as enthralling as it was complex; it dragged you along and the game is full of memorable moments (despite being described by many as mundane). It was a watershed moment for gaming and it is one that irrevocably changed the hobby forever.
All this and Suzuki promised many more chapters in the future! I was in heaven, surely we’d see the end of the tale on Dreamcast…
What does Shenmue mean to you?
Did you experience it in the early 2000s?
Let me know in the comments