Retroreflection #5 – Shenmue: A True Work of Freedom Well Ahead of its Time

“Yu Suzuki’s creation isn’t about science fiction, dystopian futures, or medieval fantasy. Shenmue is as real as they come.”

On December 29th, 1999, twenty-two years ago, the opening chapter of Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue was released in its native Japan. Released by Sega Enterprises at the time, Shenmue was a game world built like no other. Yu Suzuki’s creation isn’t about science fiction, dystopian futures, or medieval fantasy. Nor is it about shock-value bloody violence, breakneck combos, or turn-based battles. Shenmue is, as video games go, as real as they come.

Lead director/developer Yu Suzuki needs little introduction. With previous milestones works such as ­Hang-On, Out Run and Virtua Fighter on his resume, Shenmue was his boldest project yet. Proclaiming a new genre entitled FREE (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment), there is no doubt that Shenmue changed the course of open world games forever. This first chapter would allow complete freedom of movement around Yokosuka. Set during 1986 and beyond, at a time before Yokosuka was granted core city status, player’s control Ryo Hazuki, a teenage martial artist, as he investigates his father’s murder, through the everyday streets of Yokosuka and its suburbs. These streets, shops, homes, and the people who live in them are all interactive in an immersive real world. Shenmue’s grand-scale development (an alleged seven-billion-yen budget) were often the forefront of its hype and will likely remain its tabloid talking point forever, but there is no mistaking its grand-scale achievements and influence on videogames both then and now.

Although released a whole year later in my native United Kingdom, such a project was sending shockwaves through the west in the lead up to its release. Constant videogame magazine coverage, import reviews, any chance to catch a glimpse of a new screenshot created a wave of hype that was palpable. Its release didn’t disappoint; promises of a world of NPC’s living their own lives, in an accurate representation of locations such as Dobuita’s main street are truly epoch-making and definitively delivered. This is a videogame about being immersed in a world that everyone lives in, not just the protagonists and antagonists that drive it. This is a world that revolves but rarely around you, only when the necessary actions dictate. Immersion is the name of the game, and it wants to play the game with you.

Shenmue’s immersive possibilities can be developed, discarded, and delivered by all manner of players. Ryo receives a daily allowance of 500 yen, and the streets of Yokosuka provide means of using that money to any desired effect. To this day any of my revisits must include spending unscrupulous amounts on capsule toys, a pastime more prominent than ever in many Japanese cities and districts. If it isn’t toy collecting, then its off to the arcade; after all, Yokosuka is predominantly a residential and retail area, and there is only so many toys and coffee cans you can buy. Here is where Suzuki would set a trend later seen in the Yakuza franchise with the inclusion of Sega arcade classics to play anytime. How’s that for immersion? If you’ve got time to kill, then what better way than spending credits on Space Harrier or Hang-On? Videogame inception. Brilliant.

Another major influence to come out of Shenmue’s development is the use of QTE (Quick Time Events), which have become a staple in many interactive adventures ever since. The use of QTE’s was often the source of derision towards Shenmue at the time, and in such an immersive and grand project it does appear to be a very basic function to include. In truth it becomes an area of skill to quickly develop as the story progresses with several, visual rewards to discover. Another area not so rewarding but oddly competitive is the (forced) opportunity to get a job working a forklift up and down the docks in the latter half of the game. Kiss that 500 yen a day bye bye for the big bucks of a monotonous job that takes most of the day to complete, with little time to spe… wait, did I mention how immersive Shenmue is? It even gets working down to a tee. Bless you, Yu Suzuki.

On September 6, 2001, the sequel Shenmue II was also released on Dreamcast, also later coming to the west. After years of hiatus, fan-campaigning and fundraising Shenmue III was released on PlayStation 4 and PC on November 19, 2019, almost twenty years to the day. Next year will also see a surprising, and hopefully exciting anime adaption hit our screens, and of course, we all await an announcement on any future Shenmue with bated breath. In the meantime, if you wish to visit, or even revisit the immersive world of Shenmue, I recommend bagging a copy of Shenmue 1 & 2 right now.

Shenmue is Back (Again!) and Coming to a Small Screen Near You

The announcement comes after the release of Shenmue 3 only last year, which is unprecedented in of itself given the 18-year gap between Shenmue 2 and Shenmue 3.

Shenmue, Yu Suzuki’s revenge-driven, slow-burn saga that oddly encourages capsule toy and gambling addictions, is getting an anime adaption, courtesy of Crunchyroll and Adult Swim.

For Shenmue, this new production will only serve to boost a franchise popular both yesterday and today. The first Shenmue was released in 1999 for the short-lived but excellent Sega Dreamcast console, as did its sequel two years later. The demise of the Dreamcast, as well as Yu Suzuki’s departure from developer AM2 years later, meant the future of the franchise was up in the air since 2001. The successful Shenmue 3 Kickstarter campaign began back in 2015, the highest-funded video game project in its 11-year history, and was released in November last year.

