North American Dreamcast cover art
|Designer(s)||Yu Suzuki (Producer/Director)
Hiroshi Aso (Production Manager)
|Writer(s)||Yu Suzuki (Game Story)
Masahiro Yoshimoto (Screenplay & Game Script)
|Composer(s)||Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (also Sound Director)
|Mode(s)||Single-player with online features|
|Distribution||3 game GD-ROMs
1 Shenmue Passport GD-ROM
Shenmue (シェンムー 一章 横須賀 Shenmū Isshō: Yokosuka?, lit. "Shenmue Chapter 1: Yokosuka") is a 1999 adventure video game developed by Sega AM2 and published by Sega for the Dreamcast, produced and directed by Yu Suzuki. Suzuki coined a genre title for its nonlinear gameplay, "FREE" (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment), for the game, based on the interactivity and freedom he wanted to give to the player. Suzuki intended to achieve this by simulating aspects of real life through the game, such as the day and night system, real-time variable weather effects (unheard of in a game of this kind at the time), fully voiced non-player characters with their own daily schedules, quick time events, and various other interactive elements such as vending machines, arcades, and convenience stores.
Shenmue borrows gameplay elements from several different genres, but largely consists of open world adventure segments with real-time 3D battles interspersed throughout. It was the most expensive video game at the time, with a production cost of $47 million, equivalent to over $65 million in 2013. The game was followed by a 2001 sequel, Shenmue II, with at least one more planned as a Dreamcast series. The budget for both games amounted to $70 million, equivalent to over $98 million in 2013. However, production on the series ended with the second game, leaving the story at an unresolved cliffhanger.
Shenmue has been in several "greatest video games of all time" lists.   In 2013, Shenmue won an online German poll contest conducted by German magazine M! Games to become "The #1 Ultimate Best Game of All Time." 
- 1 Gameplay
- 2 Story
- 3 Development
- 4 Reception
- 5 Other media
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Gameplay in Shenmue is diverse; while most of the game is spent walking around the Japanese locations in a third-person 'chase cam' mode (talking to people, searching for things, and so forth), it is interspersed with many minigames, including forklift and motorcycle races, bar fights, chases down crowded alleys, full versions of Sega arcade games Space Harrier and Hang-On (both originally programmed by Shenmue creator and director, Yu Suzuki), dart games, and fighting sequences.
During the majority of Shenmue, the player will explore the Yokosuka area usually for any leads to progress the narrative. Often, these leads will be gained by talking to local people who can provide important clues. If the player so desires, they can explore the area simply for fun without progressing the game's narrative. Furthermore, talking to a variety of local people that although will not progress the narrative, can greatly enhance the player's understanding of the plot and/or gameplay mechanics. There are also several side-quests for players to engage in throughout the game. These will not affect the main narrative, but might provide Ryo with useful items or further develop characters and storyline for the player. Items collected and martial arts skills leveled up in the first game could be imported into Shenmue II after completing the game.
During quick time event (QTE) sequences, a button will flash on screen briefly and the player must press the relevant button or combination of buttons to trigger Ryo's actions. Fights against opponents can take place in QTE form as frequently as in Free Fight form. In addition to battles, QTE sequences are used for various other scenarios. For example, at one point a QTE sequence is used when Ryo must chase an escaping crook and Lan Di associate who has stolen money from him. The sequence takes place in the middle of a busy town center, and a variety of incoming obstructions must be avoided. As the game progresses, the reaction speeds required of the player become quicker and the button combinations become more complex. The player's success or failure in these scenes can affect the flow of gameplay as well as the current cutscene.
The battles pit Ryo against one or more enemies. Ryo has a large list of martial art techniques. The player has the ability to enter a practice mode of sorts, in which Ryo will practice his various martial art techniques, either alone or with a friendly opponent - this helps to increase the player's familiarity with the battle system. While progressing through the game, players have the ability to learn more techniques, adding to Ryo's repertoire and ultimately making him a more powerful martial artist. There are several senior martial artists that Ryo meets throughout his journey, and they offer to teach him new skills. The player has the choice to decline these offers. Another method for learning new techniques involves Martial Arts Scroll Rolls. These antique instructional scrolls can be found, or purchased, at various locations in the game. Once Ryo has read the scroll, the technique will be added to his repertoire, but the player will need to practice the key combinations it requires to truly master it.
