Shenmue III is an upcoming action-adventure game developed by Neilo and Ys Net, scheduled to be published by Deep Silver on November 19, 2019 for Windows and PlayStation 4. It is directed, written and produced by series creator Yu Suzuki. The story continues teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki’s quest to find his father’s killer in 1980s China.
Suzuki conceived Shenmue as a saga spanning multiple games. The first two games were developed by Sega AM2 and published by Sega for the Dreamcast in 1999 and 2001 respectively. The original Shenmue was the most expensive video game ever developed at the time, with an estimated production and marketing cost of over US$47 million, though this also covered some of Shenmue II and groundwork for future Shenmue games. Despite attracting a cult following and appearances in several “greatest video games of all time” lists, the games were commercial failures and Shenmue III spent over a decade in development hell.
At the June 2015 E3 conference, following years of speculation, Suzuki launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund Shenmue III, with Sega having licensed Shenmue to Suzuki’s company Ys Net. The campaign met its initial target of $2 million in under eight hours, making it the fastest Kickstarter campaign to reach that amount. It ended in July 2015 having raised over $6 million, making it the highest-funded video game and the sixth highest-funded campaign in Kickstarter history.
In 1987, following the events of Shenmue II, teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki has journeyed from Yokosuka, Japan, to the mountains of Guilin, China, in search of his father’s killer, Lan Di. There he met Ling Shenhua, a mysterious girl who previously appeared in his dreams. After learning the legend of her village, which foretells a united path between them, Ryo and Shenhua embark on a new journey which reveals their shared destiny. Lan Di returns, with a new antagonist, Niao Sun.
Shenmue III begins in Bailu Village in Guilin. According to the game’s Kickstarter page, the second area, Choubu, is “a riverside village with lots of shops, souvenir stores, hotels and temples”, and the third area, Baisha, will feature a “siege game reminiscent of the Warring Kingdoms”. Ryo will be able to make phone calls to Japan to catch up with characters from previous installments. The game will not conclude the Shenmue story, as Suzuki hopes to create further games in the series.
The first two Shenmue games were directed, written and produced by Yu Suzuki, developed by Sega AM2, and published by Sega for the Dreamcast in 1999 and 2001 respectively. Described by IGN as a “revenge epic in the tradition of Chinese cinema”, Suzuki plans the series to cover at least four games. With a level of detail considered unprecedented the original Shenmue was the most expensive video game ever developed at the time, reported to have cost between US$47 and 70 million, including marketing. The development also covered some of Shenmue II, which was completed for a “much more reasonable sum”, and groundwork for future Shenmue games.
Despite attracting a cult following and appearances in several “greatest video games of all time” lists, the Shenmue games were commercial failures and Shenmue III entered a period of development hell lasting over a decade. Suzuki remained at Sega working on various projects which failed to see release, including Shenmue Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game for the Chinese and Korean PC markets.
Fans petitioned for Shenmue III, and in 2005 the BBC series VideoGaiden ran a campaign asking Sega to develop it. In 2008, Sega of America president Simon Jeffery stated that it was one of the studio’s most requested titles. That year, Suzuki established his own development company, Ys Net, while remaining at Sega. In 2010, he said that “the concept for Shenmue III already exists” and that the game would expand “not outward, but inward”, focusing on the relationship between Ryo and Shenhua. In January that year, Sega said that though sales were a concern, they would “love” to develop Shenmue III given the opportunity. That month, Sega announced Shenmue City, a social game for the Japanese Mobagetown (for cell phones) and Mobage (PC) services. Suzuki hoped that if Shenmue City were a success it would allow him to make Shenmue III; however, it was shut down in December 2011.
In November 2010, Sega West president Mike Hayes said: “While at present we have no plans for the franchise … the Shenmue legacy ignites a lot of passion among fans. Never say never.”. In March 2011, Suzuki spoke at the Game Developers Conference and said that Sega would be open to the project if the budget were feasible. In September 2011, he left Sega to focus on Ys Net, and in January 2012 suggested that Sega could license Shenmue to Ys Net to develop Shenmue III independently. News arose in March 2013 that Suzuki was considering crowdfunding or console exclusivity to fund Shenmue III. During a presentation on the franchise at the 2014 Game Developers Conference, he said he was researching the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. During the conference, Sony Computer Entertainment approached Suzuki about Shenmue III as it was one of the most requested titles in their Twitter campaign asking fans what games they want to see on PlayStation. In March 2014, Xbox head Phil Spencer said Shenmue III was the most requested sequel from Xbox owners. In May, Sega renewed the Shenmue trademark.
