Like the ill-fated console that it was designed for, Shenmue might have stood a better chance in another era.
The Sega Dreamcast was a machine that is the classic story of too much, too soon. It was the first console in the 128 bit era out the gates in North America in 1999. It shipped with a gorgeous color palette, a built in modem and a unique memory card system in the VMU. Sadly, it only lasted a modest two years before Sega ceased production in 2001 after being consistently outsold by the Sony PlayStation 2 and before both the Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo GameCube would ever hit the streets.
Yu Suzuki, who created some of Sega’s greatest arcade successes including Space Harrier, Virtua Cop and Daytona USA, designed what would be his magnum opus: the adventure game Shenmue for the Dreamcast. It was a captivating story of young martial artist Ryo Hazuki as he investigated his father’s murder. The game drew from a variety of genres including adventure-styled puzzles, martial arts combat inspired by Virtua Fighter and featured fully voiced direction and a plethora of Sega-themed capsule toys to collect. While short, the original Shenmue drew in a dedicated following of fans waiting to find out where Ryo’s search would take him in the inevitable sequel.
That inevitable sequel would struggle from the start. While the game was much larger and successfully fleshed out all of the gameplay elements Shenmue had created for itself, it was released in September of 2001, six months after the Sega pulled the Dreamcast from North American markets. While the game would be successful in its home market of Japan it would not be until late 2002 that Shenmue II would be sold for the one-year-old Microsoft Xbox.
Ryo’s investigation takes him to Hong Kong where he would continue his search for his father’s killer, taking part-time jobs, collecting gashapon and fightin’ round the world. The game was successful in the Japanese and European markets but the huge delays and a lack of interest from the Xbox audience resulted in poor sales in North America. With poor sales and a perceived lack of interest, the Shenmue series was in a flux. Fans cried out for a conclusion to the story that has left them wondering of the fate of the young man who wants to know where to find sailors.
Sega, a company that has had a complete change in identity over the past decade, has thus far declined to create Shenmue III. While the project was said to have started on several occasions including efforts in 2005 and the ill-fated Shenmue Online, Shenmue III has been consistently swept under the rug.
Now going on 10 years since Shenmue II’s release, Yu Suzuki recently spoke at the 2011 Game Developer’s Conference. “I think Sega will let me make it,” he said in regards to creating Shenmue III, “It’s a matter of budget. We have to make it in an affordable way.”
While the famed designer is still employed with Sega, he has not been significantly involved in game production since 2005. The fact that Suzuki is able to talk candidly about his beloved adventure title is a good sign, albeit ambiguous. Perhaps the closest fans will get to finding out Ryo’s fate will be through an interview conducted with gaming comedy troupe Mega64.
Hopefully the game will be created and Ryo’s story will go down as one of gaming’s greatest. Until then, at least he still gets to race his forklift in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.
WARNING: I have not watched this video yet as I am still clinging to the hope of a Shenmue conclusion so I have no idea what spoilers may or may not be in this video.