The Shenmue series is an adventure series that started on the Dreamcast in 1999 in Japan, then later release in North America and Europe in 2000. The series was created by Yu Suzuki and his team, Sega-AM2. The series was originally going to be a sixteen chapter saga that would be told in several games - the first game tells the first chapter, and the second game tells the other four. The series only spans two main games and a canceled MMO RPG.
The development of Shenmue originally started out on the Sega Saturn in 1995, the game was intended to be a spin-off of Yu Suzuki's other game franchise, Virtua Fighter. The game was going to revolve around the main character of the Virtua Fighter series, Akira Yuki, and the main villain of the game was going to be Lau Chan; the project was under the working title, "Akira's Quest." The plot of the project was very much the same as the final version of the game. The game's budget was the largest amount that Sega has ever spent, with the amount of eighty-million dollars.
The game would use many techniques, such as use of camera cinematography, motion capture, in engines cut-scenes, and an extensive of amount of voice acting. The gameplay would also use gameplay elements such as "QTE" - Quick Time Events - real time battles, and the ability to explore a big world, in other words, "Free Quest." Yu Suzuki gave the name for its type known as "FREE,' Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment. Yu Suzuki's intentions for the project was to simulate real life, with the use of a day & night cycle, spending money on merchandises, and having the main character sleep at the end of the day.
But the original concept of the game being a Virtua Fighter spin-off was scrapped. The game went through several revisions, the game would no longer be apart of the Virtua Fighter series; instead, it would be an entirely original IP. The main character became Ryo Hazuki, and the main villain is Lan Di, but the main characters would still be similar to Arika and Lau, as the design of Ryo and Lan Di share similarities. The game would also later be known as Shenmue.
After two years in development, the Shenmue project finally reached its final stages of being completed, but the game was never release on the Saturn, due to the Saturn's life span rapidly deteriorating. Soon, Sega would pull the plug on the ill-fated console. As a result, the Shenmue project was put on hold for a couple more years.
With the launch of the Sega Dreamcast, Yu Suzuki resurrected the Shenmue project. The game would be released for the system in December, 1999 in Japan, the game was wildly hyped, as the graphics would amaze anyone who seen the game. Months before the release of Shenmue in Japan, Sega put out a demo known as What's Shenmue. The demo takes place only in Dobuita, and includes a mini-game where Ryo has to find a Sega executive Yukawa-san, as well as characters explaining aspects of the game.
The game takes place in the year 1986, the story starts off with the main character, Ryo Hazuki's father, Iwao Hazuki, murder by the hands of a Chinese cartel named Lan Di. He also retrieves an ancient artifact known as the "Dragon Mirror." A couple days later, Ryo decides to avenge his father's death by looking for Lan Di.
So he sets off in several areas in Japan looking for leads to help find Lan Di. The many clues leads Ryo to a harbor to find a two men named Master Chen - a martal arts master - and his son Guizhang, Master Chen explains what Lan Di is up to. He explains that Lan Di is looking for two mirrors, one being the Dragon Mirror, and the second being the "Phoenix Mirror," he soon tells Ryo that his father has two mirrors hidden in the dojo. Ryo returns home to look for the second mirror, he finds a hidden door that leads a ladder that goes underneath the dojo. Ryo finds a secret room that's filled with some of Iwao Hazuki's personal possessions, he finds the Phoenix Mirror hidden in a wall.
He then returns to Master Chen and reveals the Phoenix Mirror. Master Chen tells Ryo about a gang called the "Mad Angels," who are connected to Lan Di. Ryo finds out that the only way he can learn more about them is to take a job at the harbor - The Mad Angels harass new workers. He takes a job as a fork-lift driver and as he progresses, a lot of trouble is stirred between Ryo and the Mad Angels. The Mad Angels then kidnap Ryo's possible love interest, Nozomi Harasaki, he makes it to the harbor and defeats several members of the Mad Angels and rescue Nozomi; then Ryo meets the leader of the gang, Terry. Ryo makes a deal with Terry for Ryo to fight Guizhang in order for Terry to tell Ryo where Lan Di is. Ryo then fights Guizhang, but it turns out to be a trap set up by Terry. Ryo and Guizhang team up to defeat the Mad Angels.
Soon after, Master Chen and Guizhang agrees to help Ryo to track down Lan Di in Hong Kong. The next day, Ryo was about to broad a ship to Hong Kong and then finds out that Master Chen and Guizhang will come with him - they want to find out what Lan Di is up to with the ancient mirrors.
Then they get attack by the main villain of the first game Chai. Chai injures Guizhang's leg, then Ryo and Chai engage into combat. After Ryo defeats Chai, Master Chen and Guizhang decides to stay in Japan due to Guizhang's injured leg. Ryo broads a ship to Hong Kong, and the game ends.
The gameplay mostly revolves around Ryo walking around the areas of Japan, talking with the locals to gain new leads to progress the story-line. The game also has Ryo stay out for a certain amount of time; the day starts off at 8:00am, and the day ends at 11:30pm. There are distractions that Ryo can do while he's gaining new leads, such as: playing old arcade games like Space Harrier and Hang-On, other games that emphasizes on QTE, and other mini-games including darts.
Capsule toy machines are located throughout the game world. Ryo can spend 100 yen to collect capsule toys in the shapes of characters from the Sonic series, Virtua Fighter, or other Sega series, and random toys.
