released on Dec 29, 1999

"He shall appear from a far Eastern land across the sea. A young man who has yet to know his potential. This potential is a power that can either destroy him, or realize his will. His courage shall determine his fate. The path he must traverse, fraught with adversity, I await whilst praying. For this destiny predetermined since ancient times... A pitch, black night unfolds with the morning star as its only light. And thus the saga, begins..."

This first chapter of Shenmue kicks off Yu Suzuki's cinematic Dreamcast tour-de-force, an exploration-heavy adventure that has players immerse themselves in Yokosuka, Japan. Players slip into the role of a young martial artist named Ryo Hazuki, who is on the trail of his father's killer. On the way, players must talk with hundreds of characters, engage in martial arts battles, and marvel at the realistic depiction of the Japanese coastal town.

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Shenmue is definitely a game that will never be made again, and I mean that in both a good and a bad way. The amount of attention to detail that this game had in 1999 is unparalleled for it's time. It truly is Yu Suzuki's magnum opus as he decided to create a virtual living breathing community of people, and in a lot of ways he succeeded. Because of the less traditional approach that was made to create this game, a less traditional mindset needs to be had to really enjoy this kind of game ngl. I think a good modern equivalent would be something like death stranding, a game where if you are able to slow down to the pace that the game asks of you, there's a lot to be had in the sort of atmospheric sense, but if you are going into the game expecting to play it like any other game, focusing on major goals and objectives as skillfully and efficiently as possible, then you are probably gonna be really bored and frustrated at the game. And that's not me trying to say "if you have that kind of mindset, you wouldn't understand shenmue", but more me saying "this game is not for everyone and you should definitely know that going in if you want to experience this game to its fullest". You gotta play on the game's terms, and not really on your own, in that sense. The gameplay just revolves asking people various things to get various hints on where to go next, and once you go to the next place you ask the people in that place where to go, and the cycle continues until you piece together the greater picture of whats going on. My reccomendation is just to give it a shot, and you will probably know within the first few hours whether or not the game is for you.

The entire game is a slog, but in the best way possible.

Played the HD remaster on Steam Deck for this one. Despite being an older game that’s definitely showing its age, it still feels so grand - to the point where the ending gave me chills.
Since its release, I don’t think I’ve come across a game that’s felt like this. Ver much looking forward to playing the sequels!

Shenmue is a wild adventure, and I’m not just talking about what happens in-game. This classic is the quintessential showcase of ambition in the game sphere, as well as how those ambitions eventually ran up against insurmountable limitations.
One thing I will say about Shenmue is that it has aged fairly well. It has many flaws, to be sure, but most of its weaker aspects were already weaknesses on the day the game shipped. The racing segments suffer from underdeveloped physics and lame opponent AI. The pacing of the storyline is all over the place, and there are many times when you have nothing to do (How did people survive before smart phones!?) and no way to skip forward in time. And the ability to examine everyday household objects is a neat feature but ultimately just a gimmick. All of these criticisms would’ve been as true in 1999 as they are today.
Yet for all its flaws, Shenmue still easily holds up as a game worth experiencing. Yu Suzuki [鈴木裕] and crew had the audacity to try recreating an entire town – not just the physical space, but the citizens and their relationships as well – and pack it onto three GD-ROMs. And in some ways, they got closer than anyone has before or since. Every character has a personality, a voice, an independent schedule. Seasons change. Hot dog stands come and go. Santa Claus shows up for Christmas. Although the developers didn’t come anywhere near realizing the full extent of their ambitions, in taking their best stab at it they crafted a game that has a unique charm that has only been replicated once, in this game’s sequel.
Perhaps the game that comes closest to recreating the Shenmue vibe is Yakuza, a series known for its crowded streets and colorful characters. But in Yakuza most NPCs are just window dressing – you can’t talk to everyone like you can in Shenmue. On the other side of the Pacific, certain Bethesda titles perhaps come closer to the “complete life simulation” that Shenmue was aiming to provide, but they are much larger in scope and lack Shenmue’s hand-crafted charm. Every inch of Dobuita is unique; you can’t say the same of Cyrodiil or Skyrim.
But enough about world-building. How does Shenmue actually play? One of my biggest frustrations is that there’s a relatively deep combat system but very few opportunities to use it. I spent more time training in the park and at the dojo than I did in actual combat. Then again, if we consider that this is a life simulation, it makes sense that Ryo would spend more time training than fighting, especially in this opening chapter.
In lieu of fighting, you’ll spend heaps of time completing fetch quests. The characters and the missions they send you on are a blend of strange, racist, funny, and charming. I still can’t get over the fact that the first half of the game basically boils down to “my father was murdered by a man from China, so let’s interrogate every Chinese person in town!” To be fair, Ryo does conduct his investigation in a respectful manner. But as a person living in a country where I’m part of small minority, not unlike these Chinese people in Japan, I find this kind of trope grates on my nerves. And that’s to say nothing of Tom and all the other weirdo foreign characters. I suppose this is what happens when you try to reduce entire nationalities and races to a few lines of dialogue. (I can’t lie, though. In the end Tom won me over. He’s an incredibly charming dude, and boy can he dance.)
In its final third, the game shifts from being a series of fetch quests that can be completed at the player’s leisure to a linear, time-limited push to the finish line. I’d call it a race, but it’s more of a slog, because Ryo gets a part-time job that feels like real work. It’s tedious, but at least it doesn’t last too long, and thanks to the booming Japanese economy of time you get massive pay raises every single day, as long as you hit your quota.
The day-to-day grind of part-time work eventually gave way to one final showdown, and the epic battle that ensued was a major highlight of the game. As the first part of Ryo’s story concluded, I found that, despite all the ups and downs, my journey through Shenmue had ultimately been a fulfilling one. Though it dragged on too long and left many questions unanswered, the story rang true in my heart, and I hope Shenmue II, when I get around to playing it, will delight me in the same way.

had a deep obsession with this game for a while when I was like 12

Genuinely one of the best video games I've ever played, a time capsule of a video game that would later lead to being incredibly influential in ways most probably wouldn't think of in its gameplay and story structure. Full of cheesy charm, cozy vibes, great characters and a soapy but fantastic narrative. There is nothing quite like Shenmue.