There are certain games that I hold on a pedestal and then there is Shenmue. Needless to say, when it was announced at E3 that finally we would be getting that coveted third installment, I went nuts. Instantly a flurry of thoughts rushed to my head, recounting my nostalgia for the series. Those quick time events, massive street brawls, sailors, the infamous cave moment, and even Tom the hot dog guy. What better time than now to share my thoughts on the series and the subsequent Kickstarter that has taken the internet by storm. So without further ado, lets talk some Shenmue.
I still remember the day I first got my copy of the game. Literally everyone I knew had preordered it and it was all anyone was talking about at school. Come lunch time, it was literally thirty of us kids huddled around one of the library computers waiting for QuickTime to load the trailer. If memory serves, the old librarian kicked us all out, but it only meant the hype train had to watch the trailer at the computer lab. When school finally let did out, it was a race to get home, no time for love Doctor Jones, Shenmue awaits.
As a young kid back in the day, Shenmue struck all the right chords for me. Marital arts? Check. A call back to the 80's beat-em up films? Double check. A graphical prowess I had never seen before in any video game? Mind blown. With the iconic intro cinematic done, it was time to finally see what this game was all about.
What lay before me was a gigantic open world, people to meet, quests to be had, a father to be avenged! In all the coverage leading up to Shenmue, Yu Suzuki really harped on the notion that Shenmue allowed for ultimate freedom of exploration. Ironically dubbed 'FREE' ("Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment") players would see a living breathing world before them. Dynamic weather, random citizens going about their lives, a virtual second life. I bought into this concept hook line and sinker. Knowing this, what was the very first thing I did in Shenmue you may ask? Why I knocked on doors of course! Literally for a good half hour all I did was walk to random apartment buildings and I knocked on doors and yes it was amazing.
Now I don’t want to go all back in my day on you, but know that before Shenmue, the very concept of the open cityscape in a game wasn’t really a thing. Sure open worlds existed before, but their scope was usually lacking. Take the Ocarina of Time for instance, yes the fields of Hyrule are quite expansive, but they were also quite empty. Shenmue on the other hand provided near limitless possibilities for the player. If you saw a shop that was of interest to you, then by all means enter. See that lady walking down the block? Go bother her and ask her strange questions about sailors and Chinese gangsters. Staying out too late on the streets? Now notice how a different type of crowd begins to populate them. And whatever you do, don’t stay out too late, lest you worry Ine San.
This is exactly what Suzuki wanted for us in Shenmue. For the player to make Ryo Hazuki a true extension of themselves. Develop your own daily routine, mange your money (or don’t), get to work on time, or waste your days at the arcade. After all, it was your life to live in Yokosuka. So yes while in the beginning I knocked on doors like some deranged madman, in time I molded Ryo's life into what I wanted it to be. A little bit of detective work in the day time, some martial arts training in the evening, and some R&R come nightfall. I'm fully aware how corny this may sound, but at that time and place, nothing could have been cooler in a video game.
Putting all that nostalgia behind me, how do I really feel about the announcement that Shenmue III is officially a thing? Excited, thrilled, ecstatic, jubilant etc etc. After being left on a cliff hanger for nearly fifteen years, to know that closure is just around the corner, well yeah my smile is ear to ear. Maybe once upon a time the inner cynic in me might have questioned the intricacies of this particular Kickstarter. Does Suzuki still have it in him to give us a worthy sequel? Truth be told he hasn't been very active in regards to making video games these past years. Who exactly is really funding this? Why in the world did we need a stretch goal for subtitles? If Sony and Suzuki have been planning this for over a year, why have they divulged such little information regarding the true scope of this game?
Skepticism aside, countless IP's go the way of the dinosaur, more successful ones than Shenmue too. Yet here we are years later and this is actually a thing that is coming out and I'm talking about it. While we can give all the credit in the world to Yu Suzuki, Sony, and the Kickstarter backers, none of this would have been possible without the Shenmue community. Websites like Shenmue Dojo, Shenmue 500k, the Dreamcast forums, the Dreamcast YouTubers and so on. They all carried the torch for all these years and never once did they let the series become irrelevant. Yes at times it was desperate, maybe even foolhardy, but the vast majority out there kept their heads above the water. This is your victory as much as it is for Suzuki and company. In the end all I can say is this, revenge is a dish best served cold and Lan Di, I'm finally coming for you!
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