Monday, 24 December 2012

Shenmue (Dreamcast)

Super Adventures at Christmas 2012 - Game 6:

Ray wants to see 'the most well known and highly rated video games ever made, games that people may actually give a shit about.'

Shenmue Dreamcast title screen
It's time to dust off the Dreamcast and hit the 'mue.

This is quite a long post with lots of pictures. It's Shenmue, for heaven's sake!

The sound of four pads' worth of VMUs screaming into life, the blooping spiral logo, loud system fan purring, loud laser motion and slow loading. Yep, it's the Dreamcast. First console I ever personally owned don'tchaknow!

And this is the first Dreamcast game on Super Adventures in Gaming! Yay!

I must warn you, Shenmue's intro is remarkably cool. It is essentially a 3D rendered short martial arts film, and it's almost certainly the best thing in the game. Watch it for yourself on YouTube, if you like.

Whoa, you shouldn't stand that close to the cliff edge! That's dangerous!

"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 could either destroy him or realise 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."

Wah. Don't suddenly turn to face the camera like that!

Yokosuka
4:00pm
Nov.29,1986(Sat)
芭月武館
[HAZUKI MARTIAL ARTS DOJO]

Something is amiss in the Hazuki Martial Arts Dojo...

The spiky haired stranger explores the area... his family and friends lay ahead, injured.

He cautiously approaches the dojo itself.

"Stay back, Ryo."

Isn't that Sega Saturn advertising mascot Segata Sanshiro? (External link)

"For the last time. Where is the mirror?"

Ryo's father is facing down a very cool customer in a nifty green dragon robe. They circle each other slowly.

"I've no intention of telling you."

They fight!

Hazuki's strikes are powerful and swift, but the man in green dodges every strike effortlessly.

A series of kicks to the face sends Hazuki flying across the room.

"Now then..."

"Hand over the mirror, or else... your son."

Hazuki has no choice, he reveals the location of the mirror. The man in green releases Ryo.

Some goons head outside and retrieve the mirror. The man in green observes the mirror. Ryo overhears the men call him 'Lan Di'.

"Get up. I'll allow you to die like a warrior."

Hazuki attempts to fight back, but Lan Di executes a powerful two-handed shove that throws Hazuki onto his back.

"Father!"
"Forgive me for leaving you alone."
"What are you saying? Father!"
"Your friends. Keep friends, those you love, close to you."
"No! Father!"

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

A+ intro. Ten outta ten. Highly recommended.
4 Days Later...
8:30am
Dec. 3,1986(Wed)
Ryo is having recurring nightmares about the man in the green coat. All he can see is his unusual fighting style, the motion of his hands and feet. His stare. And Hazuki-sensei. Dead.

Ryo's Room
8:55am
Dec. 3,1986(Wed)
Cryptically, the game begins by showing Ryo's notebook, open on a page with phone numbers on. Right at the top of the page is the phone number for the police. Guess I'm ringing that first! Or am I? There are more phone numbers on the pages after. After that, Ryo has made some notes about the circumstances of his father's murder...
Mirror w/ Dragon design stolen!
Lan Di- murdered Dad wore dragon robe rare fight style Tattoo on his arm
In Meng Cun Dad killed a man named Zhao Sun Ming
What happened that day in the Dojo?
What does the help text say?
[Hazuki House]
Ryo returns here at night to sleep.
That's some useful info, that is.

The controls are really awkward and the uncomfortable shape of the Dreamcast controller doesn't help.

I haven't figured out to get Ryo to walk yet. The analogue stick moves Ryo's head around in heavy lurching motions and the L trigger zooms in and locks on to interesting objects. Hmm, I've got a desk. Guess I should see what Ryo has in there. I have to toggle Ryo's focus from one drawer to another, slowly. And watch him open them, slowly.

On the top of the desk is a cassette marked 'Shenmue'! That's weird. I've found the titular Shenmue already, it was on my desk! Does that mean I win the game?

In the top drawer, he's got a SEGA branded cassette player. By combining it with the Shenmue cassette, I can listen to the game's theme whenever I want!

In the second drawer, there's a photo of Ryo with his friends. Ryo really likes to gingerly pick up each object by his fingertips. He manipulates objects very slowly, but you do get to see his hands! I imagine that Ryo's deliberately obscuring our view of some fifth person he doesn't like very much.

Eargh, these walking controls are lumpy. This is not the ease of motion I would expect from a student of martial arts.

I somehow managed to stumble into the room belonging to Fukuhara, a student of the Hazuki Dojo who lives here also.

I can pick up his piggy bank, but I can't steal it. I'm already pretty wealthy anyway; I've got ¥10000! Actually... is that really that much? As far as I can tell, that's really only about $60. Darn.

I can steal this thing though. A secret scroll labelled 'Shadow Reaper'. Knowing Fukuhara, it's probably some wacky shonen manga and I can probably get a couple of hundred Yen for it if I sell it to some kids.

