Shenmue: Creator Yu Suzuki Speaks Out
We speak to Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki about the future for the series.
Can there be any story in the history of videogame production as crushingly disappointing as Shenmue? It all started with so much promise. Yu Suzuki, creator of some of the arcade’s finest games – OutRun, Space Harrier, Virtua Fighter – was turning his attention to home consoles with his vision for the most ambitious RPG of all time.
An epic adventure crossing several countries, and spanning 16 proposed chapters, it promised to revolutionise the genre with believable characters, sophisticated real-time combat and open-world exploration. And that’s exactly what it achieved.
“It promised to revolutionise the genre with believable characters, sophisticated real-time combat.”
The first two Shenmue games on Dreamcast, representing chapters 1-5, ushered in a new age for console adventures with a level of depth previously unseen, and went on to influence everything from Grand Theft Auto III to Heavy Rain, Deadly Premonition and even Sega’s own Yakuza. The innovative design of Shenmue was emblematic of Sega’s position in 2000, boundlessly optimistic and driven only by creativity; the developer poured everything it had into the Dreamcast and produced many of its greatest games within a tiny two year window.
This endeared the developer to the hearts of the hardcore but sealed the fate of the company. With $70million in development costs, Shenmue was at that point the most expensive game ever produced, and had absolutely zero chance of recouping its costs from the Dreamcast’s dwindling fanbase as the PlayStation 2 swept in and dominated the public consciousness.
For all of its importance to the evolution of videogames, and despite the devotion of Sega’s faithful fans, Shenmue just wasn’t the sort of game that Sega could afford to make any longer. As the developer abandoned the Dreamcast and shifted toward third-party development, its software focus also shifted to less financially risky titles, and all hopes of ever seeing those last eleven chapters of Ryo Hazuki’s story seemed dashed forever.
This turn of events would have been hard enough to swallow for most fans, but Shenmue devotees have had to put up with much more as Sega occasionally teased revivals in the past decade. Most prominent of these was Shenmue Online, an MMO to be developed by Korea’s JC Entertainment and overseen by Suzuki, which was set around the time and location of Shenmue II.
The game was announced in 2004 and was shown off at some trade shows as late as July 2006, before being quietly cancelled. And just to compound matters, in 2009, rumours surfaced that Yu Suzuki had finally retired from Sega. The publisher denied the claims but did state that Suzuki was remaining at the company in a “much more diminished capacity”. Without Suzuki, the chances of Sega creating a new Shenmue game dropped from slim to none but, despite this, fans clung to the idea that the franchise might still be revived in the future.
Glimpses of hope came in the form of Ryo Hazuki’s appearance in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, while the news that Duke Nukem Forever would finally see release in 2011 after 14 years in the wilderness was encouraging to say the least.
Then, after nine years of despair, Shenmue fans finally got the news they’d been waiting for. Sort of. In October 2010, Yahoo announced that a new Shenmue game, named Shenmue City, would be created for its Mobagetown service, a social gaming platform compatible with both mobile phones and PCs. Further details trickled out, including the involvement of Yu Suzuki as producer and director of the project and that the game’s story would take place during the original game’s first chapter.