A lot of younger gamers were confused when Sony announced a Kickstarter project on their E3 stage this year, with the surprise reveal of Shenmue III. The series was short-lived and ended before many modern gamers were born, so why is it such a big deal? What is this Shenmue everyone is talking about?
The original Shenmue came out in 1999 and was an open-world game set in Japan, originally developed as an RPG of the then-popular Virtua Fighter series, which ultimately evolved into its own IP. The story followed Ryo Hazuki, a young twenty-something who returns home one morning and witnesses the murder of his father by Chinese G-men, led by the mysterious kung fu warrior Lan Di, and then seeks revenge on them. Ryu's investigation into the death of his father leads him to discover an ancient conspiracy, which ultimately guides him to China (where Shenmue II takes place). Whilst largely grounded in reality, the latter end of the series started to feature some unexplained supernatural elements, such as Ryu having dreams about a woman he later meets in Guilin, and a prehistoric prophecy which seems to follow Ryu's journey from Japan to China between the two games. It is known now that the 'saga' was originally planned to encompass an entire series of games, but the untimely death of the Dreamcast system, as well as Sony's subsequent rise to power with the launch of the PlayStation 2 (which served up a brutal fatality for Sega as a console developer), meant that Shenmue was dead in the water. In the years since then, every publisher and developer which Yu Suzuki (the game's director) has approached about a continuation has shot the offer down. It was simply too risky since its demographic had scattered after the death of the Dreamcast, and since the last game saw a disastrous launch (despite being critically-acclaimed), Shenmue instead became a cult classic instead of the iconic franchise its developers had initially intended for it to be.
For the fans, although it was never forgotten, all hope for a continuation of the series had been long since lost. But over the years nostalgia hunters have been giving the original two games all the love they deserve. As a cult classic Shenmue could never fully disappear into obscurity along with the rest of the Dreamcast catalogue. But for a long time, things were awfully quiet regarding a continuation. Attempts were made by Yu Suzuki to revive the series over the years, even going so far as to design an outline for a Shenmue Online game, but none were successful. Even so, fan love for the series never waned.
But what was so good about it?
Unfortunately, due to Yu Suzuki's original plan to spread Ryu's story over a whole series of games, each game ended on a cliffhanger. Shenmue II was no different and fans have been eagerly awaiting the continuation of it for fifteen long years now. But even they could not have predicted that Sony would give Shenmue the stage during this year's dramatic E3. To really see what this series really means to people, check out the following video by Wesley Sanchez:
'The Story Goes On...'
But what does this Kickstarter mean for gaming? Will other dead franchises be resurrected? Oddworld? Beyond Good & Evil?