Just like in Ryo's room, I can search every drawer of every desk, every door of every wardrobe and lift every picture off the wall. And there's bloody nothing in any of them.

I managed to swing Ryo out of the rooms, down the narrow corridors of the Hazuki residence and into the kitchen. Hi, Ine-san!

Ine-san is the long-serving Hazuki family housekeeper. I'm happy to see she's alright, Lan Di's goons left her in a heap outside the dojo in the intro.

Is that my breakfast? You're too kind. Okay, both hands on the wheel, tilt the head towards the rice and engage the lock-on system.

Oh shit, everything's fading to white! Did I do it wrong!?!

Oh, Ryo's just having a flashback!

"Ryo. While you're still sleeping in bed, farmers are working hard in the fields, picking carrots one by one. So how can you waste them like that?"
"Oooookay... I'll eat them."

That does it. Ryo's dad is totally Segata Sanshiro.

Check it out:

Iwao Hazuki, left. Segata Sanshiro, right.

After the flashback subsides, I try to get Ryo to eat his breakfast, but no dice. I can get him to stare it unflinchingly, or hover his head inches from the bowl as if he absorbs nutrition from the smell, but that's it. Oh well. Sorry, I did want to eat it, but I don't know how.

As soon as Ine's back is turned, I rifle through everything, looking for anything at all useable. All I found in the drawers was a photograph of some forks.

See ya, Ine-san!

Next up is Ryo's father's room. There's a letter on the desk addressed to Ryo:

"Dear Ryo, those who follow the path of a warrior must be ready to die in order to stand by their convictions. Live for one's convictions. Die for one's convictions. That is how I lived my life. Ryo, it is up to you to discover your path. And follow it through."

Here's the living room, I guess. I thought I could help Ryo by therapeutically melting his brains with some Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam repeats, but he's found something else in the cabinet underneath that he's more interested in.

I knew it! Ryo's dad really is SEGATA SANSHIRO, SEGATA SANSHIRO! SEGA SATAAN SHIRO! (YouTube link)

No really, he is. In the original Japanese Shenmue, Iwao Hazuki is voiced by Hiroshi Fujioka, who plays Segata Sanshiro!

Now what is this doing here? The Sega Saturn was released in Japan on November 22nd, 1994, which is just under six years from now! Segata-sama's fearsome will allows him to retrieve consoles from the future!

Unfortunately, even these mighty abilities have their limits. He didn't bring any games! I guess that's why the other kids don't want to hang out at Ryo's all day.

I couldn't find Fukuhara in the house, so I'm going to have a look in the dojo before I start my quest.

It sure is a nice day!

"Ryo-san! What, whatcha gonna do? Ryo-san! Where are you going? You're not going after them! Please don't! Look what they did to Hazuki-sensei!"
"They killed my father, right in front of me. I will have my revenge."

Revenge! Eeek! Ryo is quite a scary individual...

I suppose Lan Di might have dropped some kind of clue in the dojo, so I had a look around, took all the mantra scrolls off the walls, but there was nothing significant.

On one wall of the dojo is a sign which reads 'Eight Principles of Yin and Yang', triggering another flashback.

"What is a friend?"
"Well, a friend is a friend."
"That's right. Just as a parent is a parent, a friend is nothing other than a friend."

Okay, pop.

"But listen, parents often die before their children. That's the law of nature."

Whoa. That's an odd turn.

"Friends will be there for you, even after parents die. So treasure your friends. And friends you can trust are true friends indeed. Understood?"

Poor chibi Ryo doesn't know what to think. Adult Ryo doesn't look that focused right now either.

He's written 'I'll get revenge for my father!!' in big letters on the next page of the notebook. Hope I don't lose this thing on the train or something. That could be embarrassing.

I have to find clues about the car or the driver...

Yamanose
4:56pm
Dec. 3,1986(Wed)
Shenmue runs on a real time system, much like Agatha Christie's The Scoop did. Shenmue time runs at fifteen times the speed of real time, so I've wasted almost all my first day just searching the Hazuki house. As I step out of the Hazuki Dojo grounds into the streets of Yamanose, I'm greeted with a lovely winter sunset!

There's a couple of kids playing here, maybe they saw the car?

"HEY MISTER. WANNA PLAY WITH ME?"

Yikes. No need to shout!

Is that all you wanna say? Ryo doesn't want to ask the kids anything, they just repeat the same lines if I talk to them again.

It's time to try knocking on folks' front doors, hoping to find anybody with some answers.

"I don't think anybody's in."

Great. Try the next house...

Hmm... you'd think if you're going to spend the entire game staring at the back of Ryo's jacket, they'd have stumped up the video RAM so you could see what the logo on the back was clearly.

Yikes, I've been zapped into a cutscene!

A young girl named Megumi is hiding something in a box near the shrine...

She makes Ryo promise to keep it a secret. What could it be?