Shenmue incorporates a system to produce the game's in-universe weather conditions. Named the Magic Weather System, it is one of the most important elements responsible for creating the game's universe. For every day that the player progresses through, weather conditions are randomly generated. Conditions vary from rain, to snow, to overcast skies to sunny and several other variations. Furthermore, weather can change throughout the day - for example, a rainy morning followed by an overcast afternoon and evening. The weather has direct impact on how the game looks - on a rainy day, people are walking around with umbrellas, and on a snowy day, the street is covered with snow. The conditions generated are reflective of the season in which they take place. In addition, records of actual weather conditions of the Yokosuka area during 1986/1987 (the time period in which the game is set) were implemented into the game, giving players the option to experience these weather conditions as opposed to those which are randomly generated.
On all versions of Shenmue, accessible on a fourth disc, Passport is a supporting application of sorts that enhances the Shenmue experience. The Theatre option allows players to view cutscenes they have unlocked in the main game, while the Music option works in the same way but with unlocked tracks from the game's soundtrack. In addition, the Information section allows new players to learn more about the various aspects of Shenmue gameplay. Several of the game's main characters talk through a variety of elements from Shenmue including mini-games, magic weather system and free battle. These sequences are fully interactive, allowing players to interrupt the pre-set camera movements and take control of all camera movement, as well as control the position of the light source. Many of these tutorial sequences were used as technical demos and were shown at various events, such as E3, prior to the game's release.
Passport also utilised the Dreamcast's internet connectivity. The Shenmue World feature contained highly detailed information regarding all aspects of the Shenmue world (i.e. locations and characters), and it also hosted an online manual. Furthermore, Network Ranking also allowed players to upload their scores from the playable arcade games found in Shenmue and to compete in the worldwide rankings board. Downloads, including Shenmue-themed VMU Icons and in-game collectible items (such as toy capsules), could be obtained through Everyone's Space, with several of them requiring some kind of item trade. Via loading their saved games, players could also use Data Review to view detailed information about their data - from total hours of play, to frequency of mini-game plays, to the number of soft drinks purchased. As of April 1, 2002, all online features of the Passport application were discontinued. This was due to the cancellation of all Dreamcast production, which also saw the closing of the system's dedicated ISP Dreamarena (for Europe) and SegaNet (for North America).
Shenmue takes place within Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan. The four main areas of Yokosuka available to the player are detailed and offer many avenues for exploration. The Hazuki Dojo is located in a small hamlet called Yamanose, where many of Ryo's childhood friends and neighbors live. Ryo's childhood friends, Ichiro Sakurada and Noriko Nakamura, are also residents of Yamanose. Directly next to Yamanose lies Sakuragaoka, a slightly bigger neighborhood. There are several points of interest here, including Setsu Abe's Candy Shop and Sakuragaoka Park. There are also several residents of Sakuragaoka that can offer assistance to Ryo in his quest to find Lan Di. They include local gossips Fusayo Mishima and Fusako Kondo, as well as Naoyuki Ito, who lends Ryo his motorbike towards the end of the game.
Dobuita, the second largest location in the game, is a busy town that boasts a wide variety of people and activities. Dobuita offerings include an eclectic and diverse selection of shops in the game, from convenience stores to specialized antique shops where valuable martial arts scrolls can be purchased. Nozomi is often found in Dobuita at her grandmother's flower shop. There is also a red light district with several bars, restaurants, a small slot machine parlor, and a mahjong parlor. The bus service that allows Ryo to travel to Yokosuka Harbor is also located here near a tobacco shop. Yokosuka Harbor is Shenmue's largest environment. Ryo first travels there to meet Master Chen, and eventually gets a job at the harbor to gain information on The Mad Angels, who have a large criminal influence in the area. Mark Kimberley, who eventually becomes a valuable friend to Ryo, also works at the harbor and has several run-ins with the Mad Angels. Shozo Mizuki, a homeless man who lives at the harbor, is a skilled martial artist who reveres the Hazuki style and teaches Ryo three useful techniques.
