Shenmue is an adventure game set in Yokosuka, Japan. It was developed by Yu Suzuki and first released in 1999. The game was praised at the time for its unusual level of interactivity and freedom, for which Suzuki coin the term "FREE"; standing for Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment, and also for the inclusion of the QTE (Quick Time Events) portions that are essential to the gameplay. The game was followed by a Dreamcast sequel released in 2001 only in Europe and Japan, and was later ported to the Xbox in 2002 for all territories.
In an early preview, the February 1999 issue of Computer and Video Games magazine praised the game's FREE concept, stating that Shenmue is "the first go-anywhere, do-anything game that players had dreamed about since the dawn of video games."
The story begins with Ryo Hazuki returning to his family Dojo only to discover his father, Iwao Hazuki, fighting with a mysterious man (whose name is later revealed to be Lan Di), who demands that he hand over an object called the "Dragon Mirror". Ryo attempts to intervene during the fight but is easily struck down by Lan Di. He then takes this opportunity to get the information he wants and lifts Ryo off the ground, threatening to kill him if his father does not reveal the location of the mirror.
Seeing his son in danger prompts Iwao to yield and he reveals that the mirror is buried underneath the Cherry Blossom tree.
As Lan Di's henchmen retrieve the mirror outside, he questions Iwao if he knows of a man named "Sunming Zhao" and then promptly finishes off Iwao. Lan Di then departs with the Dragon mirror in hand, leaving Ryo to grieve for his father's death.
The game play in Shenmue is fairly diverse; most of the game has you walking around Japanese locations in a third-person perspective (talking to various people, looking for clues, solving puzzles, etc.) along with several mini-games including a motorcycle chase, driving a forklift, multiple QTE situations, full versions of classic Sega arcade games and fighting sequences.
The majority of the game is spent in the Free Quest gameplay mode with Ryo exploring the city and looking for leads that will progress the story further. These important clues will often come from talking to the local people of Yokosuka. If the player desires, they may explore the immensely detailed city of Yokosuka without progressing through the story. There are several activities and events to be found throughout the game that don't impact the game's narrative.
Free Battle pits Ryo against one or several enemies in a style similar to fighting games and beat 'em ups. Ryo's fighting style (Hazuki Style) is heavily influenced by Virtua Fighter's Akira Yuki (a game also developed by Yu Suzuki) and utilizes many of the moves from Hakkyoku-Ken. Throughout the game, Ryo has many opportunities to add new moves to his arsenal, either through scrolls bought in stores or learning them from various people he encounters around the city.
The QTE mode is a context sensitive event in the game where the gamer must press the button or direction on the D-pad in a short window of time when prompted. If missed, it will either be game over or the player might be given a second chance with an alternative button. Ryo may also be knocked out and the game would continue on. QTE scenes occur often within the game and are all pre-mapped, meaning that they are not randomized.
In 1993, AM2 made another huge success in the arcades and the home video game market with the first 3D fighting game ever conceived (keep in mind that 4-D Boxing is the first 3D boxing game, not fighting game). This game raised the graphical and technical standards of gaming during this time. This arcade success is known as Virtua Fighter. Following the release of the 1993 arcade classic, Yu Suzuki pondered the idea of an action role playing adventure featuring the characters as well as the storyline from the Virtua Fighter universe. Thus, this is the definitive genesis of the Virtua Fighter Role Playing Game, or VFRPG for short.
The story’s main character was originally intended to be Akira Yuki of Virtua Fighter fame and the antagonist of the game was to be Lao Chan. In the early phases of production the project was given the more specific working title of “Akira’s Quest”. The aspects of this Virtua Fighter inspired by a very ambitious concept that called for a free open world filled with lush environments, true to life characters, a wide range of game play elements, a story that evokes emotion, themes that are universal across all of humanity, spoken dialogue done by professional voice actors, motion captured animations for all characters, in engine cut scenes, the proper use of camera cinematography, all done with more interactivity than that has been required by standard or expected in a game of its time. Meeting every standard AM2 placed on itself was at the heart of the Akira’s Quest project. This hefty list of elements would later make the criteria of Yu Suzuki’s new game genre of which Akira’s Quest and, eventually, Shenmue would a part of. This would ultimately set the wheels in motion for what later became the AM2 effort to create the game that could possibly have saved the Sega Saturn.
From Virtua Fighter Role Playing Game to Shenmue
It is undeniable that Shenmue underwent countless revisions in order to transcend its humble beginnings as the VFPRG idea at its inception. Before Shenmue was in process of being developed for the Sega Saturn, the game’s story and characters saw large revisions. The universal revision made to the project was that it would longer have anything to do with the Virtua Fighter universe. This meant that the game would no longer revolve around Akira Yuki or any of other characters of the series for that matter. That is not to say that the ambitious mold of the Virtua Fighter Role Playing Game was not filled. Yu Suzuki and the AM2 team maintained their vision of this game being of the FREE genre. The VFRPG inspirations remained in the project in spirit. The fighting mechanics and engine served as the very things that would always remain with the project. The aspects of the project that remained were all the various game play elements, the some aspects of major characters’ appearances, and the other aspects of the FREE concept.