It's a little kitten!

"meow!"

Megumi's sister saw the whole incident with the black car... as they were driving away from the dojo, Lan Di's henchmen ran over the kitten's mommy, and now Megumi and the other kids in the neighbourhood are taking care of it.

Megumi tells me that she heard a man named Yamagishi was almost knocked down by the car and hurt his back. He's got to have some answers!

At 7:00pm, you get a cutscene as night begins, showing the street lights turn on. Kinda scary the first time it happens because it takes control away from you.

As I walk away, the cat meows goodbye. I can return to the cat at any time later in the game to feed it or pet it!

I'm still knocking on random doors, trying to find Yamagishi's place.

I'm going to assume that Ryo knows pretty much everybody in the neighbourhood, he's been on first name terms with a lot of the folks I've talked to so far, so I'm going to assume that Ryo has known Yamagishi for a long time as well. Why is it proving to be so difficult to find his damned house? Why doesn't Ryo have any way of communicating his own knowledge of the neighbourhood to me?

In the middle of Sakuragaoka is a phone box; I get Ryo to dial the number for the police, but he doesn't want to them involved.

Time for some puzzle solving nous. I don't know where this person lives, but I do have a notebook full of clues. My notebook has the number of directory enquiries in the front pages. So my plan is to ring them and ask if they can put me through to Yamagishi. Great plan, huh?

Alright, there's a payphone. Let's try this shit!

"Hello, 104 directory information?"
"Um, no!"
"Hello, 104 information?"
"S... sorry, wrong number."

You complete spazaholic, Ryo.

I wander around a bit more and head up a ramp towards a construction site. And then I don't come back down again. I try to exit the area by returning to Yamanose, but Ryo refuses to leave until I've found Yamagishi-san! I'm stuck up here!

I can wander above the streets all I like and use my creepy lock-on stare to follow the other residents. Eventually, I find the exact ramp that got me stuck up here and gravity returns to normal.

It's been hours and I haven't had much luck with the quest for answers. Or making Ryo eat anything for that matter. I've found a soda machine, though.

Damn it, Ryo! You're not going to be able to defeat Lan Di if you can't handle a sodapop.

BINGO.

Just needed to look at the name plates! Or I could have used the town map.

"I don't have any reason to be here. I shouldn't intrude."

Argh, you son-bitch, Ryo! You have a reason! You wrote it in your notebook!

You're perfectly fine knocking on everybody else's damn doors, aren't you?

You're their neighbour, you idiot. They've been injured and they're an old guy, maybe they'd enjoy the company. Maybe they knew your father considering his dojo is just up the hill and he seemed like a good-egg-know-everybody type. JUST FUCKING KNOCK WILL YOU.

Ugh, forget it. I'm going to explore the park instead, see if I can get Ryo to make a fool out of himself on the swings or something.

"It looks like I can practice here. I should work on my moves. I'll lose my edge if I don't practice."

Who is he talking to?

Ryo's combat animations are intricate and detailed. Ryo's got several different types of punches, kicks, grabs and evasion moves. He's got a selection of about 40 moves in total, and they're all really well motion captured. I wouldn't wanna be on the receiving end of that kick.

In that brown jacket and jeans, he's like a next-gen Conrad B. Hart from Flashback moving about there.

What's this thing? A toy machine? Maybe if I buy one, it'll do something intricate to the story and make Yamagishi appear and tap me on the shoulder Real Creepy Like.

Hey, it's Sonic the Hedgehog! In 1986! Somehow!

"Maybe just one more?", he says. If Ryo doesn't want to stop, who am I to tell him to stop? BUY!

The cutscene of Ryo putting in a coin, spinning the level, picking up the capsule and opening it and holding up the toy is unskippable. I got a bit agitated and started flipping buttons all over the controller. For some reason, the 'buy another' 'don't buy' choice is on the D pad rather than the face buttons and I ended up buying a couple more accidentally.

SOMEBODY HELP ME I CANT STOP. I CAN'T ESCAPE THE GASHAPON VORTEX. THERE'S AN AMBIENT SOUND IN THE BACKGROUND AND IT'S MELTING MY BRAINS OH GOD.

What are these capsule toys for? It would be a twist if they had some purpose in battles, like some kind of Bakugan/Beyblade summon thingy.

When the time hits 11:30pm, Ryo's watch alarm goes off and snaps him out of his stupor. He teleports home back to his bedroom.

SAVE, SLEEP, TRAINING. Saving takes absolutely ages by the way.

Ryo falls asleep instantly but doesn't have nightmares about Lan Di this time. No RPG music jingle sadly.
8:30pm
Dec. 4,1986(Thu)
After getting a (polite) earful off THAT WITCH Ine-san for having stayed up until half-eleven at night buying capsule toys in the street, it's off to Yamanose again to see if Yamagishi wants to reveal himself now that it's daylight.