The story of Shenmue begins on November 29, 1986, in the perspective of the protagonist Ryo Hazuki (芭月 涼 Hazuki Ryō) returning home to his family dojo to witness his father, Iwao Hazuki, battling with a tall, ominous man dressed in a green silk Chinese suit known as Lan Di. He demands Iwao hand over an item known as the "Dragon Mirror", though Iwao refuses to reveal where it is. Ryo intervenes in battle after his father is felled, but is injured by a blow from Lan Di. He then lifts Ryo from the ground and threatens to kill him with a final blow, which prompts Iwao to reveal its location underneath the cherry blossom tree.
After Lan Di's henchmen recover the mirror, he mentions a man called Zhao Sunming, who was allegedly killed by Iwao in Mengcun. The two then engage in combat for the last time, as he wishes Iwao to die "like a warrior". Lan Di finishes the fight with a deadly blow, and he and his party then leave. Iwao dies shortly after in Ryo's arms, which fills Ryo with the desire for revenge above all else. After a few days of mourning and resting from his injuries, Ryo begins his journey to track down Lan Di to avenge his father's death.
Ryo's first clue is a car that some of his neighbors saw on the day of the murder. Though his leads are few and far between, Ryo slowly makes progress in his investigation by interviewing people all over Yokosuka. Just as he is about to run out of leads, a letter from a man named Zhu Yuanda suggests that he seek the aid of a certain Master Chen, who works at the harbor. Through Chen and his son Guizhang, Ryo learns that a local wharf gang known as the Mad Angels is connected to Lan Di's crime organization, The Chi You Men. Ryo also learns that the Dragon Mirror stolen by Lan Di is part of a set of two stone mirrors. After much investigation, he locates the second mirror underneath his father's dojo, dubbed the Phoenix Mirror and decorated with a phoenix.
Ryo takes a job on the waterfront in order to learn more about the Mad Angels gang, and eventually he causes them enough trouble that the gang kidnaps his friend (and principal love interest) Nozomi Harasaki. Ryo rescues Nozomi, but makes a deal with the Mad Angels leader, Terry, to beat up Guizhang in exchange to take Ryo to Lan Di. Ryo fights Guizhang in a tough battle, but after realizing Terry betrayed him by attempting to kill them, Ryo teams up with Guizhang to defeat all seventy members of the Mad Angels gang. Upon defeat, Terry reveals to Ryo that Lan Di has left Japan for Hong Kong. With the aid of the Chen family, Ryo is arranged to take a boat to Hong Kong. On the day of his departure, Ryo is suddenly attacked by Chai, a low ranking Chi You Men member who has been following Ryo throughout the game wishing to acquire his Phoenix Mirror to gain the favor of Lan Di. Chai injures Guizhang and Ryo engages in a battle with Chai and defeats him. Guizhang, who planned to accompany Ryo to Hong Kong, urges Ryo to go ahead without him and Ryo is instructed by Master Chen to seek out the help of a master of the Chinese martial arts located in Wan Chai named Tao Lishao. Ryo boards the boat and travels to Hong Kong in pursuit of Lan Di, concluding the first chapter of Shenmue.
In Shenmue, Ryo Hazuki is the main protagonist, and the only playable character. Ryo is a young man of 18 years of age who has recently dropped out of Yokosuka High School to embark on a journey to avenge his father's murder. Four days after resting from his injury, Ryo begins training while gathering clues to Lan Di's whereabouts. Ryo stands at 5'9", with spikey hair, light brown eyes, and a lean, athletic physique: a result of years of martial arts training under the wisdom of his father, a veteran martial arts master. His attire consists of a brown USAF bomber jacket, a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and white sneakers. The story initially takes place over the winter school break, where Ryo's fellow students and friends are preparing for their entrance exams for college. At this point, Ryo's mind is set on revenge and he no longer expresses any interest in returning to school. As the game progresses, Ryo meets a variety of new characters that serve to further the narrative of the storyline. The most important of these include Nozomi Harasaki, a childhood friend who is romantically interested in Ryo, and Master Chen Yaowen, who guides Ryo on his quest. The main antagonist is Lan Di. Throughout the game, he is elusive of Ryo. Large sections of the narrative revolve around tracking Lan Di down. Two important antagonists that Ryo does come into contact with are Chai, a martial arts expert who is devoted to Lan Di, and Terry Ryan, who runs a harbor gang known as the Mad Angels.
