Not only does Shenmue demonstrate what Dreamcast can handle in terms of visuals it also nicely demonstrates Dreamcast's audio capabilities. The sound effects in Shenmue are of utmost clarity and compliment the visuals quite well in order to recreate a living and interactive environment. You can hear the difference between a light rain shower or a heavy down pour. On top of this, Suzuki went out of his way to include a variety of musical tastes for the game's soundtrack. The orchestral pieces are most vivid and add deep meaning to the overall story.
Each area has its own distinct theme which conveys a particular mood. For example when Christmas time approaches, you will hear Christmas songs being played in some of the shops. When you enter a Jazz bar you will here Jazz themed music, and when you enter the casino you will here the slot machines going off.
Voice acting in Shenmue has been spared no expense. The voice talent is top notch and fits perfectly with each scene and movement of a character. In Shenmue you can virtually talk to anyone and numerous times. Surprisingly in most cases they will have something different to say each time. Gone are the days where a character would only have one or two lines of dialogue. Hopefully Sega Of America will ensure top voice talent if the game goes the dub route instead of using subtitles.
The one burning question on everyone's mind over the last number of months was "How will it play?". Let me put any fears you have to rest. Shenmue is very playable and all of the different gameplay modes have balanced nicely in order to deliver a unique and rewarding gaming experience.
The majority of the game has you as Ryo searching and talking to people in order to gather information which will lead to the motive behind Ryo's father's murder. The game moves along when an important event occurs. When this happens it is written in Ryo's notebook and a small icon will flash on the screen to make you aware of it. As each necessary event occurs the game progresses. While players can get to these events at different times or by different means, these events must take place in order to get further into the game. Most of these events are easy in nature as characters will either tell you straight out what you should do or give you clues as to where you should check next.
The other modes of play involve the Quick Timer Events (QTE) and the Free Battle Mode. Many in players were quick to criticize the QTE as it was described as a "Dragon's Lair" type of control. While it is that type of control, the result is nowhere near Dragon's Lair. QTE are controlled through a sequence of prompts that tell you to hit the gamepad or button in a specific direction at a given time. QTE events have been placed very carefully throughout the game to convey some excitement at the most unexpected times. The result is wonderful and fun. If you fail the QTE, no problem. It starts over again until you are able to complete it properly. The Free Battle Mode is best described as a Virtua Fighter 3 experience. Throughout the game you will acquire new moves that require precision in the same vain as VF3. Without giving away anything, there are some battle modes which are just insane, especially towards the end of Chapter One.
On top of these main modes, there are a number of other things players can do in the virtual world of Shenmue. Go into the arcade and you can play a number of games including Hang On, Space Harrier, 2 types of dart games, and 2 types of QTE games. Enter a casino and you can take you chances on a variety of slot machines. Enter a fortune teller and for a price she will look into the future. Brilliantly done. Go into the convenience stores and you can purchase food, music and general supplies which will help you throughout the game. For example, early in the game you will find a homeless cat. You can decide whether you will take this animal under your care or not.
Later in Chapter One you will have to work in order to earn money for your journey to Hong Kong. Using the forklift at the docks, you will move crates in and out of various areas. With the money you can play games, buy supplies and even purchase new moves for the free battle sequences. You can even buy toys in gumball like vending machines. In the convenience store when you spend more than 300 Yen you will have the chance to win a number of prizes. For example I won Hang On for the Sega Saturn which you can play back in Ryo's house.
Moving Ryo at first seems awkward but after playing for 10 minutes you will find the controls quite appealing. It could have been refined a bit but as it stands is acceptable. The QTE are fine and the Free Battle Modes are the same as VF3 in terms of movement. There is a sequence where you can ride a motorbike and the control here is quite shaky and could have used more attention. It suffers from the classic Dreamcast problem of being too sensitive.