- Two classic games finally in HD
- Cheaper than getting original copies of these games
- Sets people up for Shenmue III in 2019
- Japanese voice acting brings another dimension to the story
- The games look just like they once did, but sharper
- Multiple technical issues bring down the enjoyment
- The English voice acting is worse than you remember
- The games look just like they once did, but sharper
- Multiple crashes and bugs
- Missing Shenmue Passport and online features
Bugging Up The Classics
In a perfect world, video game preservation would take all the time it needed. In archiving as much of the original titles as possible, the utmost care would be taken in porting these games to modern consoles. The minimum goal would be making each game run on par with its original release. Improvements and fixes would be encouraged wherever possible, but they should at least play like they used to. That way, people can enjoy these titles for generations to come.
We don’t live in that world, and it’s understandable why. The reality is that all kinds of decisions get made that lead to ports of older games releasing before they’re ready. Shenmue I & II is a great example. It feels pushed out a few months too early. Both Shenmue titles are playable, yes, but there are enough bugs and other issues for that not to mean much. To be honest, even though I have to flip my Dreamcast upside down to get it to read the first game, and sometimes I need to hit my Xbox for the disc drive to open, I’d still say they still provide the definitive versions of this series.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that fans and newcomers alike can play the series on modern consoles. Both chapters of Ryo Hazuki’s journey of revenge are favorites of mine, and if they get ported again, I’ll be right in line. But this specific release? I think Sega and d3t could have done a lot better. Thirty bucks is a great deal for both of these games, but is the overall experience worth it, even at that price?
I think it depends on who the player is. This port is like transferring a VHS tape to Blu-ray. It’s still the same thing, but now it looks fuzzier, and some of the problems that were hidden by the format are now starting to show. Some people might be turned off by that. At the same time though, I can imagine a lot of fans out there are dying to play these games on newer consoles no matter what. Some of them might not care how the game looks as long as they can play it. For them, I don’t know how much help I can be, but I can at least be honest.
I’ve seen several glitchy textures and animations. I’ve been stuck on geometry until the game forced me to move forward. I’ve had several conversations with townspeople trail off awkwardly as the game struggles to load the next line. Other times, I’ve had even the simplest of actions hiccup on me, causing the flow of the game to break and cause frustration.
If these were the only issues, I’d probably say the game seems unstable, but I’d be more forgiving. But then I hit a section during a crucial part in Shenmue II, where my game kept crashing. I couldn’t figure out why. Though the problem ultimately resolved itself, I had a good chunk of time where I was unsure I’d be able to finish the game at all. Why should I care about a smoother framerate and a coat of HD paint when these games run better on hardware that’s two decades old?
As far as the games themselves are concerned, there are problems, but many of them have always been there. The first Shenmue has many moments where the player is left with little to do, having to kill time until the next in-game day to continue the story. Shenmue II has the opposite problem where there’s so many locations and things to do, that there’s a good chance a lot of it will go unseen. Plus, the control scheme was tailored for the Dreamcast controller, but feels imprecise and tank-y on today’s dual-analog controllers. These flaws may turn some people off, but I can at least see what the developers were trying to do, even if it doesn’t work now.
The English dub, however, is a different story. Though it’s spawned several memes, it’s actually worse than you remember. This compilation marks the official stateside debut of the series’ Japanese VO and it’s like a whole other experience. In the English dub, you laugh at poor acting and cringe at racial caricatures and you have to reconcile these things with this epic, well-told story. Playing in subtitled Japanese allows the story to have the gravitas it deserves, and also allows the player a greater appreciation of what’s going on without dumb voices ruining the moment. I won’t say the Japanese acting is perfect or anything, but had Sega decided to redub the English dialogue, I wouldn’t have minded. It likely costs more money than they’re willing to spend, which is a shame, but expected, given the overall scope of the project.
Ultimately, I think that if you’re a gamer on a budget, and you really want to experience this series that much, then yes, spend the thirty bucks. If you’re a fan, and desperate to play these games again, you might not be happy, but you could reasonably have a good time, too. Beyond that though, there’s not much of a recommendation to give. It’s not an out-and-out dumpster fire of a port, but it’s disappointing enough. It’s playable, but there has to be a limit to how far people will go for what they love. We have the “Shenmue HD” that people have clamored for, but do we simply accept and move on, regardless of its quality? Or should we push for better?
I’m conflicted. I appreciate that these games got remastered at all, but I feel that praising this effort too much would betray how I really feel. I don’t want to give this series a mediocre score, but it feels right, given the nature of this port. Many people will have their first introduction to the series with this release, and I think some of those impressions will be bad. With Shenmue III coming in 2019, this is not a good look for the franchise right now.
Maybe down the line, we’ll have another port that will fix all these problems and make the titles run on par with the Dreamcast originals, but that’s a matter of if, and now when. Having fun is still possible, the art style is well-retained in the transition to HD, and it’s wonderful to see many of the story moments again, but to straight up call this anything other than it is would be lying. It’s a mediocre port of two classic games. This franchise deserves better.
Take a look at the above video for a sample of how this game plays!
This review was conducted using a retail copy of the game that I purchased. It is also available on Xbox One and PC.
If you’d like to contact me, I’m available on Twitter, and by email at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com.