Unfulfilled Promises: Shenmue

john_head By: John

Playing: Tomodachi Life    Watching: The Leftovers

 On 9/9/99 the SEGA Dreamcast was released in North America. The system lasted only 18 months before being discontinued but in its brief life it brought us many classic games such as Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio and Sonic Adventure. But when I purchased mine it was mostly so that I could play the latest game from Yu Suzuki, creator of games such as Space Harrier, After Burner and Virtue Fighter. Shenmue is a series that is probably not very familiar to alot of gamers these days as it hasn’t seen a release since 2002, but when it first came out Shenmue was a revolutionary game that made big promises. Unfortunately it only ever lived up to some of them.


Shenmue was the story of Ryu Hazuki, a man on a quest to find his fathers killer and unravel the mystery surrounding his death. The game took place in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan and placed you in an “open world” that at the time was remarkably detailed and really gave players a sense of being in this city. It was filled with characters that would go from work to home during the games day/night cycle and numerous activities to immerse yourself in. From playing OutRun at the local arcade to doing Tai Chi in the park, there was no shortage of things to see and do. It was one of the first games to create such a realistic world.

The game innovated in numerous other ways including voice acting for every character in the game, real-time weather changes and being one of the first games to use Quick Time Events (QTEs) to add interactivity to cutscenes. The game wasn’t without it’s faults though. For as engrossing as the world was you were often required to do some tedious tasks like driving a forklift for cash or wandering the back alleys looking for sailors (not kidding). But I was always able to overlook it’s mistakes and became captivated in the tale of Ryu and his friends. Yu Suzuki had promised an epic story spanning multiple titles and when the credits rolled at the end I was hooked in for the whole thing. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know was that I may never get to see that story completed.


Shenmue II saw Ryu traveling to Hong Kong to pursue the murderous Lan Di and featured many improvements over the original game. New characters, locations and more action & combat came together to create a game that was bigger and bolder than the original. But despite the quality of the game, it seemed that completing the original vision of the game wasn’t going to happen. The original game cost an estimated $70 million to develop and didn’t meet sales expectations. Then due to the right of the game being obtained by Microsoft, Shenmue II initially didn’t see release in North America. It did eventually come out on the original Xbox and though it was critically well recieved it sold poorly. The Shenmue saga had come to a screaching halt.

Over the years, rumors of the development of Shenmue III have come and gone but no real concrete plans have ever been revealed. There is a passionate Shenmue fanbase and demand for a sequel is high so gamers have never given up hope in another sequel. Earlier this year a poll by UK Xbox Magazine showed Shenmue III as the most wanted game on Xbox One and at the most recent Game Developers Conference series creator Yu Suzuki stated that he was interested in continuing the series and would be interesting in crowd sourcing the development of the sequel via Kickstarter or some alternative.

Almost 15 years after it’s original release Shenmue remains a hallmark in gaming and one of my personal favorites of all time. It created a world unlike anything that had come before and told a tale that is just begging for a conclusion. The odds are stacked against it, but if the day ever comes that we get to return to that world and finally avenge Ryu’s father I’ll be the first one waiting in line.

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