Shenmue, called Shenmue: Ichishou Yokosuka (シェンムー 一章 横須賀) in Japan (i.e. "Chapter I: Yokosuka") , is an adventure game produced and directed by Yu Suzuki and developed by Sega AM2. It was published by Sega for the Sega Dreamcast in late 1999.
Shenmue stands as one of the most significant video games ever published by Sega, at the time being the most expensive game ever produced, and having unparalleled interactivity and freedom, real-time day/night and weather systems, fully voiced non-playable characters and cutting edge graphics. Borrowing from many genres of video games, Suzuki coined a new genre name, "F.R.E.E." (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment) to describe it.
As the Japanese name suggests, Shenmue consists of the first chapter in what is currently an unfinished story.
The fictional story of Shenmue begins on November 29, 1986, in the perspective of the protagonist Ryo Hazuki (芭月 涼 Hazuki Ryō) returning home to his family dojo to witness his father, Iwao Hazuki battling with a man named Lan Di, dressed in Chinese attire, who demands he hand over an item known as the "Dragon Mirror". Ryo intervenes in battle after his father is felled, but is injured by a blow from Lan Di. As his father refuses to reveal the location of the mirror, Lan Di lifts Ryo from the ground and threatens to kill him with a final blow, which prompts Iwao to reveal its location underneath the Cherry blossom tree.
After Lan Di's henchmen recover the mirror, he asks Iwao if he knows of a man called "Sunming Zhao" and then kills him after forcibly asking him to stand as a warrior to face his end. As Ryo lies injured on the floor of the dojo, Lan Di and his men leave the Hazuki household. After Ryo has partially recovered he feels that he must dutifully gain revenge for the murder of his father, and begins to instigate inquiries into the incident with the local people of his hometown, Sakuragaoka.
Ryo's first clue is a car that some of his neighbours saw on the day of the murder. Though his leads are few and far between, Ryo slowly makes progress in his investigation by interviewing people all over Yokosuka. Just as he is about to run out of leads, a letter from a man named Yuanda Zhu suggests that he seek the aid of a certain Master Chen, who works at the harbour. Through Chen and his son Guizhang, Ryo learns that a local wharf gang known as the Mad Angels is connected to Lan Di's crime organization, the Chiyoumen. Ryo also learns that "the mirror" stolen by Lan Di is part of a set of two mirrors. After much investigation, he locates the second mirror underneath his father's dojo. This mirror is decorated with a Phoenix.
Ryo takes a job on the waterfront in order to learn more about the Mad Angels gang, and eventually he causes them enough trouble that the gang kidnaps his friend (and principal love interest) Nozomi Harasaki. To rescue Nozomi, Ryo must first fight Guizhang, then team up with Guizhang to defeat all seventy members of the Mad Angels gang. Upon defeat, the gang's leader reveals to Ryo that Lan Di has left Japan for Hong Kong. With the aid of the Chen family as well as his family and friends, Ryo boards a boat to Hong Kong. Before the close of the first chapter (and subsequent end of the game itself), he is instructed by Master Chen to seek out the help of a master of the Chinese martial arts located in Wan Chai named Lishao Tao.
Shenhua, a mysterious young girl who haunts Ryo's dreams.
Concluding the first chapter of Shenmue, Ryo boards a boat and travels to Hong Kong in pursuit of Lan Di.
Gameplay in Shenmue is diverse; while most of the game is spent walking around the atmospheric, life-like Japanese locations in a third-person 'chase cam' mode (talking to people, searching for things, solving puzzles, and so forth), it is interspersed with many 'mini-games', including forklift and motorcycle races, bar fights, chases down crowded alleys, full versions of Sega arcade games Space Harrier and Hang-On (both originally programmed by Shenmue creator and director, Yu Suzuki), dart games, and 'free fighting' sequences.
Most of the action occurs in quick-time event (QTE) sequences, in which cutscenes differ in outcome depending on your accuracy in hitting buttons in a timely fashion.
At Game Developers Conference 2014, Yu Suzuki presented a postmortem of Shenmue, one of the single biggest project ever undertaken by Sega (or indeed any video game company), with an end budget of reportedly $70 million USD (later revised down to $47 million). Development began as early as 1993, when Suzuki took a trip to mainland China, learning about martial arts and scouting locations for possible game ideas.
