Shenmue 1+2 HD (Xbox One Review)
There’s no denying that Shenmue was a powerhouse when it first landed nearly 20 years ago. Then Yu Suzuki followed it up with the even more stellar Shenmue II. The series’ impact on gaming was felt universally, in spite of its niche appeal. The thing is, revolutionaries rarely stand the test of time. We’re no longer staring at the glass ceiling; instead we’re on the great glass elevator we made of its remains. So, did Shenmue stick around for the ride?
As Shenmue I & II HD is basically a port, I won’t waste your time embellishing teary eyed nostalgia on the praise of its time. We are in the here and now and there is a mountain of other ports and remasters to compare Shenmue I & II HD against.
Shenmue hasn’t aged well, especially Shenmue I. The atmospheric tale of longing for revenge still resonates, but it’s held back from torturous dialogue and really constrained delivery. It’s as if Shenmue’s message is delivered through paper cups from the past to present. The audio quality is bad and there’s definitely a delay.
Dobuita Street is still a slice of life from a remote time that’s no longer relatable. Sure there’s something to be said about reflecting on our youth, in that we had time to waste and the prospect of a 9-5 job was a novelty instead of a harsh reality . But, if we are being totally honest, I don’t remember approaching strangers on the street at any point in my life, let alone as a teen. Thankfully Shenmue II does manage to pick up the slack and offer a far busier approach with its larger scope and more diverse interactivity, although the small town vibe suffers as a result of Shenmue II’s grander scope.
Yet even with a far busier street, the scenery is often drab and the textures still sorely lack detail. Exploring the dingy streets of Hong Kong doesn’t hold the same appeal, but the more memorable moments still retain that unidentifiable mystique they always did. Leaving you with a mixed bag of emotions as you see chunky leaves slowly glide towards the floor.
No matter which game you play, there is one constant. Bugs. There are bugs everywhere. From the audio cues to the fact that your mastery of certain moves doesn’t carry across saves, you’re bound to run in to a good few. Some cutscenes also suffer as the camera focuses on the wrong objects in the environment or when Ryo focusses on certain triggers in Shenmue I to no avail. Plus there’s a chance that between loading screens the game might just fully lock up and force you backwards to your last save, a very unwelcomed addition to a list of bugs that were never there back in the day.
Simply put, both games are products of their time and the port does them little justice. From the audio bugs to the regular crashes to dashboard, they have amassed a whole new set of issues that dampen the few rays of hope you can gleam from a simpler time. It’s easy to appreciate just how important these games were for their time and it’s actually enable me to finally play Shenmue, a game I’d previously only experience through a DVD provided with the Xbox version of Shenmue II. If these ports had been pristine, they might have been an automatic recommendation for all those looking to understand just how far gaming has come, but in their current state it’s an impossibility. My advice would be to hold off on the upcoming patch and be prepared for a very dated title or, y’know, just buy Yakuza Kiwami/Yakuza Kiwami 2.