SEGA Sequel Saturdays: Shenmue

I’d like to start our fourth episode of SEGA Sequel Saturdays by congratulating Yu Suzuki, who will be honored with the Pioneer Award at at the 2011 Game Developers Choice Awards, and I figured that it would be appropriate to devote this week’s to Shenmue, a series that’s near and dear to the hearts of many a SEGA fan.

Shenmue is, aside from featuring one of the biggest cliffhangers in video gaming, a game that polarized audiences. Some found it to be one of the best games they had ever played, others hated the slow-paced detective gameplay, which favored NPC interaction and environment immersion over fights and action scenes.

If I were going to bet, most readers of SEGAbits probably fall into the former category rather than the latter, and I’m sure you’re as eager as I am to experience a third Shenmue game.

Shenmue II did what any great sequel should do; it took what was worked in the original game and updated it, fixing many of its issues while at the same time preserving the same experience that Shenmue fans fell in love with in the first place. My initial vision for Shenmue III would allow for even more interaction with the world, including a roster of new and returning jobs to take on. I’d have even more gambling opportunities, a transportation system in place to take you from one part of the city to another, and of course, an even bigger arcade for some good old retro SEGA awesomeness. We’d see the return of Shenmue 1’s level of attention to detail; you’d be able to find cassette tapes and listen to them as you walked around, and you’d get to explore every drawer and cabinet in whatever hideout Ryo would find himself crashing at. You’d get to interact with your friends a lot more as well, giving great characters like Ren and Joy more development time, and controls would be improved to be a little less stiff. Shenmue and Shenmue II would both be in the box, as would a 30-minute movie that sums up the events from them if a person new to the series wants to jump right into Shenmue III.

[A discovered image of what might be Bailu Village, something we never got a chance to see in Shenmue II. Where is Shenmue III?]

It’s hard to say, though, if much of this would even be possible, because we don’t have any idea where Shenmue III would be going. I’m assuming, though I could be wrong, that a 3rd Shenmue game would be a slightly more rural and mystical experience, especially considering Shenmue II’s ending in a Guilin cave with floating swords and giant mirror displays. How do we even know that there would be big cities this time around? What role will Shenhua, who will be journeying with you, play?

In a recent 1up interview, Yu Suzuki explained that Shenmue III wouldn’t “expand outward, but inward,” which maybe implies a smaller, slightly more intimate world than Shenmue II featured, with more emphasis on its characters. Suzuki goes onto talk about a system where you’d make choices that would influence how the characters would interact and relate to each other. This seems like it would be the natural step forward for the series, as companies like Bioware have made very popular games with this type of character interactivity. That said, if we are really going to have a Shenmue game where how you interact with the characters will affect various aspects of their relationships, I feel like I have to stress that I wouldn’t want the player to have the ability to change the story’s main beats and the ending. Shenmue has always been about one definite story, and all gamers should have the ability to experience this story as it was originally intended to be seen, regardless of the choices they make over the course of the game.

[Shenmue II really knocked it out of the park with the gambling opportunities. I’d see each of them return with tons of others as well. The slot houses especially could use an upgrade.]

The one other thing I’d have to address is the voice acting…and I’m torn. On one hand, the Shenmue games’ script and voice acting has been pretty awful in many respects, but then again, I don’t think I can picture playing a Shenmue game without Corey Marshall and Eric Kelso doing voices. I think that I’d want the main characters to stay the same but step it up in the voices for the minor characters that you’d interact with. An option for Japanese voice acting wouldn’t hurt. Improving the script shouldn’t be too big of a problem, as the Yakuza series seems to do very well in that category.

[Does anything else need to be said about this music?]

Shenmue III has to happen. It’s just too fantastic a series to go unfinished, and a sequel could continue to add more while at the same time, as Suzuki himself says, placing more of an emphasis on the characters and their development. With so long a time between installments, a part of me does worry that Shenmmue III will be changed too much, that it won’t feel like the same Shenmue. As long as care is taken to preserve what makes Shenmue, well, Shenmue, I think it’s possible to develop a sequel that fans will love and today’s gaming community can embrace, even if it has now been over ten years since we’ve played the first one.

As always, leave your comments below.

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11 responses to “SEGA Sequel Saturdays: Shenmue

  1. Supa says:

    Agreed on all aspects, really. I really hate waiting for a game that should have been in our hands years ago. Bring on Shenmue III!

  2. Sharky says:

    Fantastic write up for the best series ever made.

    Anyway, As for the choices in Shenmue 3 that may change the game story. I'm actually up for this… I think if they ever remake the original 2 games the one thing they need to add is a way to interact with Ryos closest NPCs that changes their friendship towards you either for better or worse.

    While I don't think there should be any huge game changing choices that completely split the events of the game… I would actually like it if at the final, end battle after you beat Lan Di you can actually choose the moral choice of killing him or letting him live… I think that would be the biggest and most awesome 'choice' of any game ever considering how much time you put into finding him, what you learn about him and his reasons and all the people along the way warning you that revenge is the wrong path.

  3. cube_b3 says:

    The only thing I can say is that Shenmue 3 has to destroy every modern game that has been made since.

    The story is important but it is not nearly as important as the next gen F R E E experience that I am waiting for.

  4. Sharky says:

    ^No, it really doesn't have to do anything of the sort… I want it to continue just as it was. A new and improved engine/graphics of course but other then that I don't think it needs to strive to be anything but what it already is.

  5. As long as a third game is equal to the greatness of the second, I'll be happy. Improved graphics is obvious, though as far as gameplay goes, I think only a few innovations are needed. We don't want the game to suffer from "Duke Nukem Forever" syndrome and continually get delayed because it needs to best the most recently released games (Mass Effect, Fable, Red Dead). Shenmue 2 had nearly perfected the system established in the first game, and a third game needn't do too much more to make it perfect.

  6. Supa says:

    Agreed. Though if it sold a million+ copies, and destroyed the games at sales, I wouldn't mind in the slightest.

  7. -nSega54- says:

    The only problem with giving Ryo choices that change the story is that I want to beat the game with the story ending the way it was always supposed to end. Shenmue 1 and 2 gave you no choices with regard to how their stories progressed (with the exception of little events and some events turning out differently if you messed up a QTE in the 2nd installment) so I feel like it's too late to implement this.

    I will agree though that allowing choices for how certain relationships play out would definitely be someting that should be done, if a Shenmue 3 were to be made. But giving you MAJOR choices, like whether you kill Lan Di or not, I'd probably hate that.

    I actually doubt Ryo will kill Lan Di anyway, personally. I don't even think it'll come to that.

  8. -nSega54- says:

    Argh. The videos got messed up. I just put 'em back. Check out the tunes if you haven't yet. Good music. :]

  9. George says:

    I think one thing they did miss in the game was the ability to 'change your relationship' do to choices in the game. It wouldn't change the overall 'story' but it would change minor characters and how you know them/react to you.

  10. -nSega54- says:

    ^Yup. And that's (I think) what Suzuki's getting at here when he's talking about possible ideas for Shenmue III.

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