The influence of Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece Shenmue is evident in such games like Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil, yet its recognition is less than those games. There are games that resonate with a definite everlastingness, games that nobody should pass up the opportunity to play, which aren’t defined by graphics or interfaces.
There’s Tetris and Contra. There’s The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, and Super Mario Bros. 3. Games that set the rules for others to follow, that establish precedents seen across today’s scene. Shenmue is certainly among these influential essentials. It has a wealth of inspirational gameplay elements and a level of envelopment quite unrivaled for its time.
The first Shenmue was the most expensive video game at the time with an estimated production and marketing cost of over $47 million. The series has received positive ratings from reviewers and attracted a cult following. Some critics even refer to it as one of the greatest video games of all time.
Shenmue has also been credited with pioneering several game technologies like quick time events and free battles. Its large environments and level of detail are unmatched on its time. Despite all these, the game was considered a commercial failure.
The Fall of a Great Masterpiece
Back in 1999, Yu Suzuki envisioned Shenmue spanning 11-16 chapters. It is an ambitious plan, especially in the years before digital distribution. In all fairness to Suzuki, he at least had the foresight to sketch out this narrative well in advance. And thanks to the generous budget provided by Sega, Suzuki’s team must have discouraged thinking small. This led his team to localize the franchise to the Western world.
In an interview with Hardcore Gaming 101, Jeremy Blaustein, who worked on the localizations of Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill 2, discussed the difficulties of localizing the game:
I’ve done a lot of these projects, and a lot of the times we’ve talked about my past work I’ve complained about how the budgets are low, and there isn’t enough money, and here’s a case where they made so many mistakes in the opposite direction. There was poor management and too much money thrown at it. It was rushed, and I know enough about games to know you’re unlikely to get a consistent product. You have bits of it that were translated well, but there were probably 20 translators touching it, would be my guess. And with that many translators, working on that many characters, with a story that diffuse, you’re going to have huge problems with consistency, huge problems with the story, huge problems with characters speaking.
Poor Casting Choices and the Dreamcast’s Failure
Questionable casting decisions also dragged down the English localization, especially that of Corey Marshall as Ryo Suzuki who had no prior acting experience. With Marshall’s poor performance, combined with tons of inexplicable line-readings, the English version became the cheesiest game of its time.
But to be fair, Suzuki was not entirely to blame for the game’s commercial failure. Had the Dreamcast sold better in the first place, the series would probably have made more profits. Bad marketing, bad business practices and competing against Sony’s PlayStation 2 in the U.S meant Shenmue never had a real chance.
Where It Was Left Off (Spoilers Ahead)
Shenmue began with Ryo Hazuki returning home to find his father being assaulted by a mysterious man. Having witnessed the man named Lan Di murder his father, Ryo sets out on a path of vengeance. This quest for Lan Di uncovers a deeper mystery involving two mystical mirrors that everyone is searching for. At the end of the first Shenmue, Ryo leaves his native homeland of Japan for Hong Kong, hot on the trail of Lan Di.
The second Shenmue begins in early 1987 as Ryo’s ship pulls into a port in Hong Kong. Ryo’s journey will take him from the docks of Aberdeen, to the street markets of Wan Chai, to the city of Kowloon, to the mountain villages of Guilin. Along the way, he’ll interact with a new cast of characters and learn more about the mysteries of the Phoenix Mirror and its counterpart, the Dragon Mirror.
Shortly after arriving at Gui Lin, Ryo encounters a young woman named Shenhua Ling. She had previously appeared to Ryo through several dreams. As the two converse, it is revealed that the Shenhua family is connected with the legacy of the two mirrors.
Shenhua leads Ryo to a stone quarry on the outskirts of the village to meet with her father, but he is nowhere to be found. When the pair discovers a cryptic note and sword, Ryo used the Phoenix mirror and sets off a device revealing a huge depiction of the two mirrors. At end of the game, the sword is seen to float in mid-air.
The Story Continues
If you’re familiar with the history of the Dreamcast, you know it didn’t live up to expectations. And Shenmue 2 is a casualty of Sega’s failure. It wasn’t released in North America until a year later when it was ported to the Xbox. Both titles are critical successes but didn’t recoup production costs, and the 3rd game seemed improbable.
But on June 14, 2015, during Sony’s E3 press conference, Suzuki announced a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to develop Shenmue III for Windows and PlayStation. The initial Kickstarter funding goal was $2 million USD.
The campaign raised $1 million in an hour and 44 minutes, making Shenmue III the fastest game to raise that amount through crowdfunding. It also met its initial goal of $2 million in eight hours and 43 minutes, making it the fastest Kickstarter campaign to reach that amount. The campaign ended on July 17 having raised $6.3 million USD from over 69,000 backers. Shenmue III’s campaign became the most funded Kickstarter video game campaign and the sixth most funded Kickstarter campaign of all time.
Production for Shenmue III Begins
Shenmue III will begin in Bailu Village in Guilin where Ryo and Shenhua will look for clues about the two mirrors. The pair will also be looking for Lan Di. Aside from Lan Di, there will be a new antagonist named Niao Sun. Areas like Choubu (a riverside village with lots of shops, souvenir stores, hotels, and temples), and Baisha (that will feature a “siege game reminiscent of the Warring Kingdoms”) were announced.
According to the official Shenmue website, the game has now entered full production. The game was missing in action in the last E3. Perhaps the devs were too busy. It appears that this project has become a labor of love, even with the limited funds. And it may finally come full circle for the fans who have supported this project all along.
Shenmue III will be out in the second half of 2018.