Time is rarely ever kind (ed - speak for yourself old man); not to our treasured memories of yore and very few things made in decades past hold up well today. Nostalgia, often glazed over with rose-tinted glasses dipped in sugar, can rarely be considered a reliable narrator when ones gaze misses the rust, nails, and corrugated metal that a once solid foundation has since become. Going back to the past then, can be an affair fraught with danger, capable of reducing cherished memories to disenchanted despair.
And yet we still do it, whether to recapture a treasured memory or to remind oneself of the reason why we began something in the first place. And, sometimes, the past responds accordingly with the wisdom that you don’t need those glasses. That the past holds up just as well now as it did then... albeit with some considerations needed on your part.
Legendary developers Yu Suzuki and Sega AM2’s idiosyncratic masterpiece, Shenmue, has finally been re-released into the modern gaming world, tasking this reviewer with dusting off those glasses and getting his hands dirty by delving back into the world of Japan, circa 1986. Do those glasses, which some might say have never come off for this series, paint a picture steeped in sunshine and meadows, or a rotting corpse still trying to look sexy?
Shenmue is the unfinished saga of Ryo Hazuki, a Japanese student whose world comes crashing down around him when he witnesses his father’s death at the hands of a Chinese martial artist. Vowing revenge, Ryo sets off on an epic journey to find his father’s killer that will take him from Japan to China and put his own, not inconsiderable martial arts talents to the test.
First off, let’s get the visual elements of this re-release out of the way. Shenmue isn’t a remaster of the original Dreamcast classic. It’s a HD re-release of the games that sport a higher resolution, bloom effects, a stable 30fps framerate, some cleaned up textures, and tweaked controls, the ability to save anywhere, Japanese and English soundtracks and, well, that’s really about it.
The re-release has done very little to mess with Shenmue as it was back then; a dogmatic approach to presenting the game in as close to its original format as possible with some modern amenities chucked in to make the aging experience more palatable to modern audiences.
The re-release has done very little to mess with Shenmue as it was back then
Shenmue, at its time, was an 'ahead of its time' experiment in immersive open world design.
You can look through just about every cupboard in Ryo’s home, picking up collectibles such as music cassettes and a Walkman to listen to them, and take down the pictures and scrolls on the walls to look behind them.
The games weather system receives the same attention to detail as it isn’t actually dynamic but rather based on meteorological readings from the era.
Sam asked me if the game still held up today and the answer is a definite hell yes.
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PC, PS4, Xbox One
21 August 2018
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