The kids kick a soccer ball Ryo-wards! BIP BIP BIP - It's the first QTE of the game! Perhaps the first QTE of all time!! (Apart from, you know, Dragon's Lair.)

I've got a split second to react and do something cool. I wasn't expecting it at all, so the soccer ball bounces off Ryo's chest and hits the little girl on the head.

She breaks down in tears and Ryo barely says a word. Or does anything. OR FEELS ANYTHING.

That was a fun intermission. Back to the Yamagishi hunt. Don't forget to say hi to the kitten first, though! Hi, kitten!

Maybe I can listen to my tapes on my cassette player while I'm looking around. Anything would be better than this ambient synth sound. Nope. The music stops as soon as I go off the item inspection screen. Bollocks.

As I blast through the neighbourhood at full speed, the Dreamcast disc goes mental and the Sakuragaoka residents begin fade into view behind me. There's a couple of women gossiping outside the phone booth today. I'm sure a couple of gossips are definitely going to have some useful information!

The absolutely lousy voice acting and pauses makes it seem like everybody's choosing their words very deliberately. Everybody sounds like they're concealing something.

Ryo doesn't have much emotion in his speech, he just reads out his words as if somebody is whispering them in his ear over the radio and he's repeating them without thinking.

During my walkabout, I'm accosted by an old woman who wanted me to find a specific house. Ryo automatically offers to assist and I don't want to make a liar of him. With my magic ability to read maps and stuff, I identify the house. NO REWARD. >:(

And then a curiously well-animated orange cat walks down the street in a perfectly straight line without looking and I stand aside, worried that it's some kind clockwork explosive trap.

It's Yamagishi-san! At bloody last! Now that it's daytime, he was outside his house tending to his trees.

This conversation almost felt normal, Ryo asked him about his back and stuff like that. It's nice to know that he's not entirely unsympathetic.

The only thing of use he tells me is that the car was headed in the direction of Dobuita, and now that I know that, I'm free!

I'm finally out of Sakuragaoka and am free to explore Dobuita! Hooray!

First thing I'm gonna do is go the barbers to test out this open world shizz. Get myself a new do, maybe an afro.

"On that day, did you see a black car?"
"A car? A black car?"
"Yes."
"No, I didn't."

I want a haircut, damn it! What kind of free roaming adventure is this?

There's no dialogue options when you talk to a character, Ryo just activates them and they do their thing. Sometimes the conversation stops and you have to press A to advance it. Presumably, this is to allow the player to rudely abort the conversation and walk away. I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to do that, since talking to folks is the only way to proceed through the game.

What a waste of time and no information to show for it. Time to randomly bug people in the street.

"Forgive me, would you mind asking someone else?"
"I'm sorry but, I just can't now. Ask someone else, will you?"

They all like to say absolutely nothing, very slowly.

This woman told me to find somebody at the seafood shop. I'm not falling for that one! They're just going to send me right back here, aren't they?

Oh boy, an arcade! There's bound to be someone or something interesting in there!

Neat, I'm in a real arcade! I've read about these in history books!

And what could that familiar sound be...? Hang on...

It's Hang-On!

Yeah, that's definitely Hang-On. I'd know it anywhere.

There's also an arcade darts game! You have to press A to throw the dart as Ryo's ghostly hand wobbles across the screen.

Even though my timing is way off thanks to the bargain basement DVD recorder that I'm supposed to be pretending I'm not using, I managed to get a score of 400 points and get two free games! The owner of the arcade was so impressed he gave me a miniature version of the darts machine to add to my growing collection of plastic crapola!

What a nice guy!

"One game, 100 yen."

EXCITE QTE 2? Hey, that's not a real thing!

Ryo's body is ready.

The game itself is just the QTE icons from the earlier cutscenes with a simple chiptune version of the Shenmue theme playing in the background. It's the most fun I've had so far as I'm actually doing something rather than wandering around.

Beside the EXCITE QTE 2 machine, there's a QTE TITLE machine which is basically the same thing except Ryo punches the panels and it says "YOU SUCK" whenever he misses.

I think this arcade's falling on hard times. I've been here for five hours and not one person other than myself has come in and played anything. All the machines even had the default high-score showing, so I must have been the first to play each of them today.

Behind Ryo, there's a Space Harrier cabinet too. Too bad I'm crap at it.

Wasn't there something I was meant to be doing today?

Hey! Where did you come from, fading in from nothingness while I'm doing my boxing thang? I recognise you from my photograph! You're one of my friends!

Ryo doesn't treat him much like a friend. They greet each other politely and then the conversation abruptly stops. This isn't the office, guy! We're in an arcade in the evening! Show some gusto! Ask me about my day! Ask me why I skipped school! Challenge me to beat your score on something!

What's WRONG with you people? Has somebody been putting something in the water or what?

