on Mar 01 by I love Japanese games
I can feel the internet welling up with hate as I type this. Welling up with loathing – ready to spunk creamy-hot vitriolic hate all over my face. But that’s okay. Because no one is more angry about this disgraceful little article than me. I am a self-confessed Shenmue fanboy.
Because I’m lazy, I actually wrote ‘Why Shenmue must never be made’ well over a year ago. Bizarrely, it was a final Facebook post that topped a ‘my favourite games of all time feature’. I stumbled on it recently and thought I’d take another look at it. Though the core sentiment of it remain the same, in the interest of readability, I’ve kind of gutted it – and removed the bit where I rape a dog, changing it to something a little bit more tasteful…
Putting Shenmue at the top of my list was really a no-brainer for me. It’s always at the forefront of my mind whenever anyone asks me the ‘what’s your favourite game’ question. I’m such a massive raging Shenmue fanboy that I have a collection of Yu Suzuki-signed Shenmue stuff that are collectively the Number One Gaming Thing That I Own.
I’m not going to tell you what it was I had to do to get them. My mother might be reading.
I can appreciate Shenmue’s faults of course – but for me, this game stands for everything I love about videogames.
I can bang on about how it’s the most immersive experience I’ve ever played and how it it genuinely tugs at my heart strings. All true, but honestly, there’s no point me extolling its virtues or preaching to the converted. People who know, know how awesome Shenmue is, those that don’t? Well, there’s a special place for those kinds of people.
Shenmue for me, stands for something much more important. It stands for things that are often lacking in videogame development these days – ambition, risk, vision and determination to push boundries as far as they can possibly, uncomfortably, go. Those things do exist of course, but rarely with the same absurd level of conviction that so defined Shenmue as a project.
Now when I say ‘ambition’, I don’t mean ‘lets-make-the-best-game-we-can’ sort of ambition.
I mean, ‘lets-try-to-make-a-game-so-sick-that-we-probably-can’t-develop-it-in-one-console-generation-and-will-have-to-spend-all-the-money-we-have-and-never-make-it-back’ kind of ambition.
Nobody will EVER have that ambition ever again – because it’s so utterly proposterous. No one wants to take that risk. No one, in their right mind wants to kill an entire company just