In its earliest stages, Shenmue was known as The Old Man and The Peach Tree, a Sega Saturn game set in the city of Luoyang in 1950s China. The game was to feature a protagonist, Taro in pursuit of a mysterious figure called Master Ryu, and would play like a more traditional RPG.
As time moved on, The Old Man and The Peach Tree became a spin-off of the popular Virtua Fighter series of fighting games, now starring Akira. Now the project was being referred to as Virtua Fighter RPG (codenamed Guppy), and many of these early Virtua Fighter elements still exist in the final game, both in the fighting mechanics, and lead characters, Ryo still loosely resembling Akira and Lan Di possibly resembling Lau. The game was set to be a 45-hour adventure at this point.
Nearing two years of development, Virtua Fighter RPG shed its Virtua Fighter aesthetics in favour of an original cast of characters (although the idea was partially revisited in 2004's Virtua Quest). A significant amount of footage has emerged from the period which followed - Shenmue, much as we know it today, running on the Sega Saturn, in what is widely considered to be one of greatest technical showpieces on the system. Yu Suzuki has claimed that working on the Saturn was a very difficult task, but he was proud of what his team had achieved on the 32-bit system.
Inevitably due to the Saturn's struggle in Western markets, the still untitled Shenmue was brought to the Sega Dreamcast (then under its codename "Katana" - Katana-branded cigarettes are available throughout the game as a reference to this period). In the early days, the Katana specs had not been finalised, forcing Suzuki's team to make educated guesses as to how the game would perform. It was later retitled Project Berkley, and featured on a special preview disc distributed with the 1998 Dreamcast release of Virtua Fighter 3tb in Japan.
Size became an issue. While Shenmue was originally set to cover eleven chapters, in its raw form, its planned length covered 50-60 CD-ROMs, forcing the team to focus on ways to compress data. One space saving measure employed was to recycle animations for multiple characters, including at one point, to animals, leading to bipedal cats and men "strutting like Marilyn Monroe".
Shenmue employed various techniques that up until this point had only been seen in movie production. Every character, no matter how minor, was animated via clay models and was given a voice (both in Japanese and English), and the game was given a cinematic musical score performed by an ochestra headed by Takenobu Mitsuyoshi.
In terms of polygon counts, the first location background in Shenmue has 57,120 polygons, in addition to 3207 polygons per tree, and with 3000 to 14,331 polygons per character.
Originally set for an August 1999 release date, Yu Suzuki announced at Tokyo Game Show '99 Spring that the game had been pushed back to December. Instead, What's Shenmue was released in August in its place, to help promote the game ahead of the full release.
Shenmue saw wide critical acclaim after release due to the many revolutionary features it brought to the world of video games. However, despite the praise, Shenmue struggled to sell. Some critics believed the game was far too slow and self indulgent. Though easy to sell to Japanese audiences, Western consumers found the game's themes unappealing.
The game sold at a massive loss, and it is predicted that every Dreamcast owner would have needed to buy the game twice in order for it to turn a profit. Initial plans were to create a trilogy of Shenmue games, and although Shenmue II saw a release (with a much smaller budget), Shenmue III has been in development hell for nearly a decade.
The game includes both Japanese and English speech/subtitles in the West. However in Japan, only Japanese was an option. For unknown reasons Sega would later release U.S. Shenmue in Japan - exactly the same game but with the English dub.
While considered a market failure, Shenmue has developed a cult following and remains one of the highest rated Dreamcast games ever made. Many of its ideas regarding an open, freely explorable world have been revisited in the Yakuza series of games, starting with the original PlayStation 2Yakuza in 2005.
Various Sonic the Hedgehog characters (and Sonic Team characters, such as NiGHTS.) appear as UFO Figurines collected through Gumball machines. They feature models based off Sonic the Fighters.
