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Between the end of the Saturn and the start of Sega's 128-bit revolution, Yu Suzuki had been missing for a while. He had been off working on a project that was said to push the limits of the Dreamcast and the envelope of detail that the typical videogame had ever used up until this point (c. 1999). With a cast of hundreds, and nearly four years in development, the result is the first chapter of Shenmue.
The first chapter kicks the storyline off with Ryo Hazuki arriving home one night to find a strange black car parked in front of his house. Almost immediately afterwards he stumbles across his friends and family in various stages of hurt; it seems his father had been hiding an ancient relic from a rather powerful and nasty man. Ryo's arrival complicated matters as the strangers (who Ryo's father seemed to know) use the threat of Ryo's untimely demise to prompt his father to reveal the location of the mirror. With that found, the mysterious man kills the father and that in turn leaves Ryo with a mystery. Who is the man in the black car, and what did he want from his father?
As the story unfolds through Ryo's exploration and tireless questioning of the townsfolk, you'll bare witness to Yu Suzuki's vision as you tour the various areas. View crowds of people walking to and fro, all with a purpose. Also, see birds scatter as you walk towards them, facial texture mapping, Arcade games and gumball machines that crank out prizes.
With the passage of time fully integrated into the game, businesses and people will run on real time schedules. Ryo will not only have to find a shop he's been looking for, but he'll have to come around when the store's open, or when the person he is trying to talk to starts work. The passage of time also incorporates a more global element as well. If you're poking about the city in December, expect to see quite a few snowy days.
Action events are handled in a few different ways. First, there are the Quick Timer Events (QTE) that require you to quickly respond to a flashing on-screen button prompt. In this mode the action can range from catching a soccer ball to catching a fleeing punk. The Free Battle Mode takes a page from other 3D fighting games and offers a wide array of moves and attack options in a fully 3D, free-roaming battle environment. You'll find yourself facing multiple foes in this mode a majority of the time, although there are a few one-on-one conflicts as well. The bulk of the game is run in an exploration mode that lets Ryo poke through drawers and talk to the good denizens of the city in his quest for vengeance.
There are several sub-games within Shenmue too. There is the Arcade that is stocked with a few QTE practice games as well as Space Harrier and Hang-On. You will also get a chance to drive around a forklift and raise a cat at the local shrine.
If you've been wondering what all the fuss is about, here's your chance to see what a budget in the multi-million dollar range backed by a massive team of artists and programmers can do. ~ Joe Ottoson, All Game Guide