Being a huge fan of the Shenmue series, I was absolutely thrilled when the great Yu Suzuki presented Shenmue 3 at this year’s E3 (I did wonder why nobody shouted out “I see” in the crowd though). Part funded by Sony, with the rest being taken care of via Kickstarter (for which it set the record) and Paypal donations, the game looks set to finally tie-up some of the loose ends of Ryo Hazuki’s slow-burn quest to avenge his father’s death.
Part one of the Shenmue series first made it’s way to our European shores back in December of 2000, a glorious Christmas treat for all those aboard the good ship Dreamcast. Originally intended as a Virtua Fighter RPG for the Sega Saturn, development (and the idea in general) shifted quickly to Sega’s much more capable 128-bit machine. Shenmue was marketed as a Full.Reactive.Eyes.Entertainment (yes I’m pretty sure that was deemed hilarious at the time, too) or the first true open-world city-based game.
Players could interact with anything - did you want to play some cassettes? Pet a kitten? Waste your hard earned money at the arcade or the local shop? Maybe just watch the Rastafarian hot dog store owner dance? Almost everything and anyone could be studied, toyed with or talked to in the city of Yokosuka.
The deep combat system owed a great deal to it’s Virtua Fighter RPG origins - martial arts kicks, punches, throws and blocks could all be learnt as you progressed in the story. Talking to wise elders often resulted in the learning of a new move (the Visual Memory Unit would beep when you got the button combinations right), which you could then practise and master in one of Yokosuka’s playgrounds.
Probably the most notorious gameplay element of Shenmue was it’s marmite quick-time events, or QTE’s. Many key parts of the story descended into tense button-bashing affairs, such as chases and fights - the stand-out being a spectacular brawl against a flock of sailors in a bar (the detective work leading up to this point contains some of the most hilarious dubbing in a game). Post-Shenmue, many studios proceeded to fill their games with QTE’s, pretty much ruining the concept completely - I’m looking at you Ubisoft.
Let us dream of sailors, fork lift trucks, Phoenix mirrors, the four Wude and "the day the snow turned to rain".
The blend of a deep, weaving and emotional storyline crossed with the daily ennui of life made Shenmue a truly fascinating game at the time, and it still holds up today. I can’t think of many other games where you can search for your father’s killer, whilst also taking time out to work as a fork lift truck driver. It’s these peculiar juxtapositions that make the game a truly rare breed.
The forlorn nature of the first game somewhat gave way in the second. Set in a world many times larger than the original, and taking in the whole of Hong Kong and some of the mountainous ranges of China, the graphical style was dialled back, to allow for all the extra NPCs, shops and areas you could visit, and, in my opinion, it improves on the original because of what this allowed. Shenmue 2’s world is bigger, uglier and scarier than the first game - perfectly placing you in Ryo’s mindset, a young man in a completely different culture fending for himself entirely.
HD remasters are often frowned upon by the wider gaming community (and sometimes developers), and sometimes that is definitely fair (did we really need The Last of Us again so soon?) - but Shenmue is such a different experience to anything else on the market that a coat of varnish to the visuals, music and controller options would truly give us a definitive version. I pray that Sega put their money and best men behind this project, to give us something wholly spectacular - akin to Nintendo’s sublime second trip to The Wind Waker. A half-baked job is my only concern with this project - I’d rather see the originals ported over a shonky HD re-master.
There are so many reasons to want a Shenmue HD collection; the story, the fighting, the QTE’s, the hilarious dialogue, and the arcade sessions on Space Harrier and Out-Run among others. Here’s hoping Sega do the right thing - until then, let us dream of sailors, fork lift trucks, Phoenix mirrors, the four Wude and “the day the snow turned to rain”.
Do you want a Shenmue HD Collection? Have you backed Part 3 on Kickstarter or Paypal? Let us know in the forum.