Shenmue takes place within the span of a few months, from November 1986 until (depending upon the player's speed in completing the game) as late as April 1987. At Yu Suzuki's insistence, the game's environment and culture adhere closely to this period. Various martial arts disciplines play an integral role in both the storyline and the gameplay of Shenmue, and aspects of Japanese and Chinese culture related to martial arts are prevalent. Ryo's character represents a typical young man of late 1980s Japan. He comes from a traditional background and his childhood was focused around the mastery of martial arts so that he can one day become responsible for the Hazuki name. However, Ryo is part of a generation with changing values. His generation considers personal wealth and enjoyable life experiences more desirable than traditional Japanese values. This theme appears throughout the game in many forms, such as the numerous inclusions of American pop culture. For example, Ryo wears typically Western attire of t-shirt and jeans. In the original Japanese edition of Shenmue, the trademarked Coca Cola logo is seen in various locations and Ryo can drink cans bought in vending machines.
Significance of the title
The game's title is derived from a specific tree that makes a cameo near the ending of the second installment in the series. The tree is located, both literally and figuratively, at the center of the prophecy that is a constant thread throughout the saga (and which is featured in the cinematic intros to both games). The Shenmue tree resides in the same small village (Bailu, which is located in Guilin) that spawned both Shenhua and the game's stone mirrors.
Yu Suzuki has stated on several occasions that during its early stages, Shenmue was a traditional style role-playing video game based on the characters and storyline of the hugely successful fighting game title Virtua Fighter. The Ryo character was originally Virtua Fighter character Akira. The final Ryo character has several key differences, but there is a very clear visual resemblance between him and Akira. As the game's development progressed, the characters became original and the storyline moved away from its Virtua Fighter roots.
Initially, Shenmue was planned as a killer application for the beleaguered Sega Saturn. Although it was very powerful for its time, the Saturn was also notoriously difficult to work with and progress was painstakingly slow. Yu Suzuki has stated how gruelingly difficult it was to get the most from the Saturn, but that he is very proud of the visual quality he was able to achieve on the 32-bit system. The project started on Saturn as a mix between Virtua Fighter and a role-playing game, but following the console's commercial collapse internationally, the project, on which AM2 worked for almost two years, was halted. However, Sega was already beginning work on a brand-new console (which during the early stages of its development was called the Katana, later renamed to its commercial name "Dreamcast") and work on Shenmue quickly resumed, with the new system as its format. "Katana" brand cigarettes can be found throughout the game, as homage to the former name.
At the 2014 Game Developers Conference, Yu Suzuki presented a Shenmue postmortem revealing many detailed development stages that has led up to the creation of Shenmue. It was revealed that before Virtua Fighter RPG, Suzuki created a Sega Saturn prototype named 'The Old Man and The Peach Tree' that was set during 1950s China with the story following a man who wanted to find a martial artist named Master Ryu. 'The Old Man and The Peach Tree' would be the basic foundation for Shenmue.
While Shenmue was in development, the game was known as Project Berkley. In 1998, tech demos from the game were being used by Sega to show what the Dreamcast was capable of producing. Many of these sequences were used in the final version of the game.
Shenmue was one of the first video games to incorporate development techniques that had previously been primarily used for film. The voice acting in Shenmue was ground-breaking as it was one of the first large scale games to include real voices for every single non-playable character in the game world and not just resorting to text transcriptions, as was common in video games at the time. Furthermore, this extensive audio script was recorded in both Japanese and English. Clay models of every character, regardless of how minor their role in the game, were built as reference material for animators creating the final in-game versions of the character models. The game also includes a cinematic musical score, which featured a full size orchestra. The main composers were Takenobu Mitsuyoshi and Yuzo Koshiro.
