Remasters, modern console ports and high definition remakes have their fans and their critics, but one thing is sure, they allow gamers of today access to games they would otherwise not experience for one reason or another. This is especially true for Shenmue I and II which unlike many of the previous generation games making their way to current generation consoles, were initially released on the Sega Dreamcast.
Although the original games were commercially not as successful as they would have liked to be mainly owing to their high development cost and sales being limited to the specific consoles that they were released on, the games still managed to create quite a cult following. Shenmue II in particular even managed to find itself on some of the top games of all time lists. This created hope that at some point Sega might revisit the classic.
Although Sega has chosen not to continue publishing Shenmue, series creator Yu Suzuki launched a successful Kickstarter in 2015 to develop Shenmue III with Ys Net after having obtained the rights from Sega. With the release of Shenmue III in 2019, Sega decided to do a 1080p port of the first two games, allowing gamers to experience the instalments in the build-up to the big release next year.
I had not played either of the two games up until the release of the PS4 port, and I was pretty excited to see what all the hype was about. Right off the bat, it is essential to understand this is a 1080p port and not an HD remaster and so the visuals will still look very dated as the idea behind this release was to preserve the originals in a way that newcomers can still experience them. That being said, if you are willing to look past the graphics, there is enough here to make time spent worthwhile.
The Shenmue games are open world action-adventure games that are in a way the forebearers of the genre as we know it today. The games were far ahead of the time when they released, shipping with features such as an open world that feels lived in, a day and night cycle that that affects the movement of the NPC’s and the option to go forward with the main story or engage with the game in many different ways. Playing through the game in a way feels like you are experiencing a part of video game history.
The storyline follows the series protagonist Ryo slowly work through the mystery of his father’s death from the moment of he witnessed it. His journey takes him through Yokosuka, which is a city in Japan and the location of the first game to Hong Kong, the place where the second game is set. Along the way, Ryo improves his martial arts, engages in day to day activities, looks for clues and people to interrogate while methodically moving closer to fulfil his quest for answers.
One thing worth mentioning is that while the game has the freedoms and intricacies of a modern game, it does not do any of the hand-holding we find prevalent in many of the games releasing today. There are no mini map or objective markers, and besides the notes, Ryo takes in his journal there is little else explicitly telling you where to go next. You have to rely on your sensibilities to observe the environment and plan your next move.
Shenmue is in many ways the series that paved the way for future generations of games, it showed both gamers and future developers what was possible and pushed the entire medium forward. Playing the games now feels like a celebration of gaming and the journey we as players have traversed together. These factors alone would make the two games a solid buy, but with Shenmue III coming out next year, there could not be a better time to play these games and find yourself on the hype train waiting for the third instalment.