April 25th, 2002
I didn't think Shenmue was all that great of a game. Then it was over. Then I played it again. Now it's on Da List. Shenmue is slow to start. There are numerous long stretches where you wait for stuff to happen. The control is a little off. The voice acting could be better. The translation could be better. I wish it could be easier to throw people (not that it's all that hard, I just REALLY like throwing people.) But still: it's on Da List.
There is a definite sense of place. You will know the town like the back of your hand by the time the credits roll. The fighting, once acclimated to, is fun. I get the hang of countering until my second time through: really helped improve my 70 man battle records. The QTEs are enjoyable whether you screw up or or not. The cat is cute. The J pop song near the end is enjoyably bad. The music itself... the music at the end of the game is what made me want to play the game again. The music smacks you about the face and screams, "You're playing an epic! Enjoy, damn you, ENJOY!!!" Sweeping. Majestic. Damn good. The graphics are incredible. Counting them up, I still listed more cons than pros. It doesn't matter. This is a great game.
It is the first in what will be a series of great games. You can say to Shenmue, you can say, "Hey Shenmue, why do all the bad guys have rectangular feet?" And Shenmue says, "Would you look at me? I'm a big, sprawling, great damn game. Love me." And you try not to, you try to stay mad, but you can't. You can't help but love the big lug. Mainly, though, mainly you have to admire its reach. Its reach far exceeds its grasp, true, its goals set too high. But boy does Shenmue try. You can hear it stretching and sweating. The people that just appear. The long load times (not as long as EA games on the PS2, but still long). But then you're THERE. You are IN that damn town. Sure, you may have to wait around for things to happen, and a lot of the doors remain closed, and there's never enough fighting or QTEs. But then you're racing forklifts and saving your girlfriend and beating up 70 guys (that's 280 appendages to be broken).
And then you leave town. You get on that big ole boat. Leaving behind the kitten you nursed back to health, the park where you "shared a moment" with your girl, all your friends, your house and dojo, leaving it all: off to find the man who killed your father. And then the music swells and the credits roll. And then you go want to go back and do it again.
There is nothing perfect in this game, save the music, everything else is flawed. Shenmue may not be in my top 10, but it deserves a spot on Da List.