In terms of the character changes, Akira Yuki was replaced by Ryo Hazuki and Lao Chan was pushed aside and replaced by Lan Di. Even though their names and appearances are different, one can still see faint resemblances to their Virtual Fighter counterparts. For instance, Akira at the end of Virtua Fighter 2 is seen with short spiky hair and wearing jeans, sneakers, a white t-shirt, two red wrist bands, while carrying a backpack over his shoulder. In the Saturn version of Shenmue, Ryo Hazuki was the lead protagonist and does not have the same facial appearance as Ryo Hazuki in the Dreamcast release of Shenmue. However, he has the same hair, jeans, sneakers, and t-shirt as Akira Yuki. Ryo has one wrist band on and it looks identical to the wrist bands that Akira wore at the end of Virtua fighter 2. Lan Di looks very much like Lao Chan with the exception that Lan Di has no facial hair. Even when looking each character’s fighting style similarities can easily be seen between Ryo and Akira. Lao Chan and Lan Di share the same martial arts style known as the Tiger Swallow Fist. There are other instances where similar looking characters have replaced their Virtua Fighter contemporaries, but they are not as telling as the connections between Ryo to Akira and Lao to Lan.
These pieces of evidence prove just how closely related both franchises are. The other revision concerning the story reveals the tale of a certain Ryo Hazuki, the son of a martial arts teacher and part of a very traditional Japanese family. His quest involves hunting down the dangerous Lan Di, the man responsible for killing Ryo’s father in front of him. Ryo intends to kill his father’s murderer and avenge his father’s death.
The Overlapping Time Line Theory
For reasons mentioned before, it is a sure fact that Shenmue the game was essentially derived from the Virtua Fighter games (specifically Virtua Fighter 2). Even at some point early in creation it was to be of the same universe, but later in the development process AM2 decided to make a new fiction and world for this project, though the new elements were inspired by the other titles. This much is known to be true considering the slow evolution of the main character in Shenmue. However, if one considers the fact that Shenmue is the spiritual successor of the VFRPG, it can also be said that Shenmue, in an indirect way, predates the entire Virtua Fighter series by approximately XXXX years. By overlapping the clues and using some simple arithmetic, the obvious connection between both franchises and their storylines can be further solidified.
A basic fact is that both Akira Yuki and Ryo Hazuki are from . Shenmue’s story starts in the year of 1986, with Ryo being 18 years of age at this point. Taking XXXX and subtracting it from XXXX leaves the fact that Ryo was born in XXXX. The same exact conclusion can be reached when focusing on the character Akira. It is crucial to understand when Virtua Fighter takes place. At this point in time Akira was the age of 25, and by subtracting XXXX from XXXX Akira’s year of birth is XXXX; exactly the
same year Ryo Hazuki was born. Now, moving forward in time can even further solidify the connection between Ryo and Akira. Add XXXX years to Ryo’s birth year and the end result is that the year comes out to be XXXX; the same year in which the original Virtua Fighter takes place. Not only does this show the solid connection between Ryo Hazuki and Akira Yuki, but it also uncovers the time gap between Shenmue and Virtua Fighter’s storyline, leaving Shenmue as being the first canonically. Lastly, this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Shenmue predates the Virtua Fighter series, and does so by seven years.
The Sega Saturn Development Effort
With AM2 being one of the better development teams working for Sega, the group set their sights Sega’s latest hardware venture. Previously, Sega had a little taste of 32-Bit power with the 32X hardware add-on for the 16-Bit Genesis system. Though the brief 32-Bit venture was a commercial failure, Sega’s hardware research and development department was prepared to concoct a system with a solid 32-Bit processing architecture that is native to the platform. This latest platform would come into the video game market under the title Sega Saturn.
The ideas and revisions mentioned in previous sections were implemented in the development of Shenmue for the Sega Saturn. Even the early beginnings of the FREE game genre were able to be seen in this project. During the year 1995, around the time the Saturn project started, quite a few games were available for the system. However, not many of them took full advantage of the system’s capabilities. The Sega Saturn’s internal architecture is much more than just a 32-Bit processor.
The system consists of five microprocessors. one serves as the system’s central processor and another one is
intended for subroutines and auxiliary functions. Two are intended for graphics processing and the last remaining microprocessor was devoted toward audio functions. This is not the only way the Saturn differs from other systems of its time period. The console also uses different fundamentals for media processing and graphical rendering. Other systems of the time used three sided shapes as their 3-D geometric rendering primitives. The Sega Saturn broke the status by using tetragons as its geometric rendering primitive. This primitive makes for less texture distortion, giving the platform a technical edge over its competitors. Given that the development tools for 3-D modeling and design of the time were based off the triangle primitive and the extensive internal architecture, developing games for the Sega Saturn was very difficult. Some developers got around this obstacle by re-purposing certain microprocessors for other tasks. For example, the game Virtual Fighter uses two microprocessors just to render both fighter's models.
There eventually were titles by first and third party developers alike that used the console’s hardware well, but the rest of the games for the Saturn were either not developed too well or were sloppy ported versions of previously released games. AM2 had developed three popular arcade game conversions to the Sega Saturn which were the first two Virtua Fighter games as well as the enormously successful Daytona game. All three titles sold well, but did not manage to cure what ailed the Saturn in terms of having a substantial game library. Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue project was supported by a large budget so it could come out and serve as the Sega Saturn’s tour de force.
This version of the game got to the final stages of development and was a short distance from a retail release. Shenmue’s story and game play mechanics were fleshed out and the game was able to run on a stock standard Sega Saturn. However, the plug was pulled on the Saturn project. This was most likely due to the dying status of the platform. The Saturn was in a precarious situation with a lack of support from Electronic Arts which, at the time, was far and away the biggest and most lucrative third party publisher. Also, other multiplatform titles were favored on the Sony Playstation because they were developed for a platform that had a less advanced and leass complicated hardware. Eventually the Sega Saturn fell away and the Shenmue project was temporarily put on hiatus.