Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: August 31, 2018
Shenmue HD Collection is a third-person open-world action adventure available from retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. Shenmue was created by Yu Suzuki; director and designer of such popular arcade games as After Burner I and II, Hang-On, Out Run and Space Harrier, director and chief programmer of Virtua Racing, alongside director and producer of the Virtua Fighter series and producer and supervisor of other Virtua franchise games such as Virtua Cop. Yu Suzuki’s AM2 team began development in 1996 on an RPG based upon the Virtua Fighter series for the SEGA Saturn; however development moved to SEGA’s forthcoming Dreamcast, although the Virtua Fighter theme had been dropped in favour of a new franchise titled Shenmue. Shenmue I and II originally both released on SEGA’s Dreamcast home console on December 29th 1999 in Japan and 2001 respectively before Shenmue II received an Xbox port in 2002. Can Shenmue HD Collection improve upon the original Dreamcast releases and Xbox port of Shenmue II to provide an enthralling glimpse at what newcomers to Shenmue and fans can anticipate from Shenmue III?
Shenmue’s story arc is essentially a revenge tale set in 1986 and 1987 that continues throughout the saga of the two games contained within the HD Collection as it is established within the opening scene that Ryo’s father possesses an object that a ruthless enemy desperately wants. Ryo’s father and Ryo attempts to prevent the mysterious man and his guards from hurting anyone or taking the object of his desire, but to no avail as Ryo’s father is savagely killed before his eyes; prompting Ryo to investigate who they are and why they did it.
Shenmue HD Collection’s retail release contains both games on a disc, a manual and a poster. An interesting gameplay mechanic is a sort of New Game+ feature that rather interestingly allows the player to import their completed save file from Shenmue I into Shenmue II; therefore allowing the player to retain their skills learned as well as items and money earned in Shenmue I within Shenmue II. However, it is worth noting that despite cross-save features being commonplace in the eighth generation of gaming; Shenmue I and II were released at a time when such features were considered groundbreaking during the sixth generation of gaming.
Shenmue I and II both feature a wide range of diverse and likeable characters from the outset with strong protagonist Ryo Hazuki meeting pleasant characters of all ages, sizes, styles and genders that Ryo relies upon to provide him with clues in his investigation towards bringing his father’s murderer to justice, while they also rely upon Ryo to help them with everyday tasks that become side quests. Enemy design is also a major strength in both games such as Ryo’s father’s murderer is not just a villain, but is Ryo’s main reason to keep on investigating and searching for answers, while simultaneously improving his fighting skills that passes onto the player as a major motivating factor to keep on progressing towards achieving Ryo’s ultimate goal.
Shenmue I and II’s environment design is simply stunning for its time and still holds up well an entire two generations of gaming before the release of the HD remasters due to the undeniably open-world landscapes as there are such a huge quantity of places to explore and a diverse range of buildings and businesses to visit within them including arcades, bars, restaurants, people’s homes and much more besides.
Combat skills and fighting techniques are very important in Ryo’s progression towards bringing his father’s murderer to justice. Ryo Hazuki’s family home has a Dojo that he can train in to learn more combat skills with the help of Masayuki Fukuhara who learned martial arts from Ryo’s father, although the player needs to advance through some of Ryo’s investigation into the story before being able to regularly return to the Dojo. Combat training in the Dojo, finding ancient combat scrolls and practice battles are all essentially geared towards making Ryo a more effective martial artist. Shenmue I and II have optional combat skills that the player does not have to learn, but there are also combat skills that must be learned that will later prove extremely useful in boss battles and fights against larger quantities of enemies. Combat skills that Ryo has to learn in Shenmue I includes the Swallow Flip involving a reversal that sees Ryo taking a step back from his enemy, preventing his opponent’s strike from landing, then tripping up the enemy so that their back is positioned on the ground. Meanwhile, required combat skills in Shenmue II includes the Iron Palm that sees Ryo produce a firm punch to the body or face of an enemy with all of Ryo’s power channelled through the palm, while the Counter Elbow allows Ryo to forge a counter offensive manoeuvre when an enemy has Ryo in a tough position within a really physical fight.
