Video Game: Shenmue

"Great, superb, remarkable, extraordinary, wonderful, monumental..."IGN's review of Shenmue in 2000.

"He shall appear from a far eastern land across the sea...
A young man who has yet to know his potential...
This potential is a power that could either destroy him or realize his will...
His courage shall determine his fate...
The path he must traverse, fraught with adversity, I await whilst praying...
For this destiny predetermined since ancient times...
A pitch black night unfolds with the morning star as its only light...
And thus the saga...

Shenmue is a game developed by Sega-AM2, released in 1999 for the Sega Dreamcast. A sequel, Shenmue II, was later released in 2001 also for the Dreamcast and then later for the Xbox. Shenmue was originally meant to have more titles ranging from 4-7 over which the complicated story would be told, yet due to disappointing sales, Sega's withdrawal from the console market and the high production costs needed to make Shenmue games fans had to make do with only two games.

The gameplay was really original. The first game placed you in a rather small town with complete freedom, and the second had you in a truly massive sprawling area to explore. The game made use of a weather system which as the name implies would change the weather; some days it'll rain, others it'll snow, or it'll be bright and sunny or cloudy and overcast. The days would pass and the seasons would change; if you really wanted to you could wait until spring (the game is set during winter). All the NPCs had their own lives too; in many other games characters would simply walk in a certain pattern or stand there all day, while in Shenmue people came out of their houses around 9am, went shopping, chatted with their friends, headed to the bar at night and then walked home. If it was raining they had raincoats, and add to this that the characters had more than one stock phrase all voiced in English! (in the first game; the second game had Japanese voice overs and English subs - until the Xbox port).

The game probably also popularized the Quick Time Event. Shenmue made it big (Dragons Lair did it first), and on top of that, in most QTEs if you didn't press the button in time, the story would keep going just slightly differently. There were also random encounters with people, conversations, fights, and the like, so no people ever played the same game. Also, you had mini-games based off Sega arcades, you could collect little toys, and you could even look after a small kitten... basically anything you wanted to do within the world. In the second game, Ryo could gamble, take part in fights, and get part time jobs to get money.

Of course, Shenmue wasn't all about walking around asking people about the day the snow turned to rain and if they had seen a black car; there was fighting too. Based of the Virtua Fighter games, Ryo would enter a free fight where he would either fight a group of people or one worthy opponent. You could learn new moves, and practice them to become more powerful.

The story is a simple one. Ryo's father was killed by the Big Bad Lan Di after he refused to give up the location of the Dragon Mirror (a mysterious jade engraved item). So Ryo goes out on a quest to get revenge on Lan Di. As it turns out Lan Di is part of a very powerful crime organization, the Chiyoumen, and has connections with the Mad Angels, a group of bikers that hang around in the docks. He meets up with Master Chen who then reveals there is a second mirror which Lan Di is also looking for, the Phoenix Mirror, which just happens to be hidden under the dojo in Ryo's house. After finding the mirror Ryo then proceeds to beat up 70 bikers and learns that Lan Di headed towards Hong Kong. The first game ends with Ryo getting on a boat to Hong Kong.

The second game attempted to cram much more of the story in, clear in the knowledge they wouldn't release as many games as planned. Ryo ends up in Hong Kong and searches for Master Lishao Tao, the only link left to Lan Di. On his search he meets and befriends gang leader Ren and sexy martial arts expert Xiuying. He learns that the Chiyoumen have connections in Kowloon with the crime organization Yellowheads. After defeating the massive army of the gang and fighting his way all the way to the top of their headquarters (with help from Ren), he defeats The Dragon, Dou Niu, just in time to see Lan Di fly off in a helicopter. The last section of the game takes place in Guilin where Ryo meets the very important character Ling Shenhua who leads Ryo the place where the jade for the mirrors was mined. The second and currently last game leaves us with many unanswered questions and a cliffhanger.

Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Game: QTEs and fights add some spice to the melting genre pot of the game.
  • Adventure Game: Of an unprecedented scale, with its huge explorable 3D world.
  • All There in the Manual: For the first game, at least, every single character is unique and has their own name and detailed backstory. Everyone from Ryo to his friends to the NPCs who spout generic lines to the guys getting beat up in the 70 Man Battle to the animals running around. None of this actually comes through in the game itself however.
  • Amateur Sleuth: You've got to wander around garnering clues about the whereabouts of Lan Di.
  • Anachronism Stew: Besides the Sega Saturn note  in Ryo's living room, there are other references to franchises that didn't exist yet in 1986, such as Sonic the Hedgehog.
  • Anti-Hero: Gambling? check. Going into a bloodthirsty quest of revenge to kill the murderer of his father? check. Getting to fight in the underworld for money? check. Beating some teenage girls in school uniforms? Unnaceptable! Completely gross! Stop right there!, Now we are talking about something completely socially unacceptable, little Ryo-chan!
  • Back-to-Back Badasses:
    • Ryo Hazuki and Gui Zhang perform some of the best moments in the series when they ally with each other and start breaking the Hell loose all over the place. Like the epic 70-men battle towards the end of the first game.
    • Ryo and Ren in the second game are just as epic, fighting their way on Hong Kong.
  • Badass: Ryo, Ren and Lan Di most prominently. Xiuying likewise, though she's not one to flaunt her badassery.
  • Badass Biker: Quite a few.
    • Ryo feels this trope in his blood towards the end of the first game, when he borrows a touring motorbike and rushes to save Nozomi.
    • Joy rides a vertiginous, sports motorbike.
  • Bar Brawl: One of the most epic scenes in the series happens to be one of these, with nice QTEs included. You can see it here, in all its QTE glory! Too bad that scene marks the end of Ryo's quest for sailors.
  • Beat 'em Up: You live in The Eighties, know martial arts, and have Bar Brawls and fights against gang members, doing things like going to the streets and kick 7 asses all by yourself. Shenmue could as well be an affectionate homage to Sega's Beat 'em Up games, like Streets of Rage and Golden Axe.
  • Betting Mini-Game: Would you like to play a game of Lucky Hit?!
  • Big Bad: Lan Di.
  • Big "NO!": Ryo's anguished "NOOOO!!!" after his father dies.
  • Boring but Practical: The "Hold Against Leg" kick. Probably the least flashy move Ryo can use, but it deals good damage and, more importantly, quickly puts some distance between you and your opponents, allowing you to keep spamming it before they can close the gap.
  • Bottomless Bladder: You follow Ryo pretty much every minute of every day, and he never hits the bathroom.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Fuku-san, God bless his dumb little heart.
  • Catch Phrase: Ryo has some (sort of).
    • "Maybe I'll buy just one..."
    • "I see..."
    • "I understand".
    • "Yeah".
    • "Let's get sweaty".
    • "KORRA!" (said when Ryo is fighting, it remains from the original Japanese voice)
    • "Do you know where I can find some sailors?"
    • "Do you want to play a game of Lucky Hit?" (when he is working in a "Lucky Hit" game's stand)
  • Chained Heat: Ryo and Ren.
  • Chaste Hero: You can practically hear the stuck clockwork in Ryo's head anytime an attractive girl hits on him.
  • Cliffhanger: Second game ends with one, and seeing its the last installment in the series to this day, the cliffhanger remains unresolved...
  • Chekhov's Gun: The beginning of Ryo's notebook at the start of the game has the numbers for the police and fire departments, information, weather forecast, Naoyuki, and Nozomi. You obviously can call them, especially the last two because they give more character conversations/interactions.
  • Close-Knit Community: Yamanose, the fictional hamlet in the real city of Yokosuka, has only eight people living there—three of whom live in the Hazuki residence.
    • the areas of Sakuragaoka and Dobuita are also like this.
  • Console Wars: The tragic fate of the Shenmue series corresponds to the defeat of Sega by the PlayStation 2 during The Sixth Generation Of Console Videogames, and the consequent withdrawal of the company from the console scene, going through a delicate readjustment.
  • Cool Bike: The touring motorbike Ryo borrows from one of his neighbors towards the end of the first game, when He has to rush to the Harbor to rescue Nozomi, complete with ass-kicking 80s style Heavy Metal music! Years later, in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, this became Ryo's vehicle of choice.
  • Cool Car: It's hard to resist to Ryo's forklift unique charm. It even managed to be one of his vehicles when he starred years later on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.
  • Cosmic Keystone: Apparently there are two mirrors, the Dragon mirror and the Phoenix mirror, which, when together, grant their holder unbelievable power.
  • The Cutie: Nozomi is the precious, fragile, tender teenage girl who cries because she is going to Canada and thus won't be seeing her friend Ryo anymore.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Lan Di kills Ryo's dad presumably to avenge the death of one of his close acquaintances, and this in turn ignites Ryo's need to avenge his father's death.