On June 14, 2015, the day before the Los Angeles Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Suzuki tweeted “E3” with a photo of a forklift, a reference to a minigame in the original Shenmue, sparking speculation that an announcement was imminent. During Sony’s E3 press conference the next day, Suzuki announced a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to develop Shenmue III for Windows and PlayStation 4 with a tentative release date of December 2017. The surprise announcement drew considerable publicity, winning the “Best Debut” award from GameTrailers and generating a surge in sales of pre-owned Dreamcast consoles.
The initial Kickstarter funding goal, the amount necessary for the campaign to succeed and development to begin, was $2 million. “Stretch goals”, additional goals to encourage further donations, included a “rapport system” at $3.2 million, which alters non-player character behavior depending on the player’s actions, and a “character perspective system” at $5 million, which “highlights character personalities”. Suzuki said that for Shenmue III to be a “true” open-world game, the campaign would need to raise at least $10 million; nonetheless, he said he would not be disappointed by a smaller figure and would “make what [he] can within the budget”.
The campaign raised $1 million in an hour and 44 minutes, making Shenmue III the fastest game to raise that amount through crowdfunding, and met its initial goal of $2 million in eight hours and 43 minutes, making it the fastest Kickstarter campaign to reach that amount. It ended on July 17 having raised $6.3 million from over 69,000 backers, becoming the most funded Kickstarter video game campaign and the sixth most funded Kickstarter campaign of all time. On September 17, 2015, crowdfunding resumed using the online payment system PayPal, and on March 15 the project began accepting pledges through the Chinese crowdfunding platform Alipay. By November 2016, Shenmue III had raised a total of over $6.6 million from over 73,000 backers across multiple crowdfunding platforms. In January 2017, Time, The Guardian and Den of Geek included Shenmue III in their lists of the most anticipated games.
Ys Net is developing Shenmue III with several key members of the original Shenmue development team, including director Yu Suzuki, sub-director Keiji Okayasu, writer Masahiro Yoshimoto, character designer Kenji Miyawaki, composer Ryuji Iuchi, and programmer Tak Hirai. Masaya Matsukaze and Corey Marshall will reprise their roles as the Japanese and English voices of Ryo respectively. Sony and Shibuya Productions are providing production, marketing, and publishing support. The game uses Unreal Engine 4, which Suzuki said allows the team to build prototypes quickly.
Ys Net delivers monthly development updates on its Kickstarter campaign page. In November 2015, Suzuki visited China to promote the project and research the locations, traditional clothes and martial arts of Guilin. In a presentation at China’s Chuapp conference that month, he stated that Shenmue III‘s story and “composition” were complete and that “baseline research” with Unreal Engine 4 had begun. In late 2015, the team began using Shenmue II characters to run simple battle and conversation tests. In February 2016, Suzuki demonstrated the weather effects, lighting, and music at the Monaco Anime Game International Conference. By December, the game had left pre-production and motion capture and voice tests were under way.
In June 2017, Suzuki announced that Shenmue III had been delayed to the second half of 2018, stating: “By utilizing new technologies, we have been able to discover new possibilities and expressions. In many ways, the game has become bigger and more beautiful than I initially expected.”. That August, Suzuki announced that Ys Net had partnered with the German publisher Deep Silver to publish Shenmue III globally. He told Eurogamer the partnership allowed Ys Net to “scale up” their plan and “make the game with a larger scale featuring open-world elements”, and that Sony and Sega were still supporting development.