Voice Recording Production Coordination: Kei Kimura, Megumi Igei, Kei Miura
Voice Recording Assistant Manager: Emi Wakamatsu
Voice Recording Production Account: Yuriko Mameshiro
Translation Coordinator: Mayumi Sakazaki
Translation Project Manager: Pako Hanaoka
Translation Localize Engineer: Akiho Tazukuri
Translation Chief Editor: Sid Lloyd
Cast: Corey Marshall, Debora Rabbai, Ruth Hollyman, Paul Lucas, Robert Jefferson, Terry Osada, Eric Kelso, Dennis Falt, Ryan Drees, Jerry Ledbetter, Alex Hayns, Rob Croker, Eric Jacobson, Gregg Ladd, Anne Slater, Terry Osada, Guy Perryman, Lenne Hardt, Brian Matt-Uhl, Claire O'Connor, Cara Jones, William M. Sullivan, Lynn M. Harris, Dario Toda, Patrick De Volpi, Julia Yermakov, Jeff Manning, Jerri Sorels, Chris Wells, Colleen Lanki, Mireille Watanabe, Jeff Gedert, Kurt Common, Patrick Harlan, Robert Belgrade, Amanda Satchell
Other Cast: Tom Clark, John Ogelvee, Bianca Allen, Walter Roberts, Brit Ofstedal, Carlos Teuscher, Mark Hagan, Kezia Tobin, Mike Thro, Kimberly Forsythe, Michael Naishtut, Clark Bowdoin, Miki Sato, Greg Irwin, Mona Alawdeen, Jun Shimoda, Monica Taylor Horgan, Scott McCulloch, Monika Hudgins, Douglas J. Kirl, Yuho Yamaguchi, Takashi Yamaguchi, Rumiko Varnes, David Chester, Ross Mihara, David Schaufele, Lonnie Hirsch, Dennis Gunn, Donna Burke
Voice Talent Coordination: Voice Talent Coordination, New York Imagic Inc.
Promotion: AOI Studio Co. Ltd., Digital Media Lab, Inc., Digital System, Libero, NHK Enterprises 21, Inc., Polydor K.K, Sega Music Network Co. Ltd., Studio 4?, Tsutaya, Minoru Takahashi Design Room, Tetorapdtransthorty
Acotors/Actresses & Extra: AC Factary, Phoenix, Toho Gakuen, Wild Stunt Team, Animex Company, Central Children's Talent Co. Ltd., Himitsukiti, Kaimonkensya, Mantle Pudding Theater, Tokyo Orange
Costumes & Properties: Nouveie Vague, Toho E-B Co. Ltd., From Up, Mindoll
Voice: 81 Produce, Artsvision, Haikyo, Half Hp Studio Co. Ltd, Magic Capsule Co. Ltd, MBA Corporation, Motoko Inagawa Office, Office Chk, Osawa Office, Production Baobab, Ezaki Production
Production: 2D6G, Advanced Technology & Information, Ancient, ASCII Corporation, Aspect, Avant Inc., Biox Co. Ltd, Compozila, Creek & River Co. Ltd, CSK Research Institute Corp., DigitalScape Co. Ltd, Eathly Production Inc., Elseware Ltd., H.I.C. Co. Ltd., I.T.L Corporation, I4 Corporation, Intelligence Ltd., Itec, Media Desgin & Art Ltd., Media Entertainment, Microcabin Corp., MRM, Muse The Staff, NeverLand Co. Ltd., Nextech Corporation, Office C.A Planning, One World, Phant, Receuit Staffing Co. Ltd., Scarab, Sims Co. Ltd., Succeed, System Sacom Corporation, Taki Design Laboratory, Thunderztone Japan Ltd., Toshiba Emi, T's Music, Westone, Arc System Works Co. Ltd., Dreams Co. Ltd., EPL Production Inc., Fukushina Sound Corporation, Garguyle Mechanics Inc., Highway Star Co. Ltd., Media Junge Corp, Ouinet Co. Ltd., Rutubo Game, Sound Box, Ternpdaff Co. Ltd.
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In Shenmue, the backgrounds consist of up to 58,000 polygons, while the characters can have up to 14,361 polygons per character. This was significantly higher than the polygon counts of non-Dreamcast console and PC games in 1999. In comparison, the highest polygon counts of any PC games in 1999 were 10,000 polygons per scene and 400 polygons per character.