In development for more than five years under the codename "Project Berkley", the project was initially conceived by Yu Suzuki as a "Virtua Fighter RPG". As time passed and over 200 people were utilized in its creation, the game has finally evolved into a very playable game that mixes action, adventure, love, betrayal, courage, friendship and revenge. In a nutshell Shenmue is much more a cinematic adventure game than a RPG. While some people may be turned away by this description, do not worry. The presentation and gameplay balance has been very carefully planned.
The premise of the game is this: the story begins in late 1985 and revolves around two main characters. Players will control Ryo Hazuki as he explores Yokosuka and in later chapters China trying to solve the mysteries behind his father's recent death. The other character known as the beautiful Rei Shenhua will help Ryo in his quest and become his love interest in future chapters of the game when Ryo goes to China. In Chapter One, Ryo begins his quest to avenge his father's death.
Every system needs a game that will both sell it to the skeptical and show off its capabilities. Since its earliest days of development, Shenmue has been that game. From the character models right down to the minute details such as cockroaches in the cupboards, utmost attention has been taken to bring this virtual world to life. The facial animations are simply spectacular and convey a wide variety of expressions and moods. When the characters are angry their eyebrows are raised along with their cheeks. When they are sad, their faces drop and tears can be seen in the corner of their eyes. Having lived in Japan for three years, I really appreciate the detail that has been put into this game. When I was playing through it I felt like I was back in Japan. I found it humorous when I was looking through the cupboards in the kitchen and a cockroach scurried into the corner since Japan is known for having a lot of cockroaches due to its humid climate.
Over 1200 separate locations have been modeled down to the smallest details. Flags blow in the wind, neon signs buzz, and street signs move in the wind. To achieve this precision Suzuki's team put in hundreds of hours of research in order to accurately portray the look of 1985 in Japan. You can search through almost anything you can find. Dial a telephone and you will see the detail that has gone into rendering what a hand should look like and act like. Breathtaking to say the least. When you enter the streets you will find them full of life. Shop owners will yell out to their customers, pets are wandering the streets, people passing through on their motorbikes and bicycles and various street sounds can be heard. When you get to the Yokosuka harbor, the aesthetics really make it feel as if you were there right next to Ryo. The fight and action sequences are beautifully choreographed sequences. Whether you are in free battle mode or quick timer event mode, the visuals will impress and leave you wanting more. While Shenmue is the best looking game yet, it does have a couple of minor graphical issues that seem to be present due to the rush to get this out before the end of the year. Firstly, at times people and objects seem to appear and disappear out of nowhere. You could be walking down the street when all of a sudden a motorbike runs into you out of thin air. This sort of thing is more noticeable once you start working at the docks. Loaders appear and disappear randomly. The second problem is the occasional slowdown. This only happens when there are many people or things happening on the screen. This does not hinder gameplay but is nevertheless noticeable.