I felt like Shenmue merchandise had peaked earlier this year with the official Shenmue rubber duck and cologne, but they’ve been topped by what is possibly the most beautiful piece of memorabilia I own.
From French record label Wayô Records and part of a series of music boxes, the €275 price tag did give me pause, but this thing is seriously beautiful. I’ve got a couple of albums from Wayô and always found the presentation of their releases to be top-notch, and the music box is on another level still.
Here’s how they unveiled it to the world:
Well, it looks and sounds just as good in the flesh. It’s absolutely stunning. See for yourself…
It also comes with sheet music signed by composer Ryuji Iuchi, which will shortly be on my wall alongside my Shenmue III poster with Yu Suzuki’s mark.
Here’s the full unboxing, in lovely 4K HDR for those with a capable display.
While many complain about the dearth of PS5 software – not sure what they expected, given the way new consoles work – I’ve been using mine to partake of some of the best games of the last few years, many of which I skipped due to indifference or poor performance on my launch PS4.
Ratchet & Clank was OK (and free!), Titanfall 2 was superb (also free!), and now I come to another Respawn Entertainment game: the awkwardly punctuated Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Fallen Order barely has an original bone in its body. The developers have borrowed freely from Metroid, Uncharted and the Souls series in particular – all classics, to be sure, but if originality is important to you, there’s not much of it here. Even Force powers don’t really do much more than The Force Unleashed did years ago, or any more recent action games with telekinetic heroes.
But, frankly, I’ve always been enough of a Star Wars fan that ‘something good but now it’s in the Star Wars universe’ is a winning formula for me, and none more so here. If I’m going to occasionally get spanked by random mooks, better a Scout Trooper or Nightbrother than some skeleton, I say. Mercifully, bonfires meditation circles are more liberally distributed here, though.
And think about those climbing sequences in Uncharted, but now it’s a crashed Venator-class Star Destroyer, and being spotted devolves into actually enjoyable combat rather than a Naughty Dog gunfight. There’s even that Shadow of the Colossus boss where you climb up his beard, only now for some reason it’s an AT-AT.
And you know how netting new abilities in Metroid unlocks new areas in previously explored zones? This does that, but new Force abilities are accompanied by flashbacks to Jedi training.
Plenty of Star Wars fan service, too, though not obnoxiously so. You get to play through a formative moment in Cal’s past and Star Wars lore, and it follows Rogue One and Rebels in its brilliantly terrifying treatment of an iconic villain. It even confirms a fan theory that links The Clone Wars and The Force Awakens.
Nostalgia isn’t all it has to lean on, though – which, frankly, is more than can be said about a lot of post-Disney Star Wars. All of these pilfered ideas are executed with quality and the same eye for the cinematic that made Titanfall 2’s campaign so impressive.
There’s a next-gen update for Fallen Order coming in June, so if you’ve so far missed out and are desperate for something to play on that new hardware, it gets my hearty recommendation.
As what has been a rather shitty status quo continues to get worse, I didn’t feel like the big new releases in Doom Eternal or the Resident Evil 3 remake were the appropriate antidotes. Instead, I’ve been relying on a little glimmer of light that’s been occupying my Switch since “social distancing” entered the vernacular: Grandia HD Collection.
The first game’s relentlessly optimistic adventure makes it perfect for these bleak times. It was something of a throwback even at release, with its Saturday morning cartoon storyline and colourful, sprite-based characters bucking the trend of dark and gritty post-FFVII RPGs. There are no brooding antagonists and tortured antiheroes – the main character is a young boy, the son of an adventurer and a pirate because why not, intent on making his name as a first-class adventurer by exploring uncharted continents and discovering ancient civilisations with his friends. There’s a militaristic empire on the party’s heels, of course, but it wouldn’t be a Saturday morning cartoon without its Cobra.
