Microsoft Games Studios
Sony Computer Entertainment
December 29, 1999
|Latest release||Shenmue I & II|
August 21, 2018
Shenmue[a] is an action-adventure game series created, produced and directed by Yu Suzuki. Shenmue and Shenmue II were developed by Sega AM2 and published by Sega for Dreamcast in 1999 and 2001 respectively; Shenmue II was ported to Xbox in 2002. Shenmue III, developed by Suzuki's company Ys Net, is due for release in 2019 for PlayStation 4 and Windows.
The Shenmue games consist of open-world 3D environments interspersed with brawler battles and quick time events. They include elements of role-playing, life simulation and social simulation games, such as a day-and-night system, variable weather effects, non-player characters with daily schedules, and interactive elements such as vending machines, arcades, and minigames. The story follows the teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki as he travels through 1980s Japan and China in pursuit of his father's killer.
The original Shenmue was the most expensive video game ever developed at the time, with an estimated production and marketing cost of US$47 to $70 million, though some of the development also covered Shenmue II. Despite attracting positive reviews and a cult following, the games were commercial failures and further installments entered development hell.
In 2004, Sega announced a spin-off massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Shenmue Online, but it was not released. In 2010, a social game, Shenmue City, was launched in Japan; it was shut down in December 2011. In 2015, Ys Net began developing Shenmue III after a successful crowdfunding campaign. High-definition ports of Shenmue and Shenmue II for Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were released in 2018.
Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki joined Sega in 1983 and went on to create several successful arcade games including Hang-On (1985), Out Run (1986) and Virtua Fighter (1993). In comparison to arcade games, where the ideal experience was only a few minutes long, Suzuki wanted to make a longer experience. In 1996, he and Sega AM2 began developing a Saturn RPG based on the Virtua Fighter series.
In 1997, development moved to Sega's upcoming console, the Dreamcast, and the Virtua Fighter connection was dropped. By the time of the Dreamcast's release in Japan in November 1998, the game had been titled Shenmue. It became the most expensive game ever developed at the time, reported to have cost US$70 million; in 2011, Suzuki said the figure was closer to $47 million including marketing. Development also covered some of Shenmue II (2001), which was completed for a smaller figure, and possibly groundwork for future Shenmue games.
Shenmue was released on December 29, 1999 in Japan, November 8, 2000 in North America, and December 1, 2000 in Europe. Shenmue II was released for Dreamcast in 2001 in Japan and Europe only; an Xbox port followed in 2002 in Japan, Europe and North America. Despite attracting positive reviews and a cult following, neither game made a profit and Shenmue III entered a period of development hell lasting over a decade.
Suzuki remained at Sega working on various projects which failed to see release, including a PC MMORPG spin-off set in the Shenmue world, Shenmue Online, announced in 2004. In 2008, Suzuki established his own development company, Ys Net, while remaining at Sega. In 2010, Sega announced another spin-off, Shenmue City, a social game for the Mobage service. The game was not released outside Japan and was shut down in December 2011. In September 2011, Suzuki left Sega to focus on Ys Net.
During Sony's E3 conference on June 15, 2015, Suzuki announced a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for Shenmue III, having licensed the series from Sega. The campaign reached its initial $2 million goal in just over nine hours. Shenmue III became the fastest-funded and the highest-funded video game project in Kickstarter history, earning $6.3 million. It is scheduled for release in August 2019 for PlayStation 4 and Windows.
Sega described Shenmue as belonging to a new genre it termed "full reactive eyes entertainment" or "FREE". In Shenmue I and II, the player controls teenage martial arts pupil Ryo Hazuki as he investigates his father's murder. The player explores the Yokosuka, Hong Kong and Guilin open worlds, searching for clues, examining objects and talking to non-player characters for information. The games feature a 3D fighting system similar to Sega's Virtua Fighter series; Ryo can fight multiple opponents at once, and can practice moves to increase their power. In quick time events, the player must press the right combination of buttons at the right moment to succeed.
The games feature a level of detail considered unprecedented for games at the time of their release. Shops open and close, buses run to timetables, and characters have their own routines, each in accordance with the game's persistent clock. Ryo receives a daily allowance which can be spent on objects including food, raffle tickets, audio cassettes and capsule toys. There are several minigames; for example, Ryo can throw darts or play complete versions of Sega arcade games. In Shenmue he takes a job as a forklift truck driver, and in Shenmue II he can earn money by gambling, arm wrestling, street fighting, and running a pachinko stand. The Dreamcast version of Shenmue II allows the player to import their save data from Shenmue, carrying over money, inventory items and martial arts moves.