Both games have an arcade that can be visited to allow Ryo some time for a fun distraction, albeit as long as he has a few spare dollars to afford the price of admission for each pixel perfect arcade game. You Arcade (Game Centre) is located on Dobuita Street in Shenmue I including Hang-On and Space Harrier arcade cabinets, while Pine Game Arcade is located in the Golden Quarter of Wan Chai in Shenmue II including OutRun and Space Harrier. However, You Arcade and Pine Game Arcade both have a strong variety of additional games including QTE Title that requires certain buttons to be pressed in time with the punching mats moving towards Ryo with three chances to miss before the game ends, alongside Excite QTE 2, darts and more besides. Elsewhere, there are mini-games outside of the arcades such as forklift races particularly within the final third of Shenmue I that sees Ryo starting in fifth place, racing against four opponents through three laps around the harbour, waterfront and New Warehouse District via a third-person or first-person perspective. Ryo also gets to play pool against two men at MJQ Jazz Bar in Dobuita opposite Okoyama Heights with 1,000 yen on the line and the opportunity to return to the table to play more pool shots, although as is usually the case with Shenmue I and II; you will miss the opportunity to do so, if you are not in the right place at the right time which in this case is after 7pm.
Capsule toys are Shenmue I and II’s form of collectibles that are mostly based upon SEGA related characters such as Sonic, Space Harrier, Virtua Fighter and more besides. However, the collectible toy figurines have to be earned by performing certain tasks including a high score of 10 million points on Space Harrier at You Arcade to be rewarded with a capsule toy of the Space Harrier arcade cabinet, while scoring 300,000 points on QTE Title at You Arcade in Shenmue I provides the Mini QTE Title capsule toy. Meanwhile, finishing in each position from first through fifth in separate attempts of the forklift race yields a forklift capsule toy with the number of the position Ryo placed in the race and there are many more capsule toys to be collected throughout Shenmue I and II.
Shenmue I and II HD’s remote play performance is pretty good as the graphics, audio and general performance maintains the quality of the PS4 version. However, there are no remote play control optimisations; resulting in the camera zoom moving to the top left of the rear touch pad and running being mapped to the top right of the rear touch pad when it would have been more of a natural fit for them to be remapped to L and R respectively. However, Shenmue I and II HD is a playable and entertaining remote play experience.
Shenmue I and II’s controls have been partially modernised within their HD remasters as players can now move through changing the direction of the left analogue stick instead of only relying on the d-pad, alongside panning the camera with the right analogue stick. Elsewhere, the control scheme consists of pressing X to perform actions such as beginning a conversation, opening and closing doors and more besides; pressing O to cancel an action; pressing square to view Ryo’s notebook for a listing of current objectives and side quests; pressing triangle to view Ryo’s inventory; holding R2 to run; pressing L2 to focus the camera on an object; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu.
Graphically, Shenmue I and II HD’s enhancements focus on 1080p HD rendering, post-processing visual bloom effects, improved anti-aliasing and colour depth, although HD rendering and bloom effects can both be turned off in order to emulate the original 480p resolution of the Dreamcast version. Noticeable areas of improvement include the removal of shimmering that was particularly evident in the Dreamcast version, while the sky was previously pixelated, but is now filtered for far more realistic clouds, alongside bloom effects coming into their own in the lighting of certain scenes and areas such as illuminated storefront signs, sunlight and brighter skies. Shenmue II HD is predominantly a port of the previously enhanced Xbox port as there are better textures in some circumstances such as water rendering, building shadows, lens flare sun effects and retaining the screen tint filters, while removing the blurry elements of the combat from the Xbox port in favour of the Dreamcast version’s performance during combat.
However, the actual textures of both Shenmue games have not been individually re-textured; for instance muscle definition on a character’s body or their feet are noticeably retro in texture, while some faces for lead characters look better textured than others that are met only briefly, although the HD rendering naturally makes every texture look better than it previously did in both games. Shenmue HD Collection drastically improves loading times by up to 20 seconds during exploration in comparison to the Dreamcast version, while retaining the original 30 frames-per-second frame rate from the Dreamcast version but is more consistent as there are less frame-rate drops during crowded areas, alongside gameplay that is presented in a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, although cutscenes remain displayed in a 4:3 letterbox aspect ratio. Meanwhile, there are no further enhancements on PS4 Pro and no HDR support, although the PC version supports additional options such as higher resolutions above 1080p, supersampling, fast approximate anti-aliasing (FXAA) and ultra-wide monitor support, so perhaps some of those features will be patched into the PS4 Pro version.
