In the world of Sega and especially the Dreamcast, few video game series were able to live up to the considerable hype that preceded them. And while some critics thought Shenmue was nothing more than a poor attempt at writing a real saga, others knew better. And although the chances of seeing this series come back to today's consoles are slim, it should and it must.
So what is Shenmue? Shenmue is the result of $70 million and countless of hours of development that were summed up in one simple statement at the beginning of the saga:
"He shall come from a far eastern land across the sea. A young man who has yet to know his potential. This potential is a power that could either destroy him or realize his will. His courage shall determine his fate. The path he must traversed brought with adversity. I await whilst praying, for this destiny predetermined since ancient times. Awaiting in anticipation. A dragon emerges from the earth as ominous clouds fill the sky. A phoenix descends from the heavens trailing purple from its wings. The pitch-black night unfolds with the morning star as its only light. And thus, the saga begins....."
And it's that saga that not only revolutionized gaming, but kept millions across the globe captivated by the story of Ryo Hazuki, a young man who watched his father die at the hands of the Lan Di in 1986. From there, this Japanese man set out to find the man who killed his father, solve the mystery of why his father was killed and seek revenge.
Although a few simple paragraphs may not do this story justice, those that have played the titles and want to lead Ryo in his quest know that there would be no greater moment than to hear Sega announce that the next installment in the series is coming soon.
The story behind-the-scenes of Shenmue isn't nearly as epic as Yu Suzuki's own story. In reality, the series cost Sega far too much cash at a time when its hardware business was on the ropes and it was trying to find its way in a gaming environment that had left it far behind.
According to most estimates, Shenmue's original capital outlay was about $70 million. During the development, Yu Suzuki created the full storyline and prepped for what he thought could be a seven-part series. In essence, he believed that $70 million was more of an investment than an expense.
But after selling the first game for the floundering Dreamcast, the future was in doubt for the popular franchise even though it sold about 1.2 million units. To stop the bleeding, Shenmue II was released on the Dreamcast soon thereafter, but it was not met with the same kind of love and adoration because, well, the Dreamcast was dead.
Realizing this, Sega ported the title to the Xbox after it raised the white flag in the console business. Again the game was met with poor sales because some viewed it as an ugly title with graphics that couldn't live up to other games on the platform, while others who hadn't played the first game knew nothing about the story.
After two disappointing releases of Shenmue II and issues over how much the company spent and would have to spend to continue the saga, development went dark. And although some rumor sites have cropped up claiming Shenmue III is in development, most game journalists agree that the chances of it coming back soon are slim.
And while that may sound damning to the cause, Yu Suzuki has consistently said that he would like to finish the series and a slew of websites have cropped up that hope for the same thing. On top of that, a lively forum is currently online that, years later, a number of people still visit and opine about the future of Ryo Hazuki and his quest to avenge his father's murder.
And it's that evidence that points to the necessity for Sega to revive the Shenmue series and finally allow gamers from across the globe to finish what they started. Where we left off, Ryo was in Hong Kong looking for Lan Di and was met with a number of new faces that would help him in his journey. There's no reason to suggest we can't continue that mission now.
The biggest issue facing a revival is the current state of the industry. Years ago, companies were far more willing to take chances and innovation usually gained a foothold when met with suits looking to turn a quick profit.
But all that has changed.
Today, developers are far more concerned about cash than innovation and consumer desire is rarely taken into account if it doesn't breed immediate results. But Shenmue could be different. With millions across the globe hoping to end the series on a high note, Sega may have something on its hands that could turn a major profit.
Here's an ideal scenario that would help everyone win:
Sega should release the entire Shenmue series so far (parts I and II) on both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. This title would help those who haven't played the game finally understand what Shenmue is all about and ensure that everyone has a basis of understanding when they finish the saga. But here's the catch -- release this DVD in tandem with the final chapter in the series. Instead of the customary $60 price tag, maybe Sega should charge $70 for the entire Shenmue series in one case to offset some of the cost.
Once that plan is set in motion, Sega should let Suzuki loose and set out on a year-long marketing campaign to build up hype for the final chapters in the Shenmue story. Sega should promote the title as an epic adventure that carries people through 20 years as Ryo Hazuki finally sets out to avenge his father's death.
In essence, Sega should create a single release that carries you from the beginning of a saga through the end in a title that could span over a dozen discs. And as long as it's done properly, there's no reason to suggest that in this era of gaming, Sega couldn't turn a considerable profit.
Call me a Shenmue fanboy or a glutton for punishment, but Sega should not only revive the series, but it must finally offer the saga's huge following the opportunity to finish what Yu Suzuki started.
If you haven't played the Shenmue series, you owe it to yourself to play through parts I and II.
Trust me, it's that good.