The series tells the tale of teenager Ryo Hazuki, who, after witnessing his father’s murder at the hands on Lan Di, wishes to avenge his father’s death. It is an 1980’s-set journey that traverses the Far East, from Yokasuka in Japan, through Hong Kong and Guilin in China. Shenmue served as an open-world schematic for many video games that followed, and continues to do so to this day. The enveloped environments, including a day and night system, interaction with NPC (Non-Playable-Characters), daily schedules and free reign to explore at will, brought a living, breathing world at your fingertips.

This unprecedented animated project comes with series creator Yu Suzuki serving as executive producer, with One Punch Man’s Chikara Sakurai in the directing hot seat. The planned 13-episode series will be produced by Telecom Animation Film, responsible for the latest Lupin the Third series. The announcement comes after the release of Shenmue 3 only last year, which is unprecedented in of itself given the 18-year gap between Shenmue 2 and Shenmue 3. The announcement came out of Crunchyroll’s Crunchyroll Expo (CRX), which took place September 4-6. This will be the third collaboration between Crunchyroll and Adult Swim, following the announcements of both Blade Runner Black Lotus and Fena: Pirate Princess.

What are your thoughts on this one? To be honest, if there are forklifts, I am so on board with this.

The Trinkets and Kinship of Shenmue

Originally posted on Hey Poor Player:-

Ryo acquires his latest fix

I have always had a thing for little trinkets. Back when I had to work in an office, my desk accommodated a Lego character here, a Marvel miniature there, an overall undeniable youthful spirit everywhere. My desk at home is a similar fixture, except now it consists of upgrades such as a Super Mario Maker mascot or Amiibo.

My history of such trinkets is a long-standing one. Fond memories of my first trip alone to the local newsagent remain strong, for it was all about the mystery toy/candy machines outside. I never knew at the time that 10/20p would bring so much joy.

25 years later, taking my 6-year-old daughter to a toy store is living proof that that youthful spirit and inclination has clearly passed down from father to child. She will happily glance past the Barbie’s and Pokemon’s that she equally adores without so much as a tentative purchase request. Well, sometimes. But once we hit the collectibles section, often located near the exit, she starts pointing excitedly like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. I can empathise. These days I’m more physically reserved, but nevertheless other family members still sometimes bear the brunt of our over-enthusiasm for inanimate plastic, often bringing us both away from retailer ecstasy. But not without a trinket or two of course.

The capsule machines at the harbour deploy a different tactic

Once I ran across the pair of trinket-dispensing machines outside the Sakuragoaka village store, one of the primary locations in Sega’s recently remastered adventure Shenmue, it was a calling like no other. A sentimental moment within a sentimental moment, if you will. Once that passed, the excitement I’d passed down in my genes surfaced. “Do they work?” I was asked both enthusiastically and hopefully. Usually, in such circumstances, that question would not apply. Very few video games allow for such miniature interaction. It was to my delight, and that of my daughter, that the answer was most definitely, “Yes”.

And so a query of mere functionality quickly ascended/descended into capsule toy addiction. The 100 Yen – 70p – price tag seems insignificant, especially as Ryo begins the game with 10,000. Forlorn housekeeper Ine-San leaving 500 yen allowance each day only facilitates the habit further. But as Ryo says as he collects it: “I should be grateful”. This father/daughter collection connection certainly is.

The toy collection comes in the form of Sega characters – the casts of Sonic, Virtua Fighter and Nights into Dreams among others – that didn’t even exist 32 years ago. Given the alternative mix of dice, rubber balls and paperweights just wouldn’t cut it, this was always an unforgivable oversight.

You barely get toys this good in real life

Toy capsule collecting has become a major part of this revisit to Yokosuka, but now is presented in a new light. As I direct Ryo to each machine, I let my daughter decide how many turns I take on each. It might be 5 turns on the Sonic toys, the next day just the 3, and so on for the other machines. It became a game within itself. As Ryo’s remaining cash flow is displayed with each purchase, no white lies are going to get me out of it.

After each capsule toy machine routine comes to an end, it’s time to inspect the goods. After all, “How are we going to know how many are left to get, daddy?” As if any more incentive was required to complete the capsule toy collection Shenmue has to offer, the recent PS4/Xbox One remaster also rewards collectors with trophies/achievements for their efforts. It brings a near 20 year old game’s unique experience to a new generation of players.