  • Dance Battler: Tom, the hot dogs stand vendor who likes to dance to some funky hip-hop sounds, teaches you a Tornado Kick inspired in his dancing style.
  • Determinator:
    • He saw his father being killed in front of him, he was beat to an inch of his body's functionality, and yet just a few days later, he recovers and sents out to avenge his father and kick the hell out of the murderer's ass. Hard to be as determined, patient and cool about things as Ryo is.
    • The fanbase counts as well, they aren't holding back until the series is resolved.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Ryo's dad.
  • Distressed Damsel: Nozomi near the end of Chapter 1.
  • The Dragon: Chai in the first game, Dou Niu in the second one.
  • Dull Surprise: Ryo, all too often.
  • Double Entendre: A lot of the NPC dialogue regarding sailors feels like this.
    Ryo: "Do you know where I can find some sailors?
  • The Eighties: Yu Suzuki really wants to recreate how Yokosuka and Hong Kong looked like in 1986 and 1987, and also the kind of changes these places were experimenting at the time. The gameplay of the fights is like a homage to one of the '80s most outstanding game genres: Beat 'em Up (complete with a me-against-the-neighborhood, kicking-asses-on-the-streets appeal).
  • Embedded Precursor: Not as hidden in the traditional meaning of the trope, but you can still play some of Yu Suzuki's early hits in the local arcades in the games.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Not surprinsingly, since the game has its roots in Virtua Fighter.
  • Everything's Cuter with Kittens: Very famously, the first game lets you help raise an abandoned newborn kitten. Probably put as a mean to tell the players to start looking for the little, beautiful things the game has to offer, and thus a cute little critter was the best way to start it.
  • Extreme Omnivore: In the first game, near the end of disc 2, Ryo goes to the You Arcade to claim his Hong Kong ticket. Suddenly, he his attacked by Chai!
    Chai: "Came for your Hong Kong ticket, did you? But you are not going to Hong Kong!" (Chai then eats it)
  • Fiery Redhead: Joy.
  • Fighting Game: Well the game started as a Virtua Fighter spinoff with Akira as a protagonist, so there are some remains such as the free battle mode.
  • Final Battle: Both games have a boss fight towards the end, first one against Chai, second one against Dou Niu.
  • Flashback: Scenes when Ryo was a kid and he was talking to his father can be seen, some of them even teach you new fighting moves!
  • Frozen Face: Ryo is always staring around with his tough, serious looking eyes, it even gets funny when he gets to be photographed with a nice girl.
  • Funny Foreigner: Tom, the owner of the hot dog trailer in Dobuita.
  • Game Within a Game: Lots of them: classics from arcades, pool, darts, gambling and forklift races.
  • Genre-Busting: Aside from being one of the earliest examples of a modern Wide Open Sandbox game, it also touted Adventure Game mechanics and Visual Novel aesthetics, Quick Time Event action sequences, beat'em-up mechanics, and plenty of interactive minigames to keep you busy. It was revolutionary enough to be labelled as its very own genre by creator Yu Suzuki: Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment, or F.R.E.E.
  • Heavy Metal: Set in The Eighties, with rude sailors, mean bikers and a tough underworld, some elements of '80s Heavy Metal culture pop up.
  • Hero Protagonist: Ryo Hazuki.
  • Hip Hop: Tom, the American hot dog stand vendor, likes to dance to the rythm of some groovy tunes and he takes his stereo system everywhere he goes, even to work. He says his dancing could attract more clients.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: The battle with Chai at the arcade is a subversion. The game progresses if you lose and it looks like he's invincible but the reality is he's just REALLY hard to fight. If you're good you CAN beat him and get a different cutscene. Unfortunately it doesn't really affect the story after so it's more for personal satisfaction than anything else.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: In the second game you can play darts against a Jamaican guy for money. He throws with his left hand first and is pretty easy to beat. If you win twice in a row you can play for high amounts of money and then he will get serious. His theme music changes, he starts throwing the darts with his right hand and will ultimately become an incredibly tough, almost undefeatable opponent.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Soundtrack of Shenmue is composed of many orchestra scores.
  • Japanese Delinquents: There are a couple of guys in black coats that hassle Ryo and Nozomi throughout the game, and there are several QTEs and fights against them.
  • Lady of War: Xiuying could be a poster girl for this trope. She effortlessly avoids Ryo's attacks, then puts him in his place with a bare minimum of force... all while wearing a stunningly elegant Chinese Dress. She can do the exact same to more than one opponent, too.
  • Left Hanging: We still have 11 or so chapters to go. They'll come out soon though, right? ...Right?
  • Leitmotif: Several main characters have theme music whenever they have a cutscene, which can be purchased as cassette tapes in-game.