It’s a perfectly upbeat change of pace. Not overly challenging, with no esoteric systems to potentially snooker you later on. And it has what remains my favourite RPG battle system ever designed – a perfect mix of turn-based, active time and the spatial awareness of real-time combat that seems simple and yet, once mastered, rewards flawless victories with this soaring, gloriously of-its-time riff. I’ve spent most of my time with the game with a smile on my face. It’s a proper warm blanket of a game.
The HD collection also contains Grandia II, which is still a great game with Dreamcast era 3D graphics that upscale better than Grandia’s sprites – my one complaint about the first game’s remaster is the smeared filtering job on the sprites, which is bearable on the Switch’s screen but looks worse the bigger your display gets. But the sequel comes with a touch of post-FFVII brooding that I can’t bring myself to like as much. Think of it as a nice freebie, with the first game as the real reason to buy this collection.
I’m holding a copy of Shenmue III. I’ve got another two on the way, but that’s not important right now. It’s still hard to believe. It had been a punchline for so long, and even that bonkers E3 was four long years ago. But 18 years after I put down the controller to watch the end credits of Shenmue II, not knowing that the series would spend quite that long in stasis but perhaps suspecting its future wasn’t quite assured, the long wait is over.
Silly as it sounds, it’s actually quite an emotional moment for me. I never really lost hope, even as I’ve become less involved in the community. At some point I reacquired the domain of the old Shenmue Fan Site when I noticed it become available again. Tempted? Nah. But those were fun times.
These are my Japanese copies of the first two games. Going from my purchase of the first one, which would have been in the early days of 2000, as soon after the 29 December 1999 Japanese launch as the Video Game Centre (naturally) could get them, these three represent a little shy of a 20-year journey.
There are even some people who I might send a cheeky tweet with a link to this post. Those dirty non-believers on Twitter and my editorial teams who told me to let it go, that it would never happen.
I’m planning to post some more detailed impressions when I’ve spent some time with the game, but given how sparse my updates here have become, I couldn’t let this day pass without some acknowledgement that I’m still here — and so is Shenmue.
While not as earth-shattering as the Shenmue III announcement, the weekend’s news that the first two games are getting a remaster has been almost as long coming. It’s multiplatform, it has a physical release, it has dual languages, and considering that even Sonic Adventure didn’t justify a standalone release back when Sega was pushing Dreamcast ports, this series getting one is pretty fucking vindicating.
And even with my intention to support the series by buying every version, it won’t cost me as much as the Shenmue III Kickstarter did.
Japanese language option – The most important feature, without a doubt, and the one thing that will guarantee my happiness with this port. This is the first time, short of messing around with CD-Rs and hacked undubs, that it’s been possible to play Shenmue in Japanese with English subtitles. My life feels kind of empty without this drum to bang. What do I complain about now?
Widescreen – It’s unclear from the trailer what exactly will be offered here, as the announcement trailer shows both gameplay and cut-scenes from Shenmue II in 16:9, with the first game’s gameplay in 16:9 but cut-scenes in letterboxed 4:3. But while we wait for all the details, the important thing we do know is that Shenmue and Shenmue II will both be playable in widescreen.
Fixes for pop-in and slowdown – No mention of this but I’m taking it as a gimme. No way does this get the widescreen TLC and interface polish without making sure it’s running smoother than a Dreamcast.
Dual-analogue controls – Admittedly all we know for sure is that “choice of modern or classic controls”, but it would be inexplicable for them to not take movement off the D-pad. I’m claiming this one. Giving us the choice is good too – everyone should experience the hideous claw hand required to run and look around at the same time, like Ryo was always doing in the trailers.
Whether or not it’s based on the Japanese Dreamcast versions won’t become clear until more media is available but I think it unlikely, simply because of (a) licensing issues and (b) using the Xbox port of Shenmue II saves a lot of work. Online leaderboards/Shenmue Passport are moonshots, but I’ve seen lower-profile remasters with comparable supplemental material, so let’s see.
Unfortunately the backporting of the time skip is a no, which is disappointing given that interface work is happening elsewhere. But even so, enough is going on here to suggest more than simple emulation, as simply making the original game function glitch-free in widescreen, which has so far been impossible with emulators, is no mean feat.