“No, you kiss off, twit”

Shenmue is the ultimate example of a small world examined. The 4 years of development and alleged $50-80 million spent shows in its unquestionable detail. Real life locations such as the interconnecting street of Dobuita are prominent throughout – and much of it still parallels many ways in 2018 to the 1986 Yu Suzuki representation. The use of meteorological records to generate the weather cycles of December 1986 Yokosuka produces a plentiful mixture of clement, heavy rain, even snow. All are triggers of excitement from my daughter, from decorations on display at Christmas, to impromptu shouts of “you need to get in the arcade, it’s raining so time to play some games”. Who am I to disappoint?

Yu Suzuki’s classics Hang-On and Space Harrier were still relatively new back in 1986. As a child of the 80’s, fond memories remain of the Hang-On theme ringing in the air at many a seaside arcades well into the 90’s. But the life-size, distinctive motorcycle cabinet is now an arcade antique, rarely seen on today’s arcade scene. The concept of such a cabinet within a video game, let alone in real life, blew my daughter’s mind. She is of that age where she is in complete admiration for her parents’ childhood past’s, more specifically pastimes. We both love to read. I collect toys, she collects toys. I play video games and so does she, but more specifically the ones attributed to my past.

We understand, Ryo. We really do

As the story has developed over time my daughter’s attention lies away from searching for sailors, gangs and Chinese translators. Thankfully I have enough cash to catch the bus to work at the harbour each day. But not a day in the game passes without prompts of “Have you fed the kitten today?” or “Have you spoken to Nozomi?”, or even “Is Tom still dancing in the street?” It’s a testament to Shenmue’s cast of characters and their day to day actions. They may be mostly insignificant but hardly inconspicuous at the same time.

The world of Shenmue is currently pressing on towards its next chapter in our household. My PSN trophy cabinet is filling up after many revisited gaming memories. But the real trophies will always be the trinkets themselves, and the youthfulness they have invoked. I am eagerly awaiting to start Shenmue II, when the parent/daughter trinket collecting team can begin again.

Video Game Inception: Top 5 Games within Video Games

We all love video games, whether your tastes are for platformers, shooters, RPG’s or even sports. They are a wonderful form of escapism, but what about escapism within escapism? I’m talking about the fishing in Zelda games, the end of level bonus sections of Yoshi’s Island, getting drunk at the bar in GTA IV; games within games. If a lengthy quest/mission is getting you down, what better way to take a breather than partake in a game or 2, right? Here are the pick of the bunch.

Fable the Lost Chapters: Chicken Kicking Competition


A special addition to the Fable re-release ‘Fable: The Lost Chapters’, and hardly the most animal friendly game, but nevertheless both entertaining and amusing. Yes, you literally kick these poultry projectiles through the air, with angles, strength and stamina all playing a part in getting the chickens into a scoring area grid for points. Yes, chickens equals points. How is that not appealing?

Shenmue: Space Harrier/Hang-On (Dreamcast):-


In a world as real (and expensive) as Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue, it comes as no surprise that a town (Dobuita) has an arcade. Amusingly titled the YOU Arcade, it includes 2 FULL versions of Yu’s own arcade classics: Space Harrier and Hang-On. Now I know Ryo wants to avenge his father’s death, look for sailors or whatever, but even he feels the need to beat Space Harrier level 5. It’s only natural.

Super Smash Bros Melee/Brawl/Wii U: Home-Run Contest (Gamecube/Wii/Wii U):-


The premise is simple: Do as much damage to the sandbag stood on the platform as possible, then launch it with a baseball bat as far as you can. Easy right? Wrong.  Many a minute is never wasted trying to inflict any extra % of damage to the bag to make it travel just 1 more meter. However, plenty a minute is wasted in the failed attempts to beat your own records. Just. One. More. Go.

Final Fantasy VII: Gold Saucer (PS1/PSN):-


Despite the quite frankly annoying but devastatingly catchy theme music, the Gold Saucer can deliver hours of quest-distracting entertainment. The various areas provide different types of games from an arcade to replay the motorcycle chase, snowboarding, basketball hoop-shooting, betting on Chocobo races, to a battle gauntlet area where you can hone your battle skills without fear of death, for some great prizes to aid the main quest. In a game that eats through the hours as you seek to find the triumphant end, there are certainly more hours to be eaten up here alone.

Legend of the Mystical Ninja: Amusement Park Level (SNES/VC):-



The entire exploration area is filled with mini-game goodness, with an endless supply of re-spawning enemies to replenish the much needed cash to play them. Highlights include a modified first level of Konami classic Gradius, Tear Down the Wall (think Breakout/Alleyway), Air Hockey, and that’s just the Konami Arcade tent. Add to that bets on Horse Racing, a matching-cards memory game, even a lottery, plus many more, and it’s quite possible you’ll forget why you arrived in what is only the 3rd level of the game.

Do you have a favourite video game mini game?