"What's Shenmue?" was a special premier disc in Japan given to those who pre-ordered Shenmue, additionally another edition of the disc was given away in Famitsu, a Japanese gaming magazine. The only difference between the two is that the Famitsu version has an orange cover, as opposed to a blue cover. Due to a delay in releasing Shenmue in Japan, anyone who pre-ordered it was given this on the date it was intended to be released on. The game itself works like a demo of Shenmue, featuring Dobuita, a town in Yokosuka, although not all of it is accessible. The disc also includes 4 of the movies included on the Passport disc of the original Shenmue that explain aspects of the game.
Shenmue received generally high scores and maintains an 89% average on GameRankings but sharply divided critics; many hailed it to be a masterpiece, while others found it self-indulgent and uninspiring. A universally praised aspect of the game, however, was its graphics. Gaming Target, who gave the game a perfect 10/10 score, described Shenmue's visuals as "The greatest in-game graphics that have ever been seen for a console." Even less favorable reviewers included strong praise for the game's visuals. RPG Fan, while only giving the game a score of 68%, wrote "Shenmue is truly a benchmark game. The world and its complexity is flawless, easily the most impressive, real, and interactive world I've ever seen."
Some reviews cited the game's pace as a major flaw, complaining that the whole experience offered by Shenmue was far too slow. GameSpot highlighted this issue in their review: "By the time you're driving forklifts and participating in the game's QTE-filled conclusion, hours upon hours of boredom will have taken their toll." Several other critics gave the gameplay of Shenmue high praise. Both US and UK editions of the Official Dreamcast Magazine awarded the game the highest possible 10/10 score, as did the popular publication DC:UK.
In 2000, Shenmue is voted "Console Game of the Year" by Game industry News.
Considering the high production costs, Shenmue experienced disappointing sales. According to IGN, the game, which cost an unprecedented $70 million to make, would have had to be purchased twice by every single Dreamcast owner in order for Sega to turn a profit. The $70 million investment presumably included the budget for the resources for additional sequels. The Sega Saturn version included the plot of both the first and second games at the very least, and although the full extent may never be known, a significant portion of the budget quoted for Shenmue was used on resources for future chapters, and the characters, plot and environments/gameplay of at least the entire second game existed in rough form before the first game was released. The game was the 4th best selling title on the Dreamcast and one of the six titles to sell over a million units worldwide. Shenmue is consistently listed as one of several key Dreamcast titles (most of them Sega productions) that ensured the console enjoyed solid sales during the Christmas season of 2000.
At the Game Developers Conference in 2011 Yu Suzuki stated that the $70 million cost for the development of Shenmue was actually an embellishment and that it only cost $47 million to develop and market.
Shenmue has been included in several "greatest games of all time" lists. In 2006 and 2008 it was voted at numbers 81 and 63 respectively on IGN's "Readers' Choice Top 100 Games Ever" list. In 2008, it was voted number 25 on GAME's "Greatest Games of All Time" list, based on a user poll with over 100,000 votes. It was also ranked at number 42 on Empire magazine's "100 Greatest Games of All Time" list.
Shenmue is regarded as a major step forward for 3D open-world gameplay, and considered the originator of the "open city" subgenre later popularized by Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. Shenmue was originally touted as a "FREE" ("Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment") game offering an unparalleled level of player freedom, giving them full reign to explore an expansive persistent sandbox city with its own day-night cycles, changing weather, and fully voiced non-player characters going about their daily routines. The game's large interactive environments, wealth of options, level of detail and the scope of its urban sandbox exploration has been compared to later sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto III and its sequels, Sega's own Yakuza series, Fallout 3, and Deadly Premonition.
Shenmue also introduced the quick time event mechanic in its modern form and coined a name for it. The mechanic has since appeared in many later titles, including popular action games such as Resident Evil 4, God of War, Tomb Raider: Legend, Heavenly Sword, and Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy.
In 2010, 1UP.com ranked Shenmue at #2 in its list of "15 Games Ahead of Their Time," citing its "ambition and scope," various "forward-thinking" mechanics such as real-time weather effects, "day and night cycles, and massive playable environments," its quick-time event mechanic, and for giving players a "living" world to explore, concluding that it "was ahead of its time in nearly every aspect of its design."
In 2011, Kurt Kalata (of 1UP and Gamasutra) stated that it is "remarkable" that "years after Shenmue's release, the game's environments are still some of the best to come out of any video game ever."
