As I mentioned when talking about the slightly inferior sequel, Shenmue was a gobsmacking leap forward in videogaming ambition. Its obsessive levels of detail still impress today – for instance, it’s set in a specific part of Japan in 1986. So the game’s geography is closely linked to that part of the world, albeit with a few modifications. Fine. But then there’s the weather. The game plays out with predetermined weather patterns that roughly match up with the plot – but after you complete the game, you get the option to play it with “real” weather. The actual weather data for that part of Japan at that time in history. For no reason, just ‘cos they could programme it in. Ridiculous.
Of course, lunatic levels of detail are no good if the game’s bobbins. So it’s just as well that Shenmue is a gloriously enjoyable adventure, with only one slightly irritating stealth bit letting it down – and it’s a game from the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, so it’s bound by law to have one slightly irritating stealth bit so that doesn’t matter. Flipping from placid adventure (walk around, talk to people) to well-made fighting game (the game was originally intended to be a spin-off from the Virtua Fighter series, starring its various characters, so the VF engine is called in) with consummate style, it’s masterfully made. While some might complain at the work sections, or the QTEs, I rarely found it less than deep, thoughtful and wonderful. Also, you can name and feed a kitten, just because. Love.
MAGIC MOMENT: poking round Ryo’s house at the beginning and slowly realising just how much work’s gone into this.