Now that Shenmue III is a reality, and with Sega snapping up related domains, it’s more likely than ever that we’ll see the two Dreamcast games – both among my favourites ever – coming to modern hardware. As I have done with all previous versions, I’ll be buying it on every platform available so as to maximise the series’ commercial viability and do my part, but what does Sega need to do to make this the best possible revival? I have a few ideas…
Offer a Japanese language option. Freed from the limitations of a GD-ROM, there’s no excuse not to rectify the single biggest complaint about the English-language releases. Even if the Hong Kong where everyone spoke Japanese made little sense, the PAL Dreamcast version of Shenmue II was light years ahead of the truly horrendous dub for the Xbox edition, and for a game that so celebrated Japan, the decision to dub the original was baffling. Although I can only understand one word in a dozen, my Japanese copy of Shenmue is my preferred medium for a playthrough nowadays. This shortcoming must be rectified in the re-release, whether it’s by including only the Japanese dialogue or by making everyone happy with a toggle.
On similar lines, base it on the Japanese game. The stories of how Sega paid to feature real products in Shenmue – the opposite of how product placement is supposed to be done – is one of the famous examples of the mismanagement that led to the series’ crippling budget, but I’d still like to see the realism of buying Coca-Cola while checking my Timex watch added back in. If this is to be the definitive version, we can’t overlook how the little touches like this were what made people fall in love with Shenmue’s world. And if you don’t want to pass the cost on to the consumers, make it paid DLC. I’d buy it.
Port the Dreamcast version of Shenmue II, not the Xbox one. Putting aside the dub issue, although it was technically superior and better in some areas, the odd differences in environmental geometry between the DC and Xbox versions often left the Microsoft one coming up short. If this is to be the full-fat, best-of-both-worlds Shenmue experience, I want all the signs from the Dreamcast game. Someone should also point out that vending machines in Hong Kong offering prices in Japanese yen makes no sense, especially when they correctly operated in Hong Kong dollars the first time around.
But still fix the pop-in and slowdown. This was something that the Xbox game indisputably got right. The slowdown and characters materialising two feet in front of you was bad in Shenmue and downright terrible in Shenmue II, which really pushed the Dreamcast beyond its limits. There won’t be any excuse for modern hardware not to be throwing Shenmue round at full speed. And improve the quality of the 32kbps MP3s used for dialogue while you’re at it.
Make it widescreen while you’re at it. I’d hope this goes without saying, but Sonic Adventure for the Xbox 360 and PS3 was pillarboxed 4:3. Fans have got Shenmue most of the way there with emulators, so Sega can’t fall short here.
Dual-analogue controls. We’re now far enough removed for me to admit that the Dreamcast controller isn’t particularly enjoyable to use. Shenmue did a decent job with the tools available, but the HD version must give us analogue movement and use the two sticks to remove the need for hand gymnastics if you want to run around (up on the D-pad and hold left trigger) while admiring the scenery (analogue stick, also on the left). By all means keep the movement on the D-pad for authenticity’s sake, but dual analogue simply must be an option.
Give it online leaderboards and theme them like Shenmue Passport. The oft-forgotten fourth disc of Shenmue offered a cut-scene viewer, music player, and tech demos that gave information on all the systems at play in simulating the world. What it also allowed you to do was go online to read detailed background information on every NPC in the game – finally settle those arguments over the blood type and zodiac sign of the girl in Hokuhoku Lunches – as well as view maps, gameplay stats, and global leaderboards for the numerous mini-games. None of this has worked since 2002, so I’d love to see this all make a comeback with the more robust online infrastructures of the current consoles behind it.
Don’t be afraid to use Shenmue II to improve the first one. I might generally prefer the first game, but I’m not so hung up on it being authentic that I’ll turn down the backporting of the numerous mechanical improvements of Shenmue II. Being able to skip ahead when waiting for an appointment, for instance, was an undeniable benefit.