The Best Martial Arts Game of All Time
Shenmue came out on the Dreamcast, a system that was doomed from its release preceding the PS2, a console that dominated the gaming industry for a solid decade. Despite being on an ill-fated system, Shenmue made its name in the gaming world by offering gamers a completely unique and addictive roleplaying adventure experience.
The game opens with the main character Ryo Hazuki's father being killed by a mysterious master of kung fu named Lan Di. Ryo, at this point, was not nearly skilled enough to take on Lan Di, and is easily defeated. Despite being out-skilled and overmatched, Ryo sets out to find Lan Di and seek vengeance for his father's death.
At the time, Shenmue's graphics set the standard for video games: they were incredibly detailed and the game pushed Dreamcast's capabilities to the limit, which showed in the long loading times.
What set Shenmue apart was the innovation introduced in the game; you could visit your house and have Ryo play console games on his TV, head to the bar and throw darts, and even work down at the docks moving cargo to earn money. While those are typically mundane aspects of our everyday lives, it enhanced the gaming experience by adding a quality of novely to the game; it's a nice little quirk in a game to be able to order sodas from a vending machine.
Shenmue brought players to another world to explore and interact with. Running down the street, the area around Ryo comes alive with people shopping, talking, and going about their day; you could even knock on doors to see if people were home, though usually no one answered unless it was part of the story.
The best thing about Shenmue is the martial arts. Throughout the game, Ryo learns new moves and develops his kung fu skills with various masters. Combat is all about strategy, timing and employing a variety of kicks, punches, and grabs to defeat opponents. Martial arts fights in Shenmue is old school, you can't jump six feet into the air and kick you enemy into next week; it's all about timing your attacks and intercepting your opponent.
A classic story of revenge, a huge world to explore filled with characters to interact with and just so many things to experience in Shenmue make it both a classic and a masterpiece. The sequel, Shenmue 2, was a great game as well, but Shenmue 1 was so far ahead of it's time, its only started to receive the appreciation it deserved. Hopefully someone will keep the series alive by bringing it to the next gen consoles.