2015 will go down in history, for me, as the best E3 of all time. That's right, I said it....THE BEST. Argue if you must, but let me explain. Truthfully, it's not because of 'my' excitement. Rather it was the result of watching the collective tears of happiness flow across so many faces during the famous Sony Press Conference. At least once a month since, I find myself smiling ear-to-ear at reaction videos to two of the biggest gaming announcements in the industry's history - Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue III. A combined 32 years of built up and desperate desire for these two beloved franchises; shared back to back on the most watched stage of the conference. Unreplicable. Unreplaceable. Unforgettable.
But you'll noticed I mentioned "not because of my excitement..." Don't get me wrong, I'm shaking with anciticipation for what FFVII has in store - but during that showcase, I had no experience, and very little knowledge, of what Shenmue actually was. After watching the reactions though, I knew that had to change.
I completed Shenmue for the first time a few weeks ago. Being my first game ever played on the Dreamcast, I wasn't clear on what to expect. This console came out around the time of the PS2, right? But surely I was talking about Dreamcast in the same sentence as the N64? Wasn't I? Or maybe it was just before PS3 news started flooding the gaming mags? Sega isn't my forte - and I had no idea where it fit in the timeline...or even which generation it belonged to. It didn't matter. Whichever rivals it had...the game blew me away.
Shenmue in its entirety is a beautifully told story, shared by now legendary, Yu Suzuki. Set during the Winter of 1986, the tale follows young protagonist, Ryo Hazuki, returning to his hometown of Sakuragaoka from afar only to witness his father, Iwao, murdered by a mysterious Chinese martial artist known as Lan Di. Heartbroken and vengeful, Ryo sets out on his quest to find Lan Di and the stolen Dragon Mirror; befriending and battling memorable characters every step of his journey.
When looked at from afar, Shenmue might seem simple. Some investigation in the beginning, some fighting and working in the middle, and a cliffhanger at the end. But the magic lies in its depth. Never have I played a game where so much care and purpose had been put into every small part of this beautiful setting. There's a drawer? Chances are you can open it and closely inspect what's inside. It likely has no bearing on the story - but it adds a realism and appreciation that I've rarely seen since. The designers went as far to replicate the weather on each day, as it was recorded in real-world Yokosuka, Japan. It's these subtleties that enhance the experience.
And for those who need a break from the story; there's so much more to do. Race some forklifts, play some Space Harrior or Hang-On (yes, the full versions), throw some darts, train in the dojo to unlock some martial arts moves, pick some QTE-style bar-fights or collect some gashapon.
Strangely foreign, yet wildly compelling, this is a 'must play' for everyone out there. Sure it has some flaws; odd voice-acting, blocky controls, and outdated graphics - but all of that just seems to add to the charm. I'm really hoping to see an HD collection hit this generation before Shenmue III is released so that you can all enjoy it. And once you do, be sure to head over to the Cartridge Club forums to chat about your experiences!