Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Playing Shenmue the Wrong Way

My name is Shenmue. No, wait, Ryo. Ryo.
Over the past week, in a fit of madness, excessive boredom, or perhaps simple fandom, I decided to hunker down in my free time and watch YouTube video longplays of Shenmue and Shenmue II. Long have these two been favorites of mine and, given that I am still not yet fluent in Japanese (though I’m improving), I have not been able to play either of these games in years due to my physical distance away from the American versions. I enjoyed my time watching and definitely re-ignited my passion and desire for the third game to, if not get made, perhaps get novelized so that I can finish the story.

It is going to take for-goddamn-ever to find the cat food.
And that’s where I made a slightly unsettling discovery: I actually had more fun watching these games get played by someone else than I would have actually replaying them. That’s weird, isn’t it? After thinking about it a while, I chalked it up to Shenmue itself, actually. The game is utterly pedantic. You have to search every drawer in every room in every house. You have to scour the shelves at the convenience stores. You have to talk to literally everyone to get the least important bit of data. Of course, the game goes quickly if you know where to look and to whom to speak, but that first time through is long and daunting. I really enjoyed playing these games when I was younger (barely pre-college), but I had the time to sink into them, then. I was able to learn the ins and outs of the city and everyone’s names.

Originally when I had the urge to play through them again, I conceived a scheme to somehow get my Dreamcast (with all of its appropriate peripherals and games) sent to me, but the cost and difficulty of doing so was disproportionate to my desire to play Shenmue.

So what would I do?

Also recently, entirely by coincidence, I happened across a few longplays of Final Fantasy VII where someone had applied HD mods to the PC version of the game, and figured that someone somewhere must have done longplays with Shenmue. And I was right.

But while watching, a few questions came to mind:

1) Why are all of the people in the game so generally useless?
2) Would I actually have continued to want to play this game if a longplay video hadn’t been available?

Sh-should I really be listening to you?
The first question can be explained away as a typical video game convention to get you to explore as much of the available world as possible, as unbelievable as it is that one of the premier martial artists in town would only know one of the four Wu-du necessary for you to learn, and then, after that, to not have any idea who else in town could possibly know kung-fu to help you with the next one. It’s ridiculous, but whatever.

The second question, though, seems more far-reaching in its implications. Would I have pursued playing it? Would I have bought a Japanese copy, or gone the distance to get my Dreamcast shipped to me? I’m not so sure. And I’m not sure if it’s because of the inconvenience of obtaining a usable copy of Shenmue (which is the reason people usually pirate games in the first place – look at Mother 3), or if it’s because of the convenience of not playing the game. As I said earlier, the game is kind of a chore to play if you’re not an expert at it, and as I also said earlier, I think I actually had more fun watching the game than I would have had playing it. Of course, I didn’t pirate the game (and own it – own both of them, actually) - hell, I didn't really even play the game - so I don’t feel bad about it, but I do wonder if that means there's a problem with me as a gamer. Have I actually, or am I now starting to outgrow games?

Oh, right.

Never mind.

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