9. Shenmue II
Format: Dreamcast, Xbox
I mentioned a couple of posts back how the Dreamcast was ahead of the curve in certain ways. Pray silence for the top reason: Yu Suzuki’s gobsmacking magnum opus Shenmue, which would be fairly impressive if it were released today. The first one came out in 2000, and it was astonishing. It was like someone had punched a hole in the space-time continuum and brought a Fancy Future Game back in time. Gigantic, fully voice-acted cast? Huge amounts of pointless detail? A believable AI system that created a whole artificial world, populated by realistic people who had their own schedules? All here for the first time. It’s no surprise it was the most expensive game ever made (a title held for eight years, until Rockstar made Grand Theft Auto IV).
Shenmue, though, was meant to be a lengthy series, comprising 16 chapters. The first game was just chapter one. So there was a sequel, and here it is. The first game is a little higher up on this chart – number 2 fell down due to some slight repetition, over-reliance on QTEs (there’s another thing to thank Shenmue for, didn’t invent them or even popularise them, but implemented them in the way that Resident Evil 4 would later pick up on and cause every other action game to have them included by law) and the odd boring section. The lengthy sequence where you have to earn HK$500 to meet a mob boss and promptly get robbed is, frankly, taking the mick. Still, a slightly-less-brilliant Shenmue is still better than 91% of all other games, ever.
MAGIC MOMENT: the stunning environs of disc 3, set in Kowloon Walled City (which was condemned and demolished a few years after the game's time period). Dangerously crumbling concrete skyscrapers form the basis for gambling and underground fighting rings, as well as some outrageously pretty sunsets.