Shenmue: The Moment Ryo Became Human

Sometimes on gaming websites and YouTube you can occasionally see lists of the "best moments in gaming". The listed moments are usually similar from article to article and video to video, but it is interesting to see how gaming has evolved from a medium of simple interactive entertainment to something that is considered by many to have memorable moments in the same way we remember famous moments from movies, such as Heath Ledger's "you know how I got these scars?" from The Dark Knight or Jack Nicholson's "here's Johnny!" from The Shining. Nowadays we take this for granted, with new memorable gaming moments being brought to us all the time - and this is most likely due to how story-telling has become such an important part of many modern video games. Triple A titles like The Last of Us and indie-developed games like Firewatch are just two examples of games that are more than just an adventure in a virtual world - but an opportunity to find yourself wrapped up in a story as it unfolds and witness characters as they grow and develop. If we as players find ourselves getting attached to these characters, then the creation of a memorable moment is bound to occur. Just look at how many tears were shed over that one scene in Final Fantasy VII.
It wasn't until recently when I realised what my favourite moment in gaming was. In fact, I only just played it. There were some shenanigans that occurred involving me accidentally deleting my save file like a twit coupled with the fact that my Dreamcast wasn't working all that well. Anyway, years later I played and finally finished a little game series known as Shenmue, a series revered (and even misunderstood) by many (you can read more about it in this article I wrote back in 2013). Shenmue is a series that is choc-full of incredible moments, and now we're getting a third game in the series (who'd have thought we'd ever see it) I am sure we'll be getting even more incredible moments to be part of as we play further through Ryo Hazuki's quest to seek revenge for the death of his Father. But there is one moment that stands out to me from the series above all others, and it takes place on the fourth disc of Shenmue II, and is the moment in the game's story that I'd like to refer to as "the moment Ryo becomes human".

So the fourth disc of Shenmue II begins with Ryo Hazuki arriving at the small village of Langhuishan, China. After a brief stop at this small village, Ryo heads down a long scenic path to his destination - Bailu Village. After the chaotic and intense happenings of the game's third disc, this disc is a complete contrast in comparison. The gameplay, aside from the occasional quick-time event, is relaxing and just well, amazing.
While Ryo's initial trek is somewhat uneventful (but worth it just to look at the absolutely gorgeous scenery - even for the Dreamcast) it soon takes a turn when a storm brews and Ryo sees a young woman dive into the treacherous rapids of a river to rescue a drowning fawn. Ryo dives in after her and the two end up washed up on the riverbank the next day, after the storm has passed. Even the fawn survived - all is well and good in the world.

You find out that this girl is Shenhua, who lives in Bailu Village - Ryo's destination. She thanks Ryo for saving her and offers to take him to her village, a long journey that will take more than a day - it is this journey (and the events that follow it - all the way up until the game's ending) that I regard as my favourite moment in Shenmue and to me is definitely one of the greatest moments in any video game ever. Never before when playing a game have I found myself yearning for more after it was over more than I found myself with the journey of Ryo and Shenhua to Bailu Village. It's something about the scenery, the idle yet personal conversation and the absolutely gorgeous score that accompanies Ryo and Shenhua's journey that makes it such a worthwhile experience.
But it isn't just these things that make these moments so fulfilling, but the characters themselves, Ryo in particular. Up until this point, Ryo Hazuki is terribly stone-faced, you could even go as far as to say that as a character he is even one-dimensional. Dead set on avenging his Father, he doesn't have time to let his emotions show for a second and is focused solely on his mission. Even in the first game when he receives a confession of love from his childhood friend Nozomi, he does not give her much back in the way of emotion. I thought up until the fourth disc of Shenmue II that perhaps Ryo's neutral attitude to everything was intended to serve as a way to help the player immerse themselves into the game more, with Ryo functioning as an avatar for them to project their own feelings on to - but I realise now it was more down to his strong focus on seeking revenge that was the basis of his lack of emotion. But on disc four, Ryo is presented with a moment of peace and a pause from his mission. He has to take a long journey in the company of another human being - someone who he has to talk to properly unlike the many characters he has previously met, characters who he speaks to mainly just to get more information that can further aid him on his quest.

But on disc 4, Ryo reveals a lot about himself, and although at this point we have just met Shenhua, we learn more about her from the two character's chatter along their journey more than any other character that we have encountered previously in the Shenmue series, and it's good that we do too, as I have a feeling she is going to be very important in the third game. The majority of this disc's gameplay is based around following Shenhua. She walks, and Ryo walks behind her automatically. If you press the A button on the Dreamcast controller, Ryo will get her attention and you will be presented with a set of three questions, or the option to push on. Through these questions (with more popping up in the place of questions that have been asked) Ryo and Shenhua discuss their respective countries, their childhoods and even silly little things like the flowers they like and their country's folklore... and it all works well because Shenhua has lived isolated -away from technology, cars and big cities- in the tiny Bailu Village for her entire life. Someone like Ryo is almost alien to someone like her - at one point she even asks him if he could tell the children of her village about Japan.

But the most revealing moment for Ryo is when the two stop overnight in a cave midway through their journey, and after making a fire, Shenhua asks Ryo to talk to him about his life. This is where Ryo really opens up about people from his past. Up until this point, I can't lie, I might have thought many of the characters Ryo encountered on his journey were nothing more than ways to move his journey forward, but I was happily proven wrong when he remembers many of them in this scene fondly, and his fondness towards them is sincere. You can even show Shenhua photographs that you have acquired along your journey, such as the one of him and Nozomi. As an interesting aside, it is worth mentioning that later when you are walking with Shenhua again, there is a moment where Ryo mentions that his Father liked lilies and that Nozomi (who worked at the florist) brought his Father flowers one day. In response to this, Shenhua says "are you talking about Nozomi again?" as if she is jealous of Ryo's constant mention of Nozomi, to which Ryo amusingly responds "no, I was talking about my Father". This is just another little moment that makes this sequence of events so incredible to me. The characterisation here feels genuine. When you look at the story of Shenmue deeper than just its surface, it is more than just a story of revenge. It is also a coming-of-age story for Ryo. I remember Yu Suzuki saying in an interview that in the story that comes after Shenmue II, Ryo would eventually outgrow his feelings of revenge. If this is the case Ryo's ageing process will have come full circle and I will love every second of his transformation into the person he will become.

But as I'm sure the Shenmue fans reading this article will already be aware, we will potentially receive Shenmue III 16 years later, in December. SIXTEEN. It's been nearly two decades of waiting for some fans. Shenmue II ended on a pretty significant cliffhanger, and many want to see what happens next. But what I look forward to the most is more of the characterisation that preceded it. Even more than I yearn for the capsule toys, the arcade machines and a modern take on the gameplay that made Shenmue so beloved in the first place, I yearn for moments that lead Ryo to reach the height of his complexity. I would love to see more of the gameplay that is contained on the fourth disc of Shenmue II where we get to talk to Shenhua. I want to see this richly-developed relationship with Shenhua explored even further. Regardless of what happens, I know that Yu Suzuki won't let us down with Shenmue III. I can't believe it's finally here.

Shenmue forever.

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