The story of Shenmue is a long tale full of revenge, betrayal, and love, and simply reading a short synopsis of it was never going to do it justice. The current era of holding hands of the player to lead them to the next objective, Shenmue demands you to pay attention to the content on the screen and then use the knowledge to your advantage to progress further in the story. Has left a legacy that has since inspired many of the open world design in current generation games although taken as a whole, Shenmue has not aged that well mostly due to the nature of its controls and progression system that is completely different from most modern games. The games aren’t a proper remaster, meaning you’re not going to get full and flawless graphics from the ground up ala Yakuza Kiwami, and you’re definitely not going to be getting the audio quality you’d expect.
The storyline itself still holds up pretty well with you playing as series star Ryo Hazuki, exploring Japan, collecting clues from the neighborhood, and delving deep into the Chinese crime syndicate of the city to avenge the murder of your father. The first Shenmue follows Ryo Hazuki, a young man who bears witness to his father’s murder at the hands of the villainous Lan Di. For unknown reasons, Lan Di wants the Dragon Mirror and the Phoenix Mirror, two ancient antiques that the Hazuki family owns. Full of rage and questions, Ryo sets out to avenge his father and learn about Lan Di and the mirrors. It was an ambitious story for a video game at the time, and one that still holds up as an enthralling mystery, right up to its open-ended finale.
Shenmue II begins shortly after Shenmue’s climax as Ryo reaches the shores of Hong Kong. Having finally made it to China, Ryo continues his quest for vengeance in an unfamiliar and often dangerous new country. Along the way, Ryo finds an ally in the mysterious Shenhua, a young woman who Ryo saw in his dreams as far back as the first Shenmue. It’s a worthy continuation of Shenmue, as it takes the original game’s cinematic ambitions and pushes them even further. Also, with the knowledge that Shenmue III is on the way, it’s far less bittersweet to reach the end of Shenmue II. Both stories, though different in scope and in tone, still feel as robust and thrilling today as they were when they were originally released.
Right off the bat, it’s easy to see that both games look leagues better than the original titles. Character models are refined and clear, while landscapes are crisper and more defined. Lens flare and water in Shenmue 2 appear as if they were taken from a last-gen title -- which is saying something for a game that’s old enough to graduate high school. For new players, the world is stunning – not because of its graphics but because of how rich and communicative it is. You can interact with any character (even a kitten), use vending machines, visit the arcade and play fully-functioning mini-games, get a job and much, much more.
You can have the English dubbing of the originals (unless you played Shenmue II on the Dreamcast which only had Japanese voice acting) or Japanese voice-work, the latter something you should definitely go with to keep the experience authentic; not just that but I find the acting better this way.
The controls will take some time to get used to since they are rather dated. The first Shenmue is the biggest offender and it results in a frustrating experience because you have to talk to a lot of people in the game and the way Ryo controls makes it hard to do even the most simple tasks. Adding to this is the combat system which lacks strategy and feels more like button mashing at times. There will be plenty of quick-time events as well but I find them fun for the most part. I think they integrate well into the gameplay hence why they don’t feel like tacked on like most other games. However, the fighting system is just as deep as it’s ever been. From throws to evasions to heavy punches and light kicks, brawling in both is mostly fluid and completely responsive once you learn its small quirks.
Throwing can be a bit difficult since getting close to your opponent isn’t easy, but it does make sense since throwing is one of your most powerful attacks. Be sure to train, too, since many attacks require multiple inputs that can get a little overwhelming in battle if you haven’t spent the time understanding them and leveling them up.
There is no map in the game that will guide you where to go next, and instead, you have to talk to others to get new information from them. A lot of the dialogue will get reused so be ready to hear plenty of repeated phrases as you attempt to figure out where to go next. You will also do odd jobs around the town to help get some money that will also be a need for some story missions. Ryo will keep a notebook to keep track of every conversation or hints that he makes in the game and it is basically your way to find out your goals.
Shenmue 1 & 2 HD is a definitive collection of two very dated yet memorable classics. The antiquated controls and presentation of both games will likely make them difficult to get into for modern audiences, but the epic story and wonderful characters more than make up for it. So as aged as they may be, anyone who gives Shenmue a chance could easily find themselves loving the series in the same way that myself and countless others already do however admittedly the game is a very hard sell to modern day audiences so keep that in mind, all in all this game is KASANOVA APPROVED.