Jay Button: Why we don’t need a Shenmue sequel

September 29, 2011

Last week I wrote about Square Enix’s decision to re-release Final Fantasy X over remaking Final Fantasy VII. My reasoning for this: an HD update of a PS2 game would be way easier than remaking a PS1 game, as it wasn’t a full rebuild. A day after the post went up, Square announced that Final Fantasy X on Vita was in fact a full remake using the Final Fantasy XIII engine. My post was rendered completely moot, and it seems that yes, maybe Square does in fact want to just mess with its fans.There’s a whole other post about why I think the company made that decision and I’m still vaguely on their side, but that’s for another time. The whole thing did get me thinking about games we should probably just stop asking for.

There are a few hypothetical titles and sequels fans have been clamoring for after years, but seem like they’ll never happen. I think it’s time we just look for new games that are actually happening and we want to play, instead of pining for something that’s not even on the slate. It would be nice if these games came out, but let’s just quietly hope rather than make a stink about it over and over for years to come. One of these such titles? Shenmue III.

Poor Yu Suzuki. The man can’t set foot in a public place in any official capacity without being bombarded with questions about the hypothetical third entry in the Shenmue series. No matter what his current project is, whether it’s Shenmue City or something completely unrelated, fanboys can’t leave well enough alone. Then Suzuki has to give his usual vague, “I’d like to, but probably can’t” answer, and everyone reports this as news. Rinse, repeat. I love Shenmue. Many of you know I’m a die hard Dreamcast devotee, and I currently own four of them. (My original system no longer works and one is Japanese.) I just don’t think the series needs to go on, or at least not in video game form.

What made the original Shenmue so incredible at the time doesn’t necessarily hold up in today’s market. As the protagonist Ryo Hazuki, the player lives day by day in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, waking up, meeting friends and family and even getting a job. Throughout the game, you’ll notice people around town going about their routines and living their own lives as if they were real people. In 1999 this was brilliant, but it’s been over a decade since then and simulation games have taken huge strides.

For Shenmue III to wow us with the same features, it will have to bump the sim features to compete with, well, The Sims. Ever notice how Ryo never showers, changes his clothes or poops? He just comes home, takes off his jacket and lays on his bed to power down like a robot. The whole robot thing isn’t helped by his incredibly wooden voice acting. Shenmue III would need so many meters that the HUD would take up the entire screen so we know when to sleep, pee or eat.

Shenmue‘s realism is exemplified by its pacing and openness. In a time where people are complaining that Final Fantasy is too linear, I don’t think the public will be okay wandering around and knocking on every goddamn door in town just for a lead. People like quest logs that tell them exactly where to go and who to kill. The first Shenmue game has, what, like four fight scenes? And how much time did you spend driving a forklift to make enough money to ride a boat to China? A third Shenmue game would have non-stop fighting and would probably require a new engine to replace the outdated Virtua Fighter controls from before. A game that big with that much development would be expensive. In fact, the first game made news by being the most expensive game in its time, with production costs of $70 million. That comes to about $93 million today. You think Sega just has that lying around?

Seven paragraphs in and I’m finally getting to the big, tattooed elephant in the room: YakuzaShenmue‘s spiritual successor (also from Sega), the Yakuza series takes most of Shenmue‘s strengths and fits them with modern sensibilities. Yakuza upgrades Shenmue‘s RPG elements, puts more of a focus on action, removes the sim elements and QTEs almost completely and has a story just as good by noted Japanese crime author Bandou Toshihito. Rather than focus on one protagonist with barely a personality, Yakuza has a large cast of characters who each have their own story and whose lives intertwine in captivating ways. It’s a tale of loyalty, betrayal and the lengths one will go to be number one.

Of course, this is all moot, because as much as people want it and report that it “may” be coming soon every few months, Shenmue III is never going to happen. We just have to accept that. Fans of the series assume everyone in the world would buy a third Shenmue game because everyone they know wants it. Everyone you know would love another Firefly series and a movie based on The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck too, but those won’t happen either. Know why? Because you and the people you know represent a very small group of consumers compared to what companies pay attention to. If you stood outside a GameStop for twelve hours and asked every single patron that walked in if they’d like a new Shenmue title, maybe one or two of them out of every ten would say yes. Maybe. And then they’d happily walk in and buy the new Call of Battle Conflict: Middle Eastern Territory and be on their merry way.

When fans of the Shenmue series are asked why they want the games to continue, they all give the same reason:they want the story to be finished. I do too, but it doesn’t need to be done in video game form. If you want to play something like Shenmue, then play Yakuza. If you want to find out what happens to Ryo and if he ever captures his father’s killer, there are cheaper ways to finish the tale. The original plan for Shenmue was to tell the story through twelve installments, each telling one chapter of the tale. Shenmue was chapter one and Shenmue II told chapters two and three, compacting them because Suzuki saw the writing on the wall and knew he wouldn’t get many more sequels. Even if the heavens align and we do get a Shenmue III, there is no WAY we’ll ever get ShenmueIV through XI. And even if we get more than one, it could be years between each installment. Frankly, I’d like to see it done as a manga.

Suzuki could write it and have any well-known Japanese mangaka draw it, and it would make its budget back tenfold. 22 volumes or so, and it could be told weekly in any manga collection being published today. We’d get the story we want without having to have a fake job to get fake money. 

Again, I love Shenmue. I certainly wouldn’t complain if Sega wanted to make another. It just isn’t necessary or feasible. If we nerds took all the effort and energy we’ve put toward bitching at Sega for a new game into something way cheaper and easier, it could possibly happen. Just think about it for a bit.

Shoot Matt an email if you have an idea for something you’d like him to cover. What do you think about his plan for a Shenmue manga? Do you just want more cat pictures? Let us know in the comments.