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Tips to help make sense of Shenmue


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.