The game also has "Free Battle" sequences. The battles play like a simplified version of Virtua Fighter. Ryo's health meter is several green dots that are in the formation of a circle, once they are depleted, Ryo loses the battle.
"Ouick Time Events" - QTE - occur in several cut-scenes in the game. A button will pop up on screen, once that happens, the player must press that button as fast as possible or a casualty will happen.
Shenmue II (2001)
During the development of Shenmue II for the Dreamcast, Sega has announced that they will be pulling the plug on the Dreamcast console and will focus of third-party platforms - ended their reputation as a first-party company. Sega has stated that the remaining games being developed for the system will still be released. Shenmue II was released for the Dreamcast in Japan and Europe, but the entire voice-over dialogue was in Japanese. But the US version of Shenmue II for the Dreamcast was canceled, due to a deal that Sega has made with Microsoft to release exclusive games on the Xbox, one of them being Shenmue II for North America.
The differences between the Japanese/European and US version of Shenmue II is the voice-over dialogue for the US version was recorded in English. The Dreamcast version had the ability to import the save game file from the original game. That allows the player to keep all the capsule toys, money, and other items obtained and brought over to Shenmue II. Importing the save game file from the original was not possible for the Xbox version, instead, the game starts off with all of the capsule toys from the original unlocked and some other items earned from Shenmue, such as the "Phoenix Mirror," but certain items like the cassettes tapes and cassettes player was removed. The Xbox version included a DVD entitle, Shenmue: The Movie. The DVD tells the story of the first game, it shows all of the cut-scenes from the original presented in the form of a movie.
The core gameplay of the original Shenmue returns in the second installment, but this time there is more emphasize on earning money. The game contents plenty of mini-games such as "lucky hit," a game that's about Ryo dropping a ball down a board with wooden pegs place in a maze-like formation. The goal of the game is Ryo must have the ball land in a the red circle mark in the end of the board, but if it lands in a X mark, then Ryo loses. The other is a game of dice, the player and the opponent will roll two dice in a bowl, the one with a higher score wins. Street fighting is also another way to make money, the fights play out the same way as it would in a fight when progress the story. The last is arm wrestling, the has the player rapidly pressing the A button, and during a match, a QTE will occur.
Ryo can also work at the lucky hit stands part time to earn some cash. Ryo will be giving 300 dollars, and he will compete against three costumers. If Ryo wins, he will be given half of his winnings.
The arcade games from the original game returns. New games such as Afterburner and OutRun gets added to the arcade line-up.
Another new feature in Shenmue II is the pawn shops. The player can sell all of the capsule toys that were collected from the capsule machines. Flyers will be passed out to Ryo if enters for the first time. The flyers will show the value of all the capsule toys that are in the game. Multiple capsule toys can be sold all together in a set.
Shenmue Online (2004)
In 2004, Sega announced Shenmue Online - a MMORPG that will take place in the same setting as Shenmue II, Hong Kong. The game was only going to be release for the PC in China. There were talks of the game being released outside of the region. In 2006, it was announced the game was cancelled.
The gameplay has players joining one of three clans lead by Wu Ying, Sha Hua, and Xiu Ying. Players must complete objectives for one of the clans. During gameplay, players will encounter each other in either friendly or hostile situations.
Many of the gameplay elements from the Shenmue series returns in Shenmue Online: such as OTE, collecting capsule toys, and the arcade games makes a return.
Shenmue City (2010)
Shenmue City is a new entry in the Shenmue series that will be released for the PC in Japan only. Shenmue City is not a sequel, but rather a social game for the Yahoo! Mobage service. The game will feature new stories and characters in Yokosuka, the setting from the first Shenmue game.
Sunsoft confirmed recently that the game will use a free-to-play, microtransaction based model, which will allow players to purchase in game items for a fee. The game was scheduled to launch in the winter of 2010, but has yet to be released to the public.
Shenmue III (????)
At first, Yu Suzuki has stated that Shenmue III will conculed the last of the remaining chapters. In a interview with a developer of Am2, Shin Ishikawa, in a gaming site called Begin/Next Level, he then drew a timeline on how the chapters of Shenmue are gonna be told through several games. He actually writes in the drawing, "Shenmue 4," that resets the expectations of fans believing that the series will end with Shenmue III. There have been bits of details of the third game such as a video of a new female character named "Niao Sun."
But with the poor sales of the first two games, the possibilities of a Shenmue III was questionable. There had been multiple interviews with Yu Suzuki asking about if Shenmue III well ever be made, his responds would be:
"I wouldn't feel complete if Shenmue ended with the second game. The voices of our fans are constantly being sent to us, as well. I'm currently scheming to start up some kind of action with the series." - Shenmue.com
"The story is completed. The problem is we have not decided whether or not to move forward with designing the game yet. If there's a demand for it, we'd love to make it, but it is undecided." - Electronic Gaming Monthly
There have been online petitions for a Shenmue III to be develop. The petition has reach up to 20,000 signatures, but not even that could get the development cycle going. It has been so many years since Shenmue II was released, but even to this day, fans still keep a candle light burning for the series to continue forward.
References Outside of the series
In 2009, Ryo Hazuki appeared as a playable racer in Sega's mascot kart-racer, Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing. Ryo appears on the same motorcycle that he was on when he rescued Nozomi from the Mad Angels in the first Shenmue. However, when Ryo activates his "All-Star Move," the motorcycle transforms into a forklift.
Unclear Destiny: The Future of the Shenmue 3 at 1UP