It begins. A hawk soars above a virtually unending, barren plain before coming upon a cliff. As it dives and swoops around the massive Eolithic structure, we catch a fleeting glimpse of someone atop the rock. The camera changes subjects and draws closer to a girl, her dress flapping, flowing in the wind more realistically than ever before. And right as the camera stops, she turns her face to us and, for a split second, a new defining moment in game history is made as what we are witness to is so perfect, so beautiful, and so undeniably h
Such is the foundation of Yu Suzukiís crowning opus: Shen Mue.
Never before has there been a game that could redefine gaming like Shen Mue might. I find it hard to even speak of Shen Mue as if it were a mere "game" for fear that I might undermine the sheer power and soul that it possesses.
In a game, we take control of a character that follows an inarguably linear path that leads to a foreseeable conclusion. The fact that we only see these characters as bots, drones if you will, keeps us from truly achieving feelings, a connection to the character. They become expendable and at the first sign of confusion and/or frustration we drop the character from our control without looking back.
In Shen Mue, we do not take over an artificial character. At least it doesnít feel that way. In Shen Mue, we experience a life. For a brief period in our own lives, we are allowed to truly walk in someone elseís shoes.
The character design and development is, by far, the best ever in a game. Characters will make you want to laugh, to cry, to question, to shout. Some will steal your heart with a gaze of starlit eyes. Others will try to tear your heart out of your chest. Each inhabitant of Shen Mue is an indiviual. A life.
We begin the game as a young man named Ryo. He has spiky hair, an inquisitive personality, wears faded blue jeans, a bomber jacket, and has spiky hair. He is haunted by dreams of his fatherís mysterious murder and the enigmatic antagonist. In an effort to uncover the truth, Ryo sets out to find the man that killed his father.
Yu Suzuki and AM2 have created a truly convincing world that surrounds Ryo. We are almost fooled into believing that this world does not revolve around us as it teems with an unparalleled amount of life. As Ryo wanders the streets of the towns and cities that he visits, we feel enveloped in a different society. Everything that we see is so meticulously constructed down to the most unimportant texture that realism does not only become a factor. It becomes a fact.
The sights and sounds cannot be accurately described on paper. Nothing I could put into words would even begin to pay homage to the visual and aural congruency that is unmatched by any fictional experience ever created. Shen Mue, in short, is a masterpiece.
The genius does not end with the gaming superficialities (graphics, sound), however. The underlying quest is also in a league of its own. The "game" is divided into at least three styles that, when combined, offer us true gaming intuition.
The first is the quest/RPG mode. These segments make up the heart of Shen Mue. Ryo traverses mid-1980ís China with the help of NPCs (non-playable characters) and the information that he procures from speaking with them. He must also search for useful items, a source of financial security (i.e. jobs), and find means of regeneration when injured.
The second most common portions of the game are the QTEs (quick time events). In essence, they are gorgeously scripted, cut, orchestrated, and directed action scenes that allow us a nominal amount of control, but are so cinematic that they must control themselves a bit to be fully appreciated.
Last is the Free Battle mode. They play like Virtua Fighter except on optic overdrive. Yu Suzuki. Fighting. What else do you need to know?
I cannot express the scale of my excitement over Shen Mue. I wish I could, but I find my words muddled. All I can say is that if youíre an import gamer, this game should be acquired without hesitation. Don't worry if you don't know how to read Japanese. I guarantee that, within a week's time. there will be more internet FAQs and walkthroughs than you can imagine. And when Shen Mue hits the US in the coming months, may god have mercy on your social life.