Tag Archives: Dreamcast

Shenmue: A pilgrimage to Yokosuka

On my recent trip, I fulfilled a long-held ambition by visiting Dobuita Street in Yokosuka, one of the primary locations in one of my favourite games ever, Shenmue.

It’s fairly out of the way for a day trip from Tokyo, but it’s only 20 minutes or so down the train line from Kamakura, which is a spectacular day out in its own right. Fortunately we’d decided to go there, so I was able to abandon the group for an hour to pay a visit.

Found at the end of the conveniently named Yokosuka Line, Yokosuka is dominated by its harbour. It’s the home base for the US Navy in Japan and, as such, you don’t have to look very hard for sailors. Many were drunk, but they neither called me school boy or tried to serve me milk. I couldn’t see any forklift racing going on in the harbour, but there was a trio of Japanese submarines lined up in rather photogenic fashion.

Dobuita isn’t far from the station, requiring only a short walk through a pleasant naval-themed park and crossing a footbridge outside a mall that you can’t really miss. It starts around here if you find yourself making the same trip.

Appropriately enough, the weather did turn to rain that day – the only bad weather of the trip, really. But before rejoining the collective for dinner back in Kamakura, my usual reticence to pose was overcome for a quick look for sailors outside Tom’s hot dog stand bar.

Mission accomplished.

Ten Years of Shenmue

In amongst the endless [something] of the decade features doing the rounds at the moment, one snippet that almost slipped my mind is that just over ten years ago, on 29 December 1999, Shenmue was released in Japan. That means that somewhere around this time ten years ago I was in the Video Game Centre, failing to disguise my enthusiasm for the imminent arrival of my import copy.

Dobuita

It had already sent me on a wild adventure of learning HTML and using it to create the imaginatively named Shenmue Fan Site, and my first couple of trial-and-error playthroughs – I didn’t speak Japanese, and no one else had yet written a guide, which made simple tasks like ‘speak to Yamagishi-san’ very difficult – were followed by my first FAQ, which directly led to freelance work with the precursor to the company where I now work. I’ve wanted to write about games for a living for a long time, but no single game had as much direct influence on my future career path as Shenmue, and that’s a big part of why I still hold it in such high esteem.

To be honest, if I was trying to choose my game of the last ten years, this would probably be it. It was highly influential – not many games had real-time weather and day/night cycles in 1999, and it’s largely responsible, for better or worse, for the continuing popularity of the QTE – and far ahead of its time. Its cult following is formidable and still rapacious, devouring every snippet of ‘news’ that comes out of Sega regarding the future (or not) of the series. My bet is that the inclusion of Ryo will be directly responsible for at least half of the sales of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Hell, that’s why I’m going to buy it.

Sakuragaoka

Playing it now, parts of it are of its time, and it may have been pushing the Dreamcast hardware further than was wise, but it still has so much atmosphere, even when playing the impenetrable Japanese version, and that’s a big part of why I love it. Yokosuka feels real – I know it is real, but you know what I mean – and, way back when, I had a place where I’d like to live, a favourite Chinese restaurant, the works. How many games do that now? Bethesda’s stuff, maybe.

The lack of Shenmue III is an empty space in gaming to me and is, sadly, likely to remain so. But, until then, we’ll always have Sakuragaoka…

Ten Years Ago Today…

Well… ten years ago in a few days, I was stood in the Video Game Centre, waiting for some of the first Dreamcast units to arrive in the country from Japan to be brought down from the supplier in London, hoping to catch a glimpse of what would surely be the future of gaming.

It wasn’t to be, of course, either that day with the disappointing Japanese launch games, or indeed ever, but I couldn’t let the tenth anniversary of one of the greatest systems ever made pass without a mention. Virtua Fighter 3tb, Godzilla Generations, and Pen Pen TriIcelon might not have done it for me, but at that point we were only six months from the Japanese release of Soul Calibur, which would be the one to break my resistance and buy the little white machine that would outlast the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube in enjoying a dedicated spot among my currently active consoles.

Dreamcast

I really think it goes without saying that the Dreamcast is pretty much unparalleled for a library of innovative, technically impressive – for the time, obviously – games. It had a network connection as standard three years before the Xbox and four years before Xbox Live, and used it – some of the time with voice chat, no less – in games like Quake III, Alien Front Online, Unreal Tournament, and, of course, Phantasy Star Online: a game so good that Sega still can’t repeat its magic formula. And with 480p VGA and 60Hz PAL games as standard – how long did it take for all major PS2 games to be full-screen/full-speed over here again? – it’s one of the few retro consoles that will actually look good on an HDTV. Continue reading Ten Years Ago Today…