Release: Spring '99 (Japan)
Shen Mue, Yu Suzuki's first non-arcade developed game, is without a doubt going to be one of the most visually impressive and immersive games ever made. With the power of the Dreamcast and an incredible attention to detail, Shen Mue will be an experience everyone will want to have.
The game graphics, all real-time, shown at the video-conference have left everyone floored. Characters made up of thousands of polygons, moving fluidly across the screen at an unbelievable frame rate and resolution are breathtaking. It is truly a wonder to behold, seeing numerous highly detailed characters fighting in very detailed environments with no loss in framerate or quality. The game takes place in China and the development team took great care in re-creating real life environments in startling detail. Characters have also been meticulously motion captured to give this game a feeling of reality like none before it. Extensive maps of China as well as sculpted busts of the main characters were all utilized to create models of impeccable detail.
The game's score, which was performed by a live orchestra at the unveiling, features some exquisite classical pieces. If the entire score is as consistently beautiful as what we've already heard, it will be a soundtrack worth hunting down for us collectors. Sound is also used to help create the immersive environments as it seems that even the most insubstatial noise has been given attention. The level of detail in sound easily matches the graphical detail.
Shen Mue's world is massive with 1,200 rooms to explore and more than 370 characters to interract with. You have complete freedom of movement and can explore at will, like a non-linear role-playing game. Environments run in real time with day and night as well as weather changes. But again, Shen Mue is not an RPG, it is FREE: Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment. I wasn't quite sure what that meant until now. Shen Mue is a slice of life that you can live vicariously in. It is more than just a game.
The game play that has been shown consists of two modes; Quest and Q.T.E. Quest involves exploration and NPC interraction. You explore areas and talk to people, either you or they will initiate conversation. You can direct the convesation at times but it didn't seem that there was much back and forth. You may also be drawn into certain tasks after speaking to someone. These tasks allow you to earn money for future objectives. It basically is a very detailed and extensive console style RPG exploration. While most RPG's have meaningless NPC interraction, Shen Mue's is an extremely important part of the game play and crucial to moving forward in the game.
Q.T.E. stands for Quick Time Event. If you've ever played a Dragon's Lair type game you know what this is. Once an event like this is initiated, signals appear on screen that you have a brief moment to correspond to in order to finish the event. This can be anything from a chase scene, dodging trash cans and lampposts, to a fight where you have to dodge and counter attack. This feature has drawn consternation from some viewers of the conference as more in-depth action-oriented gameplay was expected. But the Q.T.E.'s seem to be handled well and while they appear limiting (as always, it's hard to tell without an actual hands-on playing) they also add a movie like atmosphere to the game as you watch the events unfold, reacting at key points. Whether this sytem will hold up for an entire game and not get dull or destroy replay value like it does in Dragon's Lair type games is yet to be seen.
There is little doubt that Shen Mue will be a unique and ground-breaking game for the Dreamcast. It will set new graphical standards as well as create the most immersive environments ever seen outside of virtual reality. The main questions are whether the gameplay will be able to hold its own and if this game could appeal to the US market. Only time will tell, and the time is September of 1999.