On April 30, 2013, M! Games, the leading game magazine in Germany, announced on their website, MANIAC.de, that it will hold a tournament poll called Bundesspielewahl 2013 (which translates to Federal Election Games 2013) on the site to determine "The #1 Ultimate Best Game of All Time" with 128 video games competing, including Shenmue. From May to September, Shenmue has beaten Assassin's Creed II in the first match, Guitar Hero in the second match, Chrono Trigger in the third match, Resident Evil (2002 video game) in the fourth match, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the Quarterfinal match, Super Mario World in the Semi-final match, and Super Mario 64 in the Final match to become the Bundesspielewahl 2013 tournament winner.
On September 23, 2013, M! Games officially announced Shenmue as "The #1 Ultimate Best Game of All Time".
There was a soundtrack released called Shenmue OST ~Chapter 1: Yokosuka~ on March 23, 2000. It is two CDs and consists of a total of 39 tracks from the game. The game main theme song, "Sedge Tree" and vocal song "Wish..." sung by Yumiko Yamamoto is included.
There was also an orchestrated version of the soundtrack released on 2001, this particular release has songs that also appear on the official soundtrack as well as a couple of new songs. Moreover, another soundtrack named Shenmue Jukebox released with the special editions of the first Shenmue game in Japan. The soundtrack itself features the songs that can be found in the game on jukebox machines, as the name would suggest.
In December 9, 2000, Ryo Hazuki and Ling Shenhua (as Ling Sha Hua) appeared in one of the six separate covers for TV Guide representing Shenmue as part of the "We've Got Game! The Latest in Video and Computer Games" series, which featured characters from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, Tomb Raider Chronicles, John Madden Football, Pokémon, and EverQuest in the other five covers.
Shenmue: The Movie is a ninety minute compilation of the major storytelling cut scenes from the game Shenmue played in chronological order along with battle scenes played by expert players. The movie was officially released in Japanese theaters on January 20, 2001 and later was released in the West as a bonus DVD included with the Xbox version of Shenmue II.
The film largely deals with the first chapter of Shenmue using the cutscenes from the game, along with a few additional new sequences to tie things together. The movie was only released in Japan initially but with the arrival of Shenmue II on the Xbox saw the addition of the movie with the game. There are a few differences between the actual movie DVD and the Xbox bundled DVD. The movie DVD includes a choice between the English dub or the original Japanese audio and includes some extras such as the Japanese trailer for the movie and perhaps most interesting an extra feature that shows Masaya Matsukaze and Shou Hagiwara (the Japanese voice actors for Ryo Hazuki and Ren of Heavens) dressed as their character and running around Shanghai. The Xbox DVD simply includes the English dub version of the movie, with the voice actors from the game reprising as voicing the characters in the movie.
Ryo Hazuki is a playable character in Sega's mascot racer Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. This was confirmed by Sega on October 7, 2009. Ryo rides a motorbike and his special move features him driving a forklift.
In 2012, Steve Lycett, executive producer of Sumo Digital, encouraged a fan-made poll on the SEGA Forums to determine which three SEGA characters the fans would like to see in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed as DLC (Downloadable Content). Out of the 28 SEGA characters chosen by the forum, Ryo Hazuki had the majority vote ranking 1st, while Hatsune Miku ranked 2nd, and Segata Sanshiro ranked 3rd. The status of these potential DLC characters was unknown until mid-December 2013, when Ryo was spotted in a Yogscast livesteam of the game, further fueling the rumor that he would be appearing as DLC. On January 1, 2014, SEGA announced that Ryo will appear in the iOS and Android versions of Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed which was released on January 2. On January 14, Ryo became available for purchase as DLC on Steam for the PC version of Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed.
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- The Disappearance of Yu Suzuki: Part 1, 1UP
- Adam LaMosca, On-Screen Help, In-Game Hindrance, The Escapist
- Furfari, Paul (August 2010). "15 Games Ahead of Their Time". 1UP.com. p. 2. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
- Kalata, Kurt; Kolbe (2011). "Shenmue". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved 1 October 2011.
- Mike Fahey. "Sega All-Stars Racing Gets A Little Shenmue". Kotaku.
- www.shenmue.com Official Shenmue website