Saturday, November 6, 2010

Blog Post: Happy 10-year anniversary, Shenmue.

On this day 10 years ago, I remember venturing to my neighborhood toy store to pick up a Dreamcast game that was hyped to be "the most amazing game ever made," Shenmue. Whether or not the game actually lived up to the hype depends on who you ask, of course. But for me, Shenmue and its sequel ended up being a gaming experience that, 10 years later, I'm still waiting to be surpassed, or even equaled. As time goes on, I'm beginning to accept the fact that it may never happen: Shenmue was just something special, and there’s simply nothing like it.

November 6th, 2000 marked the day that Shenmue was released to North American retailers. Being in middle school at the time, my money was pretty limited, so it was rare that I’d ever buy a game without first renting it. But Shenmue was something different. This was something that Sega Dreamcast owners had been looking forward to since we had first seen any (amazing) image from it. It was late in the afternoon, and I know that in a little bit a group of us were going over to a friend’s house to spend the night, but thought I could pick up Shenmue first and hopefully get some time with it before heading over there. Long story short, I got it, played about an hour of it at my house, then, so amazed by what I played, I brought the game with me to my friend’s house to show everyone. We all literally spent the entire night playing it.

Shenmue is a detective story. It’s a game where your main character, Ryo, witnesses his father being murdered, and vows to somehow track down the killer and take revenge. You were then set loose in a fully-realized town, with shops to enter, money to spend, arcade games to play, people to talk to, toy capsules to buy, fights to get into, and, of course, that cat to take care of.

Exploring Dobuita was an eye-opening experience from the moment Ryo first set foot in it. The sound design was amazing, with the mournful howling of the neighborhood dogs, the sound of the crows squawking as night approached, and the footsteps of your character as he trudged through the snow all providing the perfect backdrop. You could practically feel the crisp winter air as you wandered through the streets, and could actually imagine that all these townsfolk had lives and were going somewhere. I can’t even describe how amazing all of these things felt back in 2000. The mystery, which I was put into this world to solve, was compelling, and nothing beat the feeling of satisfaction that came from getting an important clue from a local and seeing it point the way forward as Ryo jotted it down in his notebook…so addictive.  The music, the gameplay, the atmosphere, the story, the fights…..what an experience Shenmue was. Shenmue 2 then came along, and not only did lightning strike twice, but it was even better the second time, ending up being one of the best sequels I’ve ever played, and still, to this day, the best game I’ve ever played.

There is nothing like it. These games can still be played and enjoyed today, and in fact I made it a point to go back and replay them many times. But now they feel pretty dated, as time has finally caught up with the series. People who play them for the first time today will likely never understand why an entire fanbase is so frigging obsessed with the Shenmue games. It was really one of those things you had to be there at the time to understand, and Shenmue (and Shenmue 2, for those of us who imported the Dreamcast version) was probably the best sendoff the Dreamcast could possibly have had.

Here’s to Shenmue, the Sega Dreamcast that made it possible, and of course, the one day when we finally will get to finish the saga.

Watch this and remember.

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