Ryo seems to know all the guys in Dobuita pretty well. This shifty guy runs a military surplus shop, but he won't let me inside to have a look since he's always standing in the doorway. No new clothes for me. No information either.

It's getting pretty late and Ryo hasn't eaten all day. Or all yesterday, as far as I know. Time to visit Tom, the friendly hot dog truck dude. He's a really groovy guy; when you leave him alone, he does the goofiest little mo-capped dance I ever seen.

Just like everybody else, Tom hasn't seen Lan Di's black car. He tries to cheer up a glum-looking Ryo with a complimentary mega hot dog, but Ryo declines and goes on his way. Ryo's a vegetarian, I guess.

Last chance before bed. The Tomato Mart has to have something to eat.

"IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR DIRECTIONS YOU'LL HAVE TO ASK SOMEONE ELSE."

You don't have to yell.

Whoever mastered the audio for the dialogue must've done it in a hurry because half the folks Ryo meets mumble incoherently and the other half clip and distort like crazy, especially the children. Which is strange because the rest of the audio design, especially the ambient and environmental sound effects, is rock solid. The Tomato Mart even has its own hypnotic musak loop (YouTube link) that I'm sure every Shenmue player unconsciously hums whenever they enter a supermarket.

Here we go, something to eat. It's not the best, but Ryo doesn't even want to consider buying any of the fruit for some reason.

Huh... are these Shenmue potato chips...? The girl from the intro was a snack food mascot? She's on the chocolate bars too! Does the whole mythos of the Shenmue series circulate around a snack food mascot?! What's going on?

For some reason, Ryo only wants to buy items one at a time. When you select something to buy from the shelf, Ryo places it on the counter and you have to sit through a bit of unskippable dialogue with the clerk. Depending on what you buy, sometimes you get to draw a lucky raffle ticket!

First prize is a personal stereo ("RAJIKASE", 'radio cassette')!

Second prize is a choice of Sega Saturn games ("SEGA SATURN SOFT"), either Space Harrier or Hang-On (so basically I can play the games from the arcade at home).

Third prize is a choice of unique cassettes ("MUSIC TAPE") which I can't buy otherwise. I have a couple of goes and manage to win myself the Hang-On soundtrack!

When Ryo doesn't win a prize, the clerk says one of the most cryptic things I've ever heard.

"Especially since you bought merchandise."

What the hell does that even mean?

You tell me that I can draw a ticket if I buy Shenmue products, but then say 'Oh, you lost because you just wanted to buy Shenmue stuff!'. I'll have you know I fully intend to eat these chips, dammit!

Uh... I don't know how. I can get Ryo to look at them from all kinds of angles, but he refuses to do anything else with them. Maybe this junk food isn't fit for a martial artist of Ryo's calibre after all.

Slowly, but surely, I buy every single item in the shop, one at a time, until I find something Ryo wants to eat. Nothing. I can buy household gadgets like flashlights as well, but they're unusable too.

Determined, I stick around the Tomato shop I finally, FINALLY get what is rightfully mine.

Ryo's Room
8:35am
Dec. 5,1986(Fri)
Kaboom! I am the RAJIKASE master!

Of course, the game doesn't let you listen to music in the background while you do other stuff so it's just as useless as the portable thing. I would have thought Ryo would be able to take his stereo to the dojo and practice with it on in the background, but no.

Time to resume the adventure. Current mission: ask everyone in Dobuita about the black car. Gee, what fun.

It's you! You're from the picture too, you're my friend!

She's Nozomi, Ryo's kind-of-girlfriend-but-not-really. All of Ryo's emotions apart from anger were obliterated when his father was murdered, so he doesn't quite know how to react to Nozomi's compassion and kindness. He just says 'Yeah...' to everything she says and tries to get away from her as fast as possible.

I spin Ryo right back around and force him to confront her. Ryo eventually asks about the black car and Nozomi tells me that Tom did talk to the men in the car!

That son of a bitch! Why did Tom lie to me? He seemed so innocent with that daft dance of his!

I go back and visit Tom and he spills the beans. He wanted to confront the men in the car after they splashed mud on some of his customers, but Lan Di's evil glare shut him down. The only useful information that Tom can offer is that Lan Di wore a green robe. Which we already knew. And the robe looked sort of Chinese. Which we already knew.

And so the mission objective changes. We're done asking about the black car and the men in suits. We're asking about Chinese people.

That's the entire plan.

One down, fifty-odd more to go.

They certainly put a lot of effort into these dialogue sequences, even if almost all of them are completely useless. The camera slowly pans around the currently speaking character, and switches between several camera angles automatically. That's impressive enough, but these dialogues can happen anywhere in the town.

And off I wander, through the twisty streets of Dobuita, asking every last person if they've seen any suspicious Chinese people.

WHEN SUDDENLY...

Straight outta Cromartie High, it's the delinquents! An accidental bump escalates into a confrontation... the music fades in... it's a QTE!

Defend yourself, Ryo!

