Shenmue Musings (Shenmusings?)

ryohazuki_iconIt’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Shenmue III is really happening. It’s not that I didn’t think it eventually would. I never wrote it off as an impossibility. I’ve been into video games long enough to know that anything with a cult following as dedicated as Shenmue‘s will eventually come back around in some way, shape or form. Maybe it’s just because it all still feels nebulous. It’s been 14 years since Shenmue II was originally released, and it’ll be another three while we wait for the next game to be developed. But at least we know it exists, and it’s coming.

But it has made me reflect on my own affection for the series. I sort of feel like I fell into it a little awkwardly. I did not buy it when it first came out, as I wasn’t sure if it would be the kind of game I would like. Frankly, it sounded a little tedious. But I eventually picked it up on a whim about a year later (and at a nice budget price), and very quickly fell in love with it.

True, it wasn’t a fast-paced action game, nor was it your traditional RPG, but I was drawn in by the detective-like intrigue: talking to people, following leads, trying to solve whatever mystery was placed in front of me. And all of it happened in an incredibly detailed, atmospheric world. In fact, I think that’s what made it work. What fun is solving a mystery if every clue and checkpoint is laid out neatly in front of you? If truth be told, Shenmue has more in common with classic adventure games than either RPGs or open-world sandbox games.

But that world, itself, was the meat of the experience. Something about simply inhabiting it is a joy in and of itself. It’s so meticulously sculpted and fully realized, it’s hard not to admire it, even if the main “interaction” is just looking at it. Shenmue really isn’t so much a game game as it is an experience.

I fell in love with Shenmue so quickly that I instantly decided I was on board for the sequel on day one. And it was scheduled to be released on the Dreamcast just about a month later! It would be the last major release for the console in North America.

But literally two days after I bought Shenmue, it was announced that the sequel was canceled on the Dreamcast so it could be an Xbox exclusive. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster. I discover this amazing game only to be immediately slapped in the face with it.

That’s all history now, but I must embarrassingly confess that, to this day, I have still never played Shenmue II. I never did own an original Xbox, I never had the opportunity to get the European Dreamcast version, and I’m not really into the whole emulation thing. So, that leaves an enormous hole in my Shenmue experience. And I call myself a fan.

But with the success of the recent Kickstarter, there’s a chance it may have turned Sega’s head just a bit. I feel more confident that the first two games could see PC ports before the release of the third. Then again, this is Sega we’re talking about, so we’ll see.

But as for the Kickstarter, itself, well, it would’ve been nice if it wasn’t necessary and Shenmue III could be an actual Sega production, but that just wasn’t going to happen. As an independent project, it at least gives full creative control to Yu Suzuki to make a game aimed at the dedicated fans. And lets face it, after a decade-and-a-half and against all odds, Shenmue III is a game that Suzuki and the fans have willed into existence. Let’s not take this for granted.

Not to mention, Yu Suzuki, like Koji Igarashi, is a game creator whom I want to see continue making games, always. Whether it be with official sequels, spiritual successors, or completely original projects, I couldn’t be happier to see these guys back in action.

Shenmue III is a true Hail Mary pass. The final play. If Shenmue III doesn’t succeed, there will absolutely not be a Shenmue IV (or V), and the series will forever remain unfinished. But I would like to think that in the last 14 years, Shenmue has found its audience. It may not necessarily be a mainstream audience, but it’ll be reliable. And if we can get this far, the sky’s the limit. Let’s enjoy this Shenmue Renaissance (Shenaissance?) while we can.


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