With a budget rumoured to be the size of a major Hollywood movie, Shenmue was supposed to be the big title that would push the Dreamcast into the stratosphere. Instead, it was, like the Dreamcast itself, a hugely ambitious failure. And I loved it.
Shenmue was certainly not the sort of game I traditionally liked. As you can tell from the rest of my list, I tend to like first person shooters â€“ games that you give you an immediate response. Shenmue was a world away from these, and was, almost literally, in a world of its own.
Shenmue was an epic game designed by Yu Suzuki to really stretch the graphical prowess of Segaâ€™s Dreamcast console. At the time of its release the level of detail was unprecedented and features such as the real time weather system were revolutionary with the weather changing throughout the day and behaving in a way that was never the same for any two players.
The story was set in the mid-eighties in Japan. Young man Ryo Hazuki sees his father being murdered by a mysterious gangster called Lan Di, and sets off on a quest to avenge his death. The story will take him from Japan to China as he searches to discover who Lan Di is and why he killed his father. Along the way he meets a whole cast of characters and tries to unravel many clues.
What was truly special about the game was the level of interactivity that the player could have with the gaming world. You could talk to people, pick things up, buy things, use things, drive vehicles or just walk the streets, and play many, many side quests. Eventually you would learn what the next step you needed to take was. One of the most memorable features was the ability to go into a games arcade and play, full screen, classic arcade games of the day such as Space Harrier and Hang On, not co-incidentally also created by Yu Suzuki.
It wasnâ€™t all just seeing the sights and playing games though, you also got to kick arse - naturally, Ryo was an uber-martial artist. These battles took two forms â€“ QTE, where a button flashed on screen and you had to pull the corresponding trigger in time and Free Battle mode, which let you pull off the moves of your choice. Though it was set within a massive game, these fighting sequences were almost worthy of being a game in and of themselves.
However, the level of interactivity was what drove many people crazy. The pace was rather slow, the presentation slightly clunky and the tasks or side games often incredibly repetitious. You could take jobs that for many were as mind numbing in the game as they would be in real life. By all normal standards I should have hated it, but strangely, I couldnâ€™t get enough. The world of Shenmue, was full of colour, character and life, and something that most games I played sorely lacked â€“ a real story. Sure it was overblown, pretentious, and melodramatic but it was thoroughly gripping.
The game was followed by a sequel that appeared on the Dreamcast and later the Xbox and ended on a dramatic cliffhanger. Both games never sold in the quantities that was hoped for and with the demise of the Dreamcast the Shenmue story has been left in limbo. Rumours of a third game have been bubbling for years but it seems that Shenmue will be moving online into a currently fashionable MMORPG. Iâ€™ve never played one before, but Iâ€™ve got a feeling it might just be my first one.