Saturday, August 25, 2018

"Shenmue" and "Shenmue II" Review

With fans of the watershed 1999 and 2001 Dreamcast gems gearing up for next year's release of a long dream-of sequel, remastered versions of the first two "Shenmue" game
s have been released. A precursor series of interactive narratives that paved the way for the likes of "L.A. Noire" and "Heavy Rain," "The Shenmue" titles opened up the realm of possibilities for sandbox titles.

Standard-def TVs of the era did games like "Shenmue" major favors by blurring some of the gaudy, crude detail of the visuals. Also harmed by the march of technology, crystal-clear audio of the horrendously-dubbed voice acting performances hit with all the more of a thud than they would in tinny audio of yesteryear.

Geared to allow its saga to breathe amid a methodical flow, the games have you explore wide areas of largely nothing as you meander toward the next cutscene. The stories, which are more rich, nuanced and mature than that of most other games of the era, are what carry "Shenmue" through its slowdowns and bottlenecks.

Realism, for all its advantages and disadvantages, is so central to the makeup of "Shenmue" that it is more or less a character on its own. You have the freedom to roam listlessly, lose track of your objectives and take part in mundane, everyday tasks. Somewhere amid the meta repetition you could possibly find your gaming zen.

For the most part, the "Shenmue" remasters will appeal only to fans of the originals with a rose-tinted rear-view mirror. Laborious and stiff, the controls and design stand as much in your way of advancement as any external enemies.

The "Shenmue" games deserve their position as landmarks of innovation in the evolution of gaming. That said, they are best appreciated at a distance rather than up close, and by sweetened memory rather than reality's bitter sting.

More fun remember than they were to play, the "Shenmue" games look better than they did before, but retain their anachronistic charms, awaiting for masochists to tread their paths.
Publisher provided review code.

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