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Shenmue
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Shenmue is another example of ambition exceeding practicality.  Unlike Fable, though, you can see the ambition shining through more in Shenmue.  Shenmue's goal?  Instead of tossing you into a world and saying "go be what you want to be" like Fable, Shenmue is a little more structured.  Shenmue pulls you into an interactive movie worthy of Hollywood, complete with scripted sequences, only gives you one role, but still allows you a modest amount of freedom.  Shenmue feels like several game genres merged into one.  Three to be exact.  You play a Japanese teen named Ryo whose father gets killed by a villainous martial arts master looking for an artifact.  Of course, Ryo knows karate.  And of course, Ryo vows revenge, even if he's still a beginner.  Why call the cops when you can become your own detective and vigilante?  You spend most of your time in the game's first mode--exploration.  You control Ryo in an over-the-shoulder view and take to the streets to talk to people and uncover clues, along with doing other fun things like shopping for groceries, interacting with items, using vending machines, practicing your martial arts moves in parks to get better, getting a "job", and even blowing your hard earned cash in the arcade playing real classics like Hang On and Space Harrier.  The side stuff is fun, but the detective part requires a lot of effort that some may like and some may hate.  Like Fable, Shenmue has a day and night system but allows you almost all the time you need to complete your quest.  Unfortunately, and rather bafflingly, Ryo is controlled by the Dreamcast digital pad, even when games had already gone to analog, and he steers pretty much like a dump truck.  Continuing your quest involves long periods of running around town and finding the right people to talk to.  Most people on the street give you no useful information.  Also, manipulating items is usually superficial unless you're adding items of importance to your inventory.  Still, unlike Fable you could tell that the creators of Shenmue wanted to paint a rich world that felt real.

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Every once in a while, something will happen that will prompt you to react to on screen cues with a button press or a series of button presses.  This is the second mode of the game, called the quick time events.  These are sometimes prompted by situations that call for reflexes like Ryo catching a flashlight to avoid alerting a guard, but mostly they pop up whenever some thug wants to pick a fight with you.  Apparently Ryo lives in a world where if you know martial arts, fights occur with as much frequency as in a chop socky wuxia film.  Anyway.  With these quick time events, Shenmue then becomes much like the interactive movies of old.  We all know how well those turned out.  But if Shenmue is an interactive movie, then it's a well executed one.  In some scenes, the button presses come fast and frequent, and the fight scenes that correspond to your actions look worthy of a Jet Li movie.  Unfortunately, Shenmue also has the cliches of a movie.  The dialogue can get a little iffy, especially with Ryo, who couldn't emote to save his life.  Not only that, the tiny Dreamcast digital pad makes inputting the correct button on time sometimes a chore.

Every now and then, though, the fighting parts are controlled through real time.  I'm not sure how the creators decided when the fights should be quick time events and when they should be real time, but these real time fights are the most fun part of the entire game.  The fighting engine is a modified version of the Virtua Fighter fighting engine.  While not possessing the level of depth or vast number of moves as Virtua Fighter 4, Shenmue's real time fight sequences still has enough to look cool.  Although once again, Shenmue fails to achieve a complete level of realism, due to the fact that like Virtua Fighter, Ryo often faces along a plane and mobility feels rather limited, you'll still feel like a martial artist in no time.  The more you fight, the better your moves become, and you'll also learn new moves from scrolls and other masters.  Block, parry, punch, throw, and deal with more than one attacker.  You'll do it all in Shenmue during the real time fighting.

Overall, Shenmue is a fun if flawed game.  Is it cliched?  Yes.  Is it occasionally clunky?  Yes.  Is it the ultimate in realism, level of immersion, and feeling that the world is alive?  No.  Shenmue's pretty scripted and the "realism" part can only go so far.  Still, Shenmue offers up so much to do and does much more than Fable.  If Shenmue is just "being part of a movie", then at least it makes the experience authentic.  One thing you can't call Shenmue is ugly.  Shenmue is so beautiful, you can see the shoe laces on Ryo's shoes.  That's something not even the X Box can likely do.

Grade: Decent

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