Crunch.

The other guy rushes towards Ryo to punch him in the face, but Ryo easily grabs his wrist and flips him onto his back. And then kicks him in the face while he's on the ground.

That's gotta hurt.

Even though I just beat up two guys in broad daylight during a busy lunch hour, nobody seems to care.

I've got a plan. If I'm going to be making racist accusations, I might as well go all in...
Ajichi Chinese Restaurant
The owner of the restaurant takes the implicit accusation that all Chinese people are murderers remarkably well.

He even lets me in on an... ancient Chinese secret. No, really. He says that barbers, cooks and tailors who came to Japan from China often keep in contact with each other and share an ethos known as the 'Three Blades'. If there's underhanded shenanigans going on which invovles Chinese folks, it's likely that a Three Blades member will have heard something about it.

Joke's on Ryo if it turns out Lan Di just bought that coat from a Chinese market because he thought it looked cool.

Running and talking, running and talking. It's all Ryo ever does! I've not had a single real fight yet.

After talking to one Three Blades fellow who told me about another Three Blades fellow, Ryo tracks down the grandfather of one of the Three Blades guys who Very Coincidentally happened to be discharged from hospital the moment I asked the right person about him.

Just from hearing the name 'Lan Di', this very well-informed gentleman tells Ryo that Lan Di is most likely a member of a Chinese black market cartel that operates out of New Yokusuka Harbour. All of a sudden, Ryo's actually got a target to aim for. If all else fails, he'll just go to China and beat up every single person until only Lan Di is left standing.

Even the music's perked up a bit now that the objective has come just that bit closer.

If Ryo wants more information about the cartel, he's going to have to find some sailors and ask them directly. Now where can one find a sailor in Yokosuka?

Asking street toughs about where to find sailors goes about as well as you could expect.

I ask my old buddy Tom for advice and he comes up with the champion idea that sailors like to drink in bars! There's only one bar that's marked on the map, so let's have a look.

The bar opens at five, but it's only four right now. I can't be bothered running all the way to the arcade and back, so I kill time completing my music collection at the Tomato Mart.

Here's the friendly barkeep of Bar Yokosuka. Ryo's not old enough for booze, so the guy chucks him a cola instead.

This place is too upmarket for sailors, but the barkeep does tell me the names of two other bars where they can be found. It's nice to know exactly where I have to go for a change. I'll just look on the map...

THEY'RE NOT MARKED ON THE MAP. EGADS.

MJQ Bar is quite easy to find, but to see the names of the shops you walk past you've got to use the sideways camera view which means using the directional pad and analogue stick simultaneously somehow.

These folks seem to know something that can help Ryo, but they don't feel like talking. They decide to settle it with a bet on a single billiards shot. If I sink the 9-ball, they tell me about the harbour. If I miss, I pay 1000 yen.

It's time for a billiards minigame! What does Ryo know about billiards? Absolutely nothing! I don't stand a chance!

I lose, of course.

I re-enter the bar, but nobody even wants to speak to me any more. Damn.

The only other lead is the 'Heart Beats' bar, but I can't find it anywhere. I was running out of time before Ryo automatically warps back to his bedroom, so I decided to use a walkthrough in the end. Heart Beats can be found down an unmarked, easily missable staircase that's completely indistinguishable from the other staircases with invisible walls around them.

I make it to the entrance to the club with seconds to spare.

"What are you, some kind of TV detective?", asks a sleazy goon in a leather cap.

Yeah, I suppose I am! I'm like Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote, if she was a Japanese martial artist trying to avenge the death of her father.

Here comes the QTE music! Time for something awesome to happen!

Crap.

Well, there's one Ryo who'll have learned not to pick a fight with five people at once.

Failing one action doesn't mean the scene immediately ends; Ryo usually has enough awareness to quickly recover from the first strike and give you a chance to turn the situation around. There's tons of animation for failure and success in each part of the QTE. If Ryo gets completely overwhelmed then the scene just restarts from Ryo entering the bar.

Eventually I get it right and kick everybody's faces in and everybody's happy. The bartender tells me about a biker named Charlie who has links to the cartel. Next objective: find Charlie. But first, visit kitten! (I named her Tama!)

The next day...

This is truly a unique scene. Ryo meets one of the guys from the Chinese restaurant hanging around the Dobuita soda machines, complaining about not having any change.

Ryo kindly offers to buy the man a drink and they talk about their lives for a moment as human beings.

And...

Ryo actually smiles. This is the first time he's done this in the entire game.

It's fucking creepy.

Knocking Motorcycle Shop.

No Charlie. Urrrrghh.

More talking, more talking. Charlie wasn't here, so I had to talk to the guy who runs the bike shop instead. But even he wasn't where he was supposed to be. I had to run around the block to get him to materialise. Then we talked and he said he had no information. Then he didn't seem to want to be active any more so I had to enter and leave Tomato to get him to become active again. Ryo asked him the SAME question and he gave me a different answer. Same with the bastard at the jacket shop!