  • Love Interest: Ryo to Nozomi. Too bad Ryo is completely consumed in avenging his father's death and the cute Nozomi's feelings can't reach his heart. Shenmue II finds Ryo with various of these , though he stills avoid them.
  • MacGuffin: The twin stone mirrors, Dragon and Phoenix, have never quite had their purpose identified in the series, so for now they're this (Master Chen speaks of some immense power if they're brought together and Lan Di seems to be trying to harness this but it's not clear what exactly this entails).
  • Mafia: Lan Di seems to be the leader of a powerful chinese cartel.
  • Mobstacle Course: Many QTE chases have you dodging around civilians in order to catch up.
  • New Media Are Evil: Upon interviews with Yu Suzuki, he explained that back in the early 80s, video games were seen in Japan as the worst mother´s enemies, taking place in dark, gritty rooms frequented by anti-social teens. So He came with the idea of broadening the video game public, bringing games from dark places to brighter places, and developing innovative, fresh games that would appeal to a more massive audience. Thus he created hardware like the riding motorbike in Hang-On or the 360° rotating cabinet in AfterBurner, and thus expanding games interface from the typical coffee-top tables seen until that moment. What does this have to do with Shenmue? Well, that dark, gritty kind of atmosphere is the one you get when you enter the You Arcade place on Dobuita street, reflecting how the videogames scene looked like back then until he released his arcade hits.
  • The Nineties: The time where Shenmue was originally developed, and released in Japan.
  • Non-Lethal K.O.: Ryo has yet to definitively kill any of his opponents, and the only way for him to die in the first game is via the Non-Standard Game Over mentioned below. There are, however, several QTEs and one free battle in Shenmue II that can indeed be fatal to Ryo even if the game just lets you take as many Mulligans as you have to.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: You have until April 14th to finish the first game. When April 15th rolls around, Big Bad Lan Di reappears in the dojo and kills Ryo the same way he killed Ryo's father. Similarly, failing to progress to the next chapter in the second game in a reasonable amount of time would result in a game over as Lan Di's trail goes too cold.
  • Old Master: Several, in fact.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Ryo has been in some of the most endearing, beautiful, funny and romantic situations, yet he always seems to have the same angry/serious modern-era Samurai look on his face. Averted with when he was a child, as seen in his flashbacks.
  • Present Day Past: First game puts you between the end of 1986 and the start of 1987, second one takes place at 1987.
  • Press X to Not Die: One of the earliest to make use of the QTEs, and a good user on that. In fact you could say that Shenmue is The Godfather of the mid cutscene QTE (It even coined the actual term!). In II, it managed to sneak in a subversion: when learning the Wude principle of Dan, DO NOT press A.
  • The Quiet One: Ryo, Gui Zhang, and the masters seem to be this.
  • Real Life: Yu Suzuki did an amazing job recreating the Real Life Yokosuka and how daily life looked in The Eighties. You just have to look how the real Dobuita street looks like to truly appreciate his work in the game.
  • Real Place Background: Yokosuka is filled with the memories Yu Suzuki had when he was living there.
  • Revenge:
    • What ignites Ryo's motivations and what starts his adventure. Word of God says that Ryo's bloodthirsty quest for revenge would slowly be put aside as the series continued, and that other features from life, like inner feelings, personality traits, and relationships between people, would be explored.
    • Likewise Lan Di speaks as if he's seeking revenge for someone (Zhao Sun Ming) during his fight with Iwao (claiming Iwao took this man's life and Lan Di intends to return the favor).
  • Role-Playing Game: Some elements, like the powering up of skills and the NPCs talking, are brought to the game.
  • Rooftop Confrontation: The second game Final Battle happens here.
  • Sailor Fuku: Nozomi and other teenage girls wear them in the first game. Some of them happen to be very rude and hurtful towards Ryo, as seen here.
  • Samurai: You could call Ryo's a modern-era Samurai, going from his distant and tough-guy personality.
  • Scenery Porn: The entire series is an ode to the beauty of life, and so you can see that message from its settings, from the crowded street of Dobuita to the magical forest of Guilin. The level of detail and depth just adds to its charm. In fact, it sort of defies the trope in the traditional meaning that it wants to make gorgeous urban settings too, not just countryside or rural settings.
    • The Hazuki's house garden has a fountain and some gorgeous trees and flowers.
    • Dobuita street comes to life like if it were in 1986, with all the city's folks coming and going. You can feel like the street is breathing with life. Such a beautiful showing of daily routines and everyday life comes close as nothing more than pure costumbrism art style.
    • When the Harbor starts to be painted by the falling snowflakes, it acquires an impressive and stark personality.
    • Guilin forest couldn't be more gorgeous and magic than Yu Suzuki's achieved after their trip to China.