Ys Net released a Shenmue III teaser trailer on 22 August 2017, featuring Ryo and Shenhua in open vistas, martial arts action, an orchestral soundtrack, and the dragon and phoenix mirrors, plot elements from the previous games. Some fans and journalists criticized the trailer’s “stiff” character models and animation. Heather Alexandra of Kotaku defended the trailer, writing: “The series has always had a rigid quality. But that rigidity comes with confidence and romantic aspirations … With its magnificent vistas and tightly edited martial arts sequences, the Shenmue III trailer is a perfect distillation of what the series has always wanted to be.” In December 2017, Ys Net announced that the Indian studio Lakshya Digital would provide additional character models. In May 2018, Ys Net and Deep Silver announced that Shenmue III had been delayed until 2019. At the Gamescom trade fair in August, Deep Silver displayed a new trailer and announced a release date of August 27, 2019. In December 2018, it was announced that Shenmue III will be published in China by Oasis Games on PlayStation 4 and the WeGame platform on PC. In January 2019, the English voice acting, which started recording the previous year, was noted to be about 70-80% complete.
On 28th February 2019, UK gaming publication EDGE Magazine (issue 330) featured Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue 3 on the cover of both the subscriber edition (gold cover) and retail edition (white cover). The issue has a 12 page feature on the current state of Shenmue 3, covering various aspects of the game. Suzuki has described Shenmue III as “looking inward rather than outward… visiting this foreign country and interacting with the villagers of Bailu will contribute to his growth. With his pathos and distinctive personality, good old Ryo, the most oblivious man in the world, is still the same as ever.”. The feature also covers various situations and characters Ryo will encounter in Shenmue 3, as well as looking at the economy, combat, mini-games, and part time jobs.
A new trailer was shown in March 2019 at the Monaco Magic festival, showcasing the Guilin setting, fighting system, and several new characters. On 11th April 2019, Japan gaming publication Famitsu featured an interview with Yu Suzuki. Various topics were covered including forklift driving, money making, fishing, combat, game settings, turtle racing and part time jobs. Yu Suzuki attended the Reboot Develop Blue conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia on 12th April. In a 1 hour talk with industry veteran Ben Judd, Suzuki released a batch of new screenshots from the game, including the High Tech Land Panda Arcade, Niaowu harbour-side, pawn shop inventory system, and the return of forklifts from the original game. At the PC Gaming Show at the 2019 E3 event, Suzuki announced that the release date had been postponed again to November 19, 2019, and that the Windows version would be exclusive to the Epic Games Store; earlier updates had stated that it would require Steam for activation. A new trailer, showcasing arcades and fighting gameplay, debuted at the Gamescom trade fair in August 2019. The following month, a demo was released for Windows. Shenmue III includes a letter to fans from Suzuki expressing his hope to develop Shenmue IV.
On the review aggregator site Metacritic, Shenmue III has a score of 68, indicating “mixed or average reviews”. Reviewers were divided over the similarity to earlier instalments. According to GamesIndustry.biz, “Ys Net hasn’t rebooted or reimagined its franchise; rather, it has made a game as if (for the most part) the intervening years never happened at all. For some critics, this is taken as some kind of failure. For others, it is a veteran developer delivering exactly what his audience wants to see.”
Kirk McKeand of VG247 gave Shenmue III three out of five, writing that “despite the fact that it’s a game designed with decades-old sensibilities, I enjoyed my time with it”. In a positive review, Martin Robinson of Eurogamer described it as “archaic and arcane … completely ignorant of modern trends in open world gaming, or indeed trends of the last 20 years … It looks and plays like a Dreamcast game that’s as off-kilter, maddening, magical and majestic as the original Shenmue games, both all-time classics. I think there’s good reason to rejoice in that.”. GameCentral gave it 6/10, criticizing its slow pace and dialogue, but writing: “It’s impossible not to admire Yu Suzuki’s vision and tenacity in not only making the game but making it his way.”. GamesRadar gave it 4/5, describing it as “a magnificent, authentic, totally uncompromised sequel that crucially ignores virtually every gaming trend of the past 18 years”
In Japan, the PlayStation 4 version of Shenmue III sold 17,857 retail copies in its first week, making it the week’s fourth-bestselling game and the bestselling new release. In the UK, Shenmue III entered the charts at number 17, selling half as many copies as the 2018 Shenmue remaster. GamesIndustry.biz and VG247 said the sales in both regions were likely lower than hoped, but noted that the chart excludes digital sales and copies given to Kickstarter backers.
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