Two words: Shenmue 3.
Amazingly brill news for you retro-types this week, as a tweet from a Canal+ reporter says that iconic games creator Yu Suzuki is thinking of releasing a new chapter in the Shenmue saga. (I assume it does anyway, as other news sites ran with such a story; I don’t speak French and there’s quite a telling spelling mistake in there so, for all I know, that tweet might say “Yu Suzuki declares he’s thinking about having a crown to wear produced through Kickstarter, instead of Shenmue 3.”
Everyone I know that played the first Shenmue game for the Sega Dreamcast fell in love with it. And I truly mean everyone. Never have I heard the word ‘meh’ or worse when discussing the 1999 JRPG which regularly appears in many publications’ all-time Top 100 lists.
(A wave of DC memories comes flooding back to me at this point; the scoreboard on Virtua Striker being too small to say “Golden Goal” in full after a drawn game so shortening to “G-Goal” as extra time began; that bloody VMU which you could remove from the controller and do…well, close to absolutely nothing with on its own; the near-obsession of a school-friend of mine who would physically challenge anyone who had something bad to say about the console. Good times.)
At its heart, Shenmue was an adventure game following Ryo as he tried to find those responsible for and avenge his father’s death while seeking out a legendary…erm, mirror. What really made the game was its open-world exploration; a clear forerunner to GTA3 and the like, Shenmue was a beautifully-made game which, like the Dreamcast it played so nicely on, was years ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, being years ahead doesn’t automatically attract an audience. The already-struggling Dreamcast couldn’t capitalise on Shenmue’s disheartening sales and, according to this interview with Suzuki, the game cost about $70 million to make (although he has since lowered the estimate to about $47 million, still nothing to sneeze at) – with no chance of recouping the losses, SEGA still went ahead and published a sequel, which was even less commercially successful and now rather rare.
So the current deal is: Suzuki owns a studio and works as a special advisor for SEGA, although he hasn’t updated the studio site in ages and SEGA is little more than a t-shirt printer at the moment. His last attempt to visit Shenmue in 2010 resulted in a very unsuccessful social networking game. He still wants to make a third chapter in the story, which would then be rounded out with an anime or manga, and could look to Kickstarter to get the project off the ground.
As long as he doesn’t end up asking for another $50 million, I have high hopes that we’ll see the return of Ryo – once all that messy rights ownership stuff gets sorted out.