  • Schizo Tech: Ryo owns a Sega Saturn. The game is set during The Eighties. Word of God says that little Sega Saturn was put as an homage to the console where Shenmue was originally programed and meant to be released.
  • She's a Man in Japan: Yuan in Shenmue II.
  • Shout-Out: Given the depth of the game, you're bound to find quite a few.
    • A Sega Saturn is in Ryo's room, to pay homage to the console where Shenmue started development.
    • An Astro Blaster cabinet can be seen in the YOU Arcade in Dobuita, but it has an "out of order" label on it and is not playable.
    • Katana-brand cigarettes can be seen on NPCs smoking. Guess what was the codename of the Sega Dreamcast during its development?
    • Ryo certainly looks a lot like the character where his roots come from, Akira, even after giving him characterization.
    • In fact some characters, like Gui Zhang himself, look like those of the [[Video Game//Virtua Fighter]] anime and such.
    • Many fighting moves are also similar to those from the [1] series.
    • When Megumi finds the little orphaned kitten at the start of the game, she begs "to call her Sasuke, so she'll grow up big and strong like a ninja!".
    • Drinking machines, all colored red.
      • Though this is just because they couldn't secure the license to Coke's logo in the United States. In Japan it's straight-up Product Placement.
    • Lots and lots of collectable toys are from well-known Sega's franchises.
    • You can play a few of the other creations of Yu Suzuki himself at the arcades, like After Burner and OutRun.
    • The MJQ Jazz Bar is a reference to jazz group Modern Jazz Quartet.
    • If you examine the cassettes closely you'll find that most of the names on there are mash-ups of various NBA players. Examples include Kobe O'Neel (Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal) and Michael Barkley (Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley) among others.
  • Snow Means Death: It's snowing on the day Iwao Hazuki is murdered.
  • Stalking Mission: To find Lan Di, you've got to first find some sailors, then find a guy named Charlie, then find another one named Jimmy, and so on.
  • Stock Yuck: Young Ryo doesn't like carrots.
  • The Stoic: Ryo is a hard-ass stoic teenager who happens to live in a perpetual stoic life full of harm and he doesn't seem to change a little by the environment.
    • Not So Stoic: Ryo cries out loud in the intro when he hears his father's last words spoken to him.
  • Stout Strength: Dou Niu, Lan Di's Dragon in Shenmue II.
  • Talk to Everyone: The game cannot further emphasize the importance of interacting with the world: in this game, the NPCs have a lot of things to say, and these things themselves change as the plot moves on, too. Plus, some characters like the hilarious Goro, Tom the hot dog stand vendor and the cute Nozomi are quite pleasant to chat!
  • Timed Mission: In both games, you have a time limit. Go overboard and you get a Non-Standard Game Over (Which is ironically the only way to get an actual Game Over). Fortunately, you are given way more than enough time to beat the game.
  • Tranquil Fury: Gui Zhang's fighting style, his deep, penetrating voice even seems to reflect that in some way.
  • Trope Codifier: Some things got huge thanks to Shenmue despite appearing sometime before.
    • QTEs.
    • Weather system.
  • Trope Maker: For a game as innovative as Shenmue, you're bound to find some.
    • The Wide Open Sandbox genre started in its modern form with Shenmue.
    • Full voiced NPCs, with their one designs and complex strolling patterns too.
    • Picking up and examining items.
    • Bringing people from the film industry to develop the cinematics of the game.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Dou Niu's knowledge of martial arts is basically limited to just slamming his fists into his victims. He makes up for it by being built like a gorilla.
  • Visual Novel: The game's aesthetics are compared to the ones from this genre.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Ryo learns techniques from a myriad of masters, but almost none in the game actually simply give him straightforward lessons,
  • Wide Open Sandbox: Shenmue was possibly the first 3D sandbox game, to the point that Sega gave it its own genre — FREE, short for Fully Reactive Eyes Environment.
  • Wild Magic: Towards the end of Shenmue II, magic forces begin to engage into the history, which hints the series was going to do a turn for the supernatural.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent??: In the Japanese dub, Tom the American hot dog man has a heavy American accent. However, in the English dub, everyone speaks with an American accent, so Tom speaks with a bizarre mix of Chinese, Russian and Jamaican accents.
  • Working Class Hero: When Ryo gets a job at the Harbor working with forklifts, He defends his fellow workmates against the bullying Mad Angels gang members, and fights against the gang. He loses his job, but ultimately frees his mates from the Mad Angels yoke and defeats the gang.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Some rude, hurtful teenage girls wearing school uniforms get the crap beaten out of them by Ryo in the Harbor in the first game. In an optional scene, Jerk Ass bully Enoki winds up to slug Nozomi – for protecting a little kid the bully was picking on, mind – when Ryo steps in and kicks his ass.
  • You Killed My Father: Ryo will track Lan Di down and avenge his father's death.