It's like some kind of damned comedy routine. The two of them repeat the same lines over and over until they suddenly decide that they DO know something after all, and Ryo's notebook updates with a satisfying DONK which means I can get the hell out of here.

The gist of it is that I have to wait until 7pm to get a chance to meet Charlie. It's 10:30am now.

What the hell am I supposed to do for EIGHT AND A HALF HOURS?! Shenmue time passes at exactly fifteen times real time, so that's over half an hour of standing around doing nothing!

Might as well go and see the cat again.

Uh oh! This looks like trouble!

"This little brat just hit my pal in the face WITH THAT TOY."
"So we's gonna teach him a lesson."

Ryo to the rescue!

Owwww... that could have gone better.

And the cutscene starts again. So I start hitting buttons and triggers, trying to skip it, as you do. Can you guess what happens? The damned game restarts at the title screen! I think if you hit the four face buttons and Start simultaneously, the game resets.

That's not so bad. Immediately after talking to the jacket fellow, I saved my game using the cryptically named 'Resume File' option in the menu!

Want to know the difference between a 'Resume File' and a real save? The 'Resume File' erases itself when you load it! I had to do the entire morning all over again, running into and out of buildings just to get those turds to talk to me! ARRRRRRGH.

I'm losing my will to live! I need something to pep me up. This time, I'm going into Tomato to see if I can find anything that'll give me an edge in the fight. Like, say, a gun.

I get fourth prize on the raffle: a rare capsule toy of my choice!

I pick...

SUPER SONIIIIIIIIIC!

Also, there's a new guy at the Tomato shop counter today. Isn't that strange?

Anyway, with Super Sonic equipped and ready to go, I'm sure to win any fight!

I've learned a thing or two from Lan Di's fighting style. Evade! Evade everything, parry everything!

The thug lurches forward for a heavy punch: I smack his arm side, throw him off balance...

And chuck him through the air! Sanshiro-sama would be proud!

Looks like the Super Sonic toy really worked! (The capsule toys don't actually do anything. Sadly.)

Hi there! Do you sell any items which I can use? No? Nothing at all? Okay, have a nice day.

I finally found a use for the milk I bought at the Tomato Mart! Several days ago! I've been keeping it in my jacket the whole time. I hope it's still alright!

Only another six in-game hours until the game lets me play further. I think I'll... run laps around Dobuita! Yeah, that sounds like fun.

6 IN-GAME HOURS LATER

Charlie wasn't there. It was a trap. Five toughs jumped Ryo but a couple of flying kicks to the chops sorted them out. The ringleader gave me another clue: Charlie has a tattoo! Which I already knew. There's a secret tattoo place somewhere in Yokosuka where Charlie had his tattoo done and I need to find it.

Or use a walkthrough, because life's way too short to play Shenmue.

The tattoo artist claims the shop is closed, but Ryo doesn't quite believe him. Nevertheless, Charlie isn't here. Once again, I have to wait. This time I need to wait until two in the afternoon the next day for the tattoo shop to open again. Charlie, I'm told, will definitely be there. I've heard that before.

2PM, THE NEXT DAY

Charlie is here, he's sleeping in a back room of the tattoo shop. Shit is about to get very real.

YOU!!

This is Charlie. FINALLY. He jumps at Ryo with a knife, but some exciting QTE action allows Ryo to get the better of him.

He's got nothing he can tell me about the cartel, but he says he can arrange a meeting. Tomorrow. At 3pm.

Why is there no fast forward in this game? I thought there might be a secret cassette I could buy from Tomato that would make Ryo feel sleepy or something, but there's nothing like that as far as I can tell. I've spent quite a lot of my Shenmue Super Adventure simply leaving the game running until the game'll let me play it. I'm starting to feel sorry for my poor Dreamcast. It can't have that much life left in it and I'm wasting it with the disc on full-spin.

I head home, intending to leave Ryo on stand-by in his bedroom until the plot requires I reactivate him, when I get a phone call from Nozomi of all people! Finally get they get to talk!

Nozomi is upset because her parents want her to move back to Canada. She desperately wants to tell Ryo how she feels before she loses the chance forever. It's an emotional scene, with emotional music and lighting and all that.

What does Ryo do? He says he doesn't know how he feels. Doesn't even give the poor girl a hug. Walks away.

ROBOT.

In the dojo, Ryo confides in Fukuhara that he's going to track down the leaders of the Chinese cartel, hoping that they'll lead him to Lan Di.

Fuku-san is usually a whining idiot, but he totally changes his tone and becomes absolutely serious when he hears just how far Ryo is willing to go.

You just had to go and ruin it, didn't you.

Worse, Ine-san was standing outside and heard the entire thing. She pleads with Ryo to make him abandon his quest for revenge as it would upset his father's spirit, and makes Ryo promise not to go after the cartel.