In 1986 Yokosuka, Japan, teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki returns to his family dojo to witness a confrontation between his father Iwao and a Chinese man, Lan Di. Ryo intervenes, but is easily incapacitated. Lan Di demands Iwao give him a mysterious stone artifact known as the dragon mirror. When he threatens to kill Ryo, Iwao tells him the mirror is buried under the cherry blossom tree outside. As Lan Di's men dig up the mirror, Lan Di mentions Zhao Sunming, whom Iwao allegedly killed in Mengcun, China. Lan Di delivers a finishing blow and Iwao dies in Ryo's arms.
Ryo's investigation leads him to Master Chen in the Yokosuka harbor. Through Chen and his son Guizhang, Ryo learns that the dragon mirror taken by Lan Di is one of two mirrors. He locates the second, the phoenix mirror, in a basement hidden beneath his father's dojo. After he defeats a local gang connected to Lan Di's organization, Ryo boards a boat to Hong Kong in pursuit of Lan Di.
In Hong Kong, Ryo finds Master Xiuying Hong, whom Master Chen suggested he seek the aid of. She refuses to help him, considering his quest for vengeance reckless. Ryo teams up with a gang leader, Wuying Ren, a free-spirited motorcyclist, Joy, and a street boy, Wong, to find Yuanda Zhu, who sent Ryo's father a letter warning him of Lan Di's intentions.
Ryo and his allies locate Zhu in Kowloon Walled City, but are ambushed by the criminal Yellow Head organization and Zhu is kidnapped. Ryo rescues Zhu as Lan Di departs by helicopter. Zhu reveals that Lan Di killed Ryo's father because he believes Iwao killed his own father. Zhu also reveals that the mirrors will lead to the resurrection of the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. Zhu advises Ryo to continue his search in Bailu Village in Guilin, where Lan Di is also heading.
In the mountains of Guilin, Ryo meets a teenage girl, Shenhua Ling, whom Ryo previously saw in dreams. Shenhua's family is connected to the legacy of the dragon and phoenix mirrors, and she seems to have magical abilities. She leads Ryo to a stone quarry on the village outskirts to meet her father, but discovers he is missing. The pair discover a cryptic note and sword; Ryo combines the sword with the phoenix mirror, triggering a device that reveals a large mural of the dragon and phoenix mirrors.
Ryo and Shenhua embark on a new journey, which reveals their shared destinies. Lan Di returns, with a new antagonist Niao Sun. The game will not conclude the Shenmue story, as Suzuki hopes to create further games in the series.
|Shenmue II||(DC) 90%
The Shenmue series has received mostly positive reviews and attracted a cult following, with both games appearing in several "greatest video games of all time" lists. Shenmue is credited for pioneering several game technologies; its large environments, wealth of options and level of detail have been compared to later open-world games including the Grand Theft Auto series, Sega's Yakuza series, Fallout 3 (2008), and Deadly Premonition (2010). Shenmue is also credited for naming and popularizing the quick time event in modern games, including the Resident Evil, God of War, and Tomb Raider series.
Several soundtracks related to the series have been released. A promotional album, Shenmue Juke Box, was packaged with the limited edition of the original game in Japan and North America, containing ten select tracks from the in-game cassette tapes.
A soundtrack for the first game, Shenmue OST: Chapter 1: Yokosuka, was released in 2000. In September 2015, Data Discs released the Shenmue soundtrack on vinyl in three separate colored editions. In March 2016, the music of Shenmue was voted into the Classic FM Hall of Fame in 144th place.
In August 2018 Sega released high-definition ports of Shenmue and Shenmue II for Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The ports include new graphics and control options, improved user interfaces, and Japanese and English voices. Some details, such as product placement, are omitted, and cutscenes are presented in their original aspect ratio due to technical limitations.
A more ambitious remaster of both games, featuring new models, textures and lighting, was canceled in 2017. Sega stated: "Working with original animations and characters but meshing them with enhanced HD visuals gave us a game that we felt would not meet the standards that Shenmue fans expect and deserve."
Ryo Hazuki is a playable character in Sega's mascot racer Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Ryo rides Naoyuki's motorbike and his special move features him driving a forklift, referencing his job at the Yokosuka Harbor. 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. 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. In this game, Ryo rides an arcade-themed vehicle that switches between OutRun, Hang-On, and Space Harrier arcade cabinets depending on its form.
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