Sega's Dreamcast was a failed console commercially, and prompted the company to become a third party publisher. A number of factors contributed to its demise, including the high price point and the upcoming PS2 stealing the next gen thunder. While it may not have been a success, it still deserves respect for including features ahead of their time and having a stellar, albeit small, lineup of titles. One game in particular that rocked the industry was Shenmue, created by Yu Suzuki.
The 1999 action-adventure title was unlike anything ever seen before. Its graphics were far ahead of its contemporaries, but that only scratches the surface of its innovations. Shenmue presented an open world for players to explore, and an unprecedented level of interaction. The main character, Ryo, could stray from the main quest to chat it up with the town's denizens, play arcade games, or even do a small handful of side quests. The whole experience was fully voice acted, NPCs had their own set routines, and the player had to adhere to schedules where a day was compressed into about an hour. Some of the features may seem quaint by today's standards, but they were mind blowing twenty years ago.
Unfortunately, the game and its sequel were not as profitable as Sega hoped, squashing hopes for a third game until it was finally announced in 2015. With Shenmue III right around the corner, we thought it a good time to talk about the original classic that started it all. The following list will present ten secrets behind the making of the first Shenmue. It's spoiler free, so take a look even if you haven't played the game. And if that's the case, buy and play it immediately after reading.
Footage exists from this stage of development, and it looks mighty impressive. It's a good thing they had the opportunity to take advantage of newer, more capable hardware, but it would have been interesting to play such a high-concept title on the Saturn.
Ryo's whole journey was meant to start and finish in one title. However, Yu Suzuki and his team soon realized this was too much to chew, so they split up the story.
Shenmue II is set in China, while the first game takes place entirely in his home town. The first game is beefy even by today's standards. It's hard to imagine them fitting even more content than what is already present on the discs.
Shenmue sold over a million copies, which made it one of the top five selling games for the system. In 1999, moving that many units was no small feat. Unfortunately, the game was doomed for failure from the start.
It was extremely expensive to make, and the Dreamcast sold less than ten million units worldwide. For the game to make a profit, it would have to have sold at least twice of what it did, making it into a quarter of Dreamcast owners' homes
The game's budget was somewhere between forty-seven million and seventy million dollars, which made it the most expensive game ever produced by 1999. To be fair, some of this money also includes Shenmue II's development, but that still makes both endeavors pricey. Sega is commendable for investing so much in a product that obviously wouldn't appeal to every gamer.
The original plan was for Shenmue to be set in the Virtua Fighter canon. This changed after development switched to the Dreamcast to give the console a new IP.
Some Virtua Fighter DNA is still in the final product, seeing as how hand to hand combat is a key mechanic.
To ensure the story rose above other video game narratives, Yu Suzuki recruited Screenwriters and Film Directors to help craft the plot, and gave them little limitation as to where their imagination could go. It's evident in the final product that Shenmue's story is a notch above other titles. While the voice acting is poor compared to modern games, many key moments that still hit hard emotionally.
Yu Suzuki started his tenure with Sega designing arcade games. Some of his credits include the Virtua Fighter series, Virtua Cop, Hang-On, and Space Harrier. The latter two titles are fully playable in Shenmue.
His seminal Dreamcast game came out of a desire to make something that lasted more than a few minutes.
When the game was still a Virtua Fighter adventure game, Akira was the main protagonist. It dealt with a similar conflict, but would have tied into the popular fighting franchise. Ryo still bears a slight resemblance to the character.
A remake of the first two Shenmue games was recently in the works, but put out to pasture in 2017 because of technical issues. It's a shame too; it would have been spectacular to see the world remade with modern visuals. As a consolation prize, Sega released the games on the PC, PS4, and XBOX One.
Before the game fully went into production, the team developed a prototype for the Sega Saturn called The Old Man and the Peach Tree. The concept was simple; the player inquires to an old man about a Karate master, and the old man says he reveal where he is after the player gets him a peace. After doing so, the old man reveals himself to be the master. This simple idea was crafted to test out the mechanics that would later show up in Shenmue.