And here's Ryo, lying to her face.

She's been like a mother to you for fifteen years! You're a classy one, Ryo.

'Deal with it.'

I decided to follow up on Charlie's information first, so I waited patiently outside the arcade from daybreak until 3pm for Charlie to show up and give me information about the cartel. Guess what? NO CHARLIE. SON OF A BITCH RAN OFF ON ME.

Earlier that day, Ine-san gave Ryo a letter addressed to his father, so I looked into that instead. It was a warning about a stranger seeking the Dragon Mirror, and recommended I seek a 'Master Chen' for help and gives me his phone number.

So, basically all the stuff I did up to this point, looking for Three Blades members, sailors, bars and Charlie, has been rendered moot because I could have just spent the last week punching trees and Ine-san would have given me this letter containing the real plot eventually, regardless.

I'm sick of this crap. Shenmue has one of the worst Disc 1s out of any game I've ever played. It's abysmal. It is Not Fun.

Shenmue is an adventure game, but Sega has magnified all the things I hate about adventure games and ignored everything I like about them. In Shenmue, you run from one end of town to the other repeatedly and talk to people. That's ALL YOU DO. Or, rather, you activate them; there's no choice in the dialogue. You and your new friend trade your single line over and over until one of you breaks and you then run off to the next thing.

When you finally get something to do, the game makes it as laborious as it possibly can. Small things, like the controls for moving around and interacting with items being a pain in the backside, or having to manually dial long telephone numbers on a rotary telephone instead of allowing the player to have Ryo automatically dial a number he has written in his notebook.

I'm sure that a great deal of effort went into recreating the physical environment, but the characters you meet in Shenmue feel deeply wrong. The 'yelling every word in turn as if it's being shown on autocue' method of voice acting combined with the awkward word-for-word translation makes listening to dialogue a painful chore. If this is an accurate reproduction of 80's Japan as experienced by game designer Yu Suzuki, I can only conclude that he was raised by Super-Marionette style robot automatons in a model village as part of some kind of sick government experiment.

If you removed the hour long pauses and just had interesting events occur one after another, you'd invent the QTE. And the QTEs are the best bits about Shenmue by far. Watching Ryo fail is hilarious and you can't help but cheer when he wins. There's no analogue stick waggling QTEs or button mashing QTEs. Just reflexes and skill. Losing is no problem as the game instantly restarts the failed scene.

Hell, that sounds amazing. A marital arts based Dragon's Lair! Idea of the year!

If you're interested in Shenmue because of the fighting, you're going to be disappointed. I've been playing for at least six hours and I've got into two real fights total. I still have no clue what moves I have or how to learn new ones. I just hammered the Evade button and then hammered the Punch button to execute a powerful six hit combo when the enemies were stunned. It's possible to have practice sessions with Fuku-san, if he's feeling up to it, but it's not easy to tell whether your attacks are connecting or not.

It's not Rival Schools 2: Project Justice, let's put it that way.

You've got to have some serious patience to work through three entire discs of this. Look at how many screenshots I've included. Now think about how many screenshots I didn't include. Now think about how little I actually accomplished. It makes me sick.

And there's a fourth disc, which is a real oddity. Shenmue Passport.

"HEEYYYAAHHHH! HAHAHAHA! You're lucky. You now have the privilege to learn a thing or two from the great Chai himself. The likes of you wouldn't know about QTE!"
"What? You know about it? You insolent little creep! Oh well, some don't know about it. Those who do can LISTEN AGAIN."

Half tutorial, half tech demo, Sega decided to show off their facial modelling by having the main characters from Shenmue read out guides on how to play the game. Some of these characters aren't even in Shenmue I!

There's also an online feature where you can examine all the items you've collected from your save file and trade them with others. And none of this works now because the service has been shut down.

You mad?

Well that's Shenmue. I hope you've been inspired in some way... if you're going to play it yourself, think about bringing a book to read as well.

Before I go...

There's one last resident of Dobuita that I need to talk to.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

6 comments:

  1. Merry Christmas to you too!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Darn it, Photobucket resized my .GIF of Tom's dance!

    If you'd like to see a slightly bigger version (be warned, it's a 2.5MB file!), it should be available on tinypic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mecha-Neko once again fails :D why is that untalented idiot even allowed to play games when he either sucks so bad at them or just doesn't understand them? Retards shouldn't play and write about video games...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't understand them? Maybe you don't understand the arguments in conclusion? The game sucks, it intended to be realistic, but instead of realistic dialogues or character movement, it has annoying nuances like typing phone numbers on an old phone... Game sucks. Period.

      Delete
  4. > Mecha-Neko once again fails :D why is that untalented idiot even allowed to play games when he either sucks so bad at them or just doesn't understand them? Retards shouldn't play and write about video games...

    http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/092105/someone-with-a-different-opinion.gif

    ReplyDelete

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