As Martin pointed out in our Shenmue 3 release date story, the original Shenmue is almost 20 years old. That came around quick.
This week, Sega invites everyone to play it for the first time without needing to own a Dreamcast, and though we’d argue it holds up surprisingly well, some design choices – such as the pacing and lack of direction – can feel a little antiquated if you’re not expecting them.
Though we recommend going in completely fresh, this Shenmue tips page offers some things to keep in mind without having to resort to a Shenmue guide – though we have one of those at hand to help get the most out of one of Sega’s most legendary adventures.
Not sure where to go next? Ask around
Shenmue, at heart, is a detective game – you gather clues about the identity and whereabouts of your father’s killer, and ask people in your local town what they know.
The game won’t often explicitly tell you where to go or who to speak to, and that’s part of the fun. Work out who might know something – it could be a business owner, or the local town gossip – and see what turns up. Even asking passersby can sometimes yield results.
If you’re stuck, your notebook can help – it updates after every cutscene. And though Shenmue is linear, the game allows many ways for you to reach your objective.
It can get frustrating at times, but it’s far more satisfying to work it out yourself than check a guide. That said, if you are absolutely stumped, there’s a fortune teller in Dobuita that can drop some hints. Or if you’re after something more specific, our Shenmue walkthrough will give you the most direct path to the next step.
There are actually maps in the game
Though you don’t have them at hand, something the game doesn’t point out is there’s a physical map posted in each location, usually next to where you enter. Scan this to get an idea of the many local businesses and landmarks nearby – you’ll end up paying a visit to most of them at some point.
Meanwhile, the remaster now assigns the camera to the right analogue stick. Pointing it in the direction of a shop or building will tell you its name – making exploration a little easier.
You’ll sometimes have to kill time – but there’s plenty of things to do
Shenmue’s pacing is occasionally uneven, asking you to wait hours or entire days before you can continue the story. Unlike the sequel, the first game doesn’t have a time skip option, so you have to kill time before you can progress.
Not only does this give Shenmue a sense of realism most games don’t have (you can probably tell I’m a proponent of this system) there’s a number of things can get on with to pass the hours.
There’s dozens of collectables to find, from figurines to cassette tapes and move scrolls. You can try your luck at capsule toy dispensaries and slot machines. You can visit the local arcade and play mini-games – like darts, a QTE simulator or even the original Space Harrier – and even take some home to play on a console hidden under the TV.
Completionists will have their work cut out getting everything, and those that make the effort will be rewarded with charming cameos from classic games across Sega’s past.
Of course, if you’re not in the mood to do something, opening your menu and looking at your watch passes the time slightly faster. But honestly, taking the time to explore Dobuita at night, or practice your moves, is a much more enjoyable use of your time. Don’t wish it away!
It’s very difficult to run out of time
On the subject of time, there is an end date to Shenmue’s journey – April 15th – which will give you Shenmue’s bad ending. Even if you are struggling to find where to go next in the story, or want to take extended breaks pursue side-activities, realistically there’s no way you’ll see it – it’s more of an Easter Egg than a deadline. So take your time and soak up the details.
Don’t always use fast travel
Shenmue has a lot of missable moments, and though most of these are incidental encounters with side-characters – or entire mini-games – they’re worth catching if you have the chance.
Avoiding the most direct route in investigations will help with this, but we also recommend avoiding fast travel from the Hazuki Residence, as you’ll occasionally be stopped on the way to Dobuita and elsewhere. You should also pay the orphaned kitten some attention too – you can feed it with provisions from the convenience store in town, and doing so will unlock a few extra optional scenes.
That said, it’s sometimes easier to fast travel home than walk all the way back if it’s late. You can do so by simply staying up, as after a certain time, Ryo will remark at the time and go home automatically. Otherwise, the earliest you can go to bed at the Hazuki Residence is at 8pm.
Prepare for battles at the end of the game
The further you go through the story, the more ‘Free Battles’ – the game’s term for Virtua Fighter-style fights – you’ll have to undertake. It pays to prepare early by assigning which moves you want to train before bedtime – giving them an experience boost when you use them – and practising in your spare time by visiting the dojo, empty parking lots and abandoned warehouses.
During training, can also assign a move of your choice to the right trigger – we recommend a complicated kick move like Crawl Cyclone, which you can purchase from Bunkado Antiques in Dobuita – so you can dispatch it with ease.
QTEs can happen at any time
Not too long into the game, Shenmue introduces QTEs – or Quick Time Events, which are button prompts you must press in the middle of a cutscene. From that point onward, any scene you watch could have one waiting. Don’t just set the controller down during a conversation – be prepared to react!
That’s it for our selection of Shenmue tips – we wish you the very best of luck on your quest for vengeance. Whether you’re playing it or not, you might also be interested in Digital Foundry’s analysis of each remaster, describing it as a “superb rendition”: