In December of 1999, Yu Suzuki and company finally brought Shenmue to the world. The game, which had been in development since the days of the SEGA Saturn, was the realisation of a grand idea in terms of what gaming could be capable of. It was the first game to really bring free-roaming to console players and offered a glimpse of the potential of open worlds.
Almost sixteen years later, the Kickstarter for Shenmue 3 concluded and gamers are finally going to be getting their hands on the next chapters of the saga. With that in mind, we thought we would take a look at the games that built the legend into what it is today.
For all of the epic promise that the Shenmue series had, the first game was more of a starter course than the main meal. Even so, if still brought a massively vibrant and absorbing world to life, populated with an endearing cast of characters that many players grew to love.
The action was on point too. With a battle system steeped in SEGA’s acclaimed Virtua Fighter system, the combat was fluid and exciting. Couple that with the QTE system, which was popularised by this game after having been introduced in Dynamite Cop, and the potential of the series was plain for all to see.
Even though the game simply gave us the first chapter in a thirty-chapter saga, it was still grandiose on a scale that was rarely seen in the day. Players could absorb themselves in the story or simply spend the day idling around and collecting capsule toys until the sun went down. At the time, the possibilities seemed endless.
With the sequel, Yu Suzuki really ramped things up a notch and delivered a game that utterly dwarfed its predecessor. Starting from the moment that Ryo arrived in Hong Kong while on his search for Lan Di, players were quickly startled by the stunningly rich world that they were presented with.
The battle system was more fluid, the game was so much larger in scope and the slightly more irritating aspects of the original were streamlined, but in essence the game was practically the same on all other counts.
It also pushed the Dreamcast to its limits and it was not uncommon to see system slowdown whenever the player wandered through a crowded area. This ambition has been a hallmark of the series since its inception and with Shenmue 2 that vision was realised in full.
The game eventually came out on the Xbox, after only being released in Japan and PAL territories for the Dreamcast, but didn’t cause the stir that it really should of. Spiralling costs and lower than expected returns seemed to cause the death of the beloved franchise with more than twenty chapters of the story still remaining.
Outside of the stalled Shenmue Online and a mobile game named Shenmue City, which only ever saw release in Japan, it had appeared that the Shenmue series was completely dead. However, in a triumphant appearance at Sony’s E3 conference, Yu Suzuki announced to the world that Ryo and company were coming back. There’s still a long way to go, but gamers all over the world will be waiting with bated breath to finally continue the story of Ryo Hazuki.
Lee Price is a freelance writer and general miscreant who enjoys video games, movies and making dreary situations better by adding copious amounts of alcohol. Follow him on Twitter @Mr_Lee2112 to read his random musings.