Shenmue, it’s birth and it’s infulence.
Three games who’s infulence spread far and wide during the 6th genreation of video game hardware. During the full pubetry of 3d video game desgin, when everything did not look like a mesh of pointy trangles vaguey resembling anything it’s supposed to be, and we grew more atttached to the worlds we where in.
We had always been, during the early 3d period of video games. Existing in a space was enough, for people, to be able to fly or walk or run or drive in a 3d world. Obviously, we had goals, kill the bad triganle people or shoot or escape the dungeon or save the world or sneak into a millatary base, but the gamer brain was so amazed by just 3d characters moving that some couldn’t handle it, and had to stick to 2d games.
You may think this humble writer is exaggerating but, no,motion sickness was actually a comment complaint during the switch over to 3d. People couldn’t really comprehend how the controls worked when using a full 3d controller like the n64 pad. To the point where it was desgined in it’s unholy 3 pronged way so you couldn’t use the d-pad or the stick at the same time and had to choose, forcing people to switch and find out the stick had objectvelty more control. No games actually, like, worked out like that but that’s besides the point.
The point being is that the 3d open worlds leading up to shenmue where paved by stuff like Super mario 64, jumping flash, driver 2, small little hubs that contained things to pick up or actual levels to go to, the openness was an illusion but people loved just...existing. Walking. Jumping. Feeling the weight of the character.
People soon grew out of that, and wanted more, and games started providing more. But shenmue, I think, was born out of this desire. To walk. To wander. To exist. To be at peace.
As, that’s the main object of the game. To live a full life of the protaganist, young martial arts student who lost his father. The story, per say, is not what the game is about. The game is about existing. About lingering. About apperaiting what you have in front of you, every moment of every day. And the beauty of the game is that it’s prorayed, mainly thru your gameplay actions.
Your foot steps are heavy and realstic. Eatch and every person you run into has a name, a shedudle, a life, and a character, and even a voice! ...in 1999, when this game came out on the dreamcast, video game voice acting was still in it’s early years. (The english dub is horribile, of course, and in my opinon has ruined the autmosphere of what is supposed to be a somber and lonley journey into a pardoy of what it’s supposed to stand for. And, sadly it’s forever assioated with one of the most infulencial video games ever made.) But what was there was something that sucked you in with it’s slow pace and detailed enviorement.
Every house was filled with needless detail that cost the team most of tghe budget. Indivual spoons, knifes, kitchen ware, trading cards, action figures, detailed book and magzine covers that 90 percent of players wouldn’t notice or stop and look at. Time, of course, was not a full 24 hours as it is in real life, but still had a slow and noticeable transition as Ryu’s shadow slowly moved across the floor. And most of the time the thing to do in this small, sleepy japanese town was:
Work down at the docks, driving a forklift to make money, do your part to help feed a stray kitten found by your neighbors kid, playing with it, feeding it, every single day or else it dies, off screen, finding gatcha tokens, feeding yourself and sleeping. you can, of course, punch and kick and throw dudes but Ryu isn't a punk looking for a fight and it's honestly a rarity, as a complicated fighting style that's used like 5 times in the game almost gets breezed over.
Living life. Existing. Taking your steps in the morning. Hearing the wind blow. Saying hi to your regular faces and stimulating, as best as can be done in 1999, a life. We never had anything at this scale and nothing this risky will likely never be pulled again.
the second game cut back on the stuff most players didn't care about, and had you explore the Hong Kong underworld. And had much more actives, fight clubs where you can expierence the games deep and visreal combat, pool and darts, a host of gambaling minigames you can try and win to make your daily rent instead of moving boxes down by the docks. All at a faster pace...until it hits you with the climax of the game. 5 hours of walking. And talking, with the games love interest. Sometimes about important details. most of the time it's just two people filling dead air for hours.
Personally, I found it to be Overkill. But now we have entire games like dear ester that are just that. Walking and narration. the walking simulator would not exist without shenmue. Nor would grand theft auto, as it pushed rock star to make 3 a far more developed and real world. Not would it's faster paced successor, yazuka.
It codfied what people wanted out of open world games more than anything. A place to be, to feel connected to a grounded even if it was just a moment of pretend. Another home to escape to when life gets too hard. And the game industry wouldn't be the same without it.