Both Shenmue and Shenmue II are regarded as classic games on the SEGA Dreamcast, but they haven’t aged very well over the last two decades. The Shenmue HD Collection brings together both Shenmue games from the Dreamcast and remasters their visuals, while also adding a few extra features for their rerelease. It’s good to see a very impactful and influential series on modern consoles, but the limitations of the time make it very hard for anyone that isn’t looking through a nostalgic lens to enjoy them. Shenmue and Shenmue II may have laid the groundwork for many other video game series, but that doesn’t mean our memories of them are as pristine as we may have thought.
Unless you were one of the many people who played these games on the Dreamcast back in 1999 and 2001, you may not appreciate what is here. Everything content-wise is the same as on Dreamcast, with no new bonuses or extra content. The stories and core gameplay of both Shenmue and Shenmue II are intact exactly as you remember, but nothing has changed to compensate for being released on modern consoles in 2018. The awkward camera movements and stiff responsiveness of the controls may even bother some of those who played these games on Dreamcast.
There’s a lot of things to do within both games, including various mini-games and lots of side-quests, but each focuses more on the quantity of things to do rather than the quality of them. One good thing about the HD collection during gameplay is that it allows you to save anywhere and anytime in both games. It’s one of the few welcomed additions from this collection that helps alleviate some of the tediousness you can run into in both games. But beyond that, the same limitations of the time are unaddressed.
But are the 20 year old problems worth overlooking in order to experience the stories of these two timeless classics? The easy answer for anyone discovering these games for the first time would be no. Not just because of the technical issues, but also because of how the stories of both Shenmue and Shenmue II are staples of their time and can be shallow to some. In the original Shenmue, the focus is on Ryo Hayazaki, a young man who comes face-to-face with the murder of his father and the drama surrounding the mystical properties of the Phoenix Mirror. Shenmue II continues the story right where the first game left off, with Ryo making his way into China and learning more about the Phoenix Mirror.
There’s a lot that happens in both stories, but much of it is overshadowed by each game trying to immerse players within the locations they visit, rather than build a dramatic and engaging story. There’s a lot of awkward dialogue and less-than-stellar moments in both games that come off as weird rather than intriguing. Characters you interact with sound very ridge with their dialogue and often lack any interesting personality. While the setup for both Shenmue stories aren’t completely terrible, they both beg for a true remake of the games to better showcase how interesting they can be.
The Shenmue HD Collection does have a few additional features that are good, even though they don’t address all of the larger issues with both games. Having the ability to switch between English and Japanese dialogue is great, even though the sound quality is very poor for both dialogue tracks. There’s also the HD resolution for both games that allows you to switch between the original or remastered visuals, as well as a 4:3 standard and 16:9 widescreen display during gameplay.
Unfortunately this doesn’t affect the cutscenes in both games, which are shown in their original format and quality. Saving anywhere is probably the best addition from this HD Collection, which also allows you to transfer your save file between Shenmue and Shenmue II. But outside of these supplemental features, there’s nothing else added for either game and makes this collection feel somewhat meager to anyone hoping for any bonus content to enjoy or celebrate the series.
If you grew up with the Shenmue series and have a nostalgic appreciation for it, then you’ll enjoy these games regardless of what anyone says. But the hard truth is that both Shenmue and Shenmue II haven’t aged too well over the past 20 years. These games were responsible for paving the way for other games in the genre and offered a unique take on the experiences that video games can give us back then. However, many of the technical limitations of the time and other issues with both games will get in the way of why the series was so special back then. The improved visuals, dual audio tracks, and save anywhere feature are good additions to this collection that long-time Shenmue fans will appreciate. However, game series like Shenmue that are considered timeless classics by some deserve to be given a full remake rather than the HD remaster we have now.
This review is based on a digital review code for the Shenmue HD Collection for PlayStation 4, provided by SEGA.