Shenmue I and II’s presentation has been fully remastered during loading screens and menus consisting of high resolution imagery and text fonts. Presentation is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the title menu, main menu, inventory menus, options menus and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. Menu backgrounds are ornate as a symbol rotates in the centre of the menu options.
Japanese voice-overs are available globally for the first time which is a nice feature, especially given that the English voice-overs are actually as compressed as the original Dreamcast audio that other than the inclusion of Japanese voice-overs; has otherwise not received any enhancements. Voice-overs and their original voice-over artists are retained from the Dreamcast releases including Masaya Matsukaze voicing Ryo Hazuki having also voiced Yasuhiro Hagakure in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Cyber Danganronpa VR: The Class Trial, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony and the Danganronpa TV series adaptations, while Takahiro Sakurai voices Lan Di having also voiced Cloud Strife in Kingdom Hearts I, II and remasters as well as almost everything Final Fantasy related since Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and Crow Armburst in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I, II and IV, alongside a large ensemble cast. Sound effects include Ryo walking, running, opening and closing doors, engaging in combat against enemies, playing arcade games and participating in mini-game activities such as playing pool or racing forklift vehicles, while ambient sound effects include birds tweeting, dogs barking and cats purring. Shenmue I and II’s moving soundtrack was composed by Ryuji Iuchi (Super Monkey Ball 2), Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage trilogy, Beyond Oasis and the 7th Dragon franchise), Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (Daytona USA, OutRunners and the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog) and Takeshi Yanagawa (Lost Kingdoms II and Tokyo Marble Chocolate). There is no DualShock 4 speaker support that could have produced dialogue, sound effects or music.
Shenmue I HD’s trophy list includes 29 trophies with 6 bronze trophies, 18 silver trophies, 4 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy, while Shenmue II HD’s trophy list includes 28 trophies with 8 bronze trophies, 14 silver trophies, 5 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. Due to certain events only taking place at particular times of the day; Shenmue I and II HD’s trophy lists are not necessarily easy or hard. For instance, the Boy Scout silver trophy for helping the old lady in Sakuragaoka find a specific house is a rather simple silver trophy in its own right, but the requirement of needing to start talking to her at the store before 4pm and if you do not finish the quest sooner rather than later, then the old lady will disappear and you would have failed the quest; therefore the time requirements can in some cases make otherwise easy trophies quite missable until your next playthrough. However, there are some easier trophies such as the Appropriate Response silver trophy for calling the police at the beginning of Shenmue I. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 30 to 50 hours to platinum the trophy list per game when considering potential missable trophies.
There are no difficulty levels in Shenmue I and II, although there are hard gameplay elements in places such as how easy it is for Ryo to get lost; for instance when he is looking to find a specific person to ask a question as part of his investigation, it can sometimes result in walking all the way back to the Hazuki family home instead of finding the person that is a major part of the player’s current objective. However, there are side quests that only occur at certain times of day or night, so it is tough to find everything throughout each game. Meanwhile, combat has a difficulty curve all of its own as fights will naturally become easier when Ryo has learned more powerful martial arts skills.
There are no local or online multiplayer features that could have been implemented for battles in the Dojo, alongside arcade and mini-games, while there are no online leaderboards that could have showcased high scores for arcade games and mini-games as well as fastest times in anything racing related such as the forklift races.
Shenmue I and II’s replayability is astounding within each individual game brought about by essential constant exploration in order to have any chance of discovering everything in both games due to side quests only occurring at particular times of day or night. The vast quantity of areas to explore and things to find from actually playable pixel perfect arcade games and mini-games to side quests, fights and the search for sailors really is the beauty and what drives the very core of Shenmue I and II that will collectively have players continuing Ryo’s journey for dozens of hours in each game.
- Title: Shenmue HD Collection
- Developer: SEGA/d3t
- Publisher: SEGA
- System: PS4
- Format: Blu-Ray Disc/PSN Download
- Cross-Buy: No
- Cross-Play: Yes (Save Import from Shenmue I HD to Retain Skills, Items and Money in Shenmue II HD)
- Players: 1
- Hard Drive Space Required: 2.95GB (Shenmue I HD – Version 1.01)/9.53GB (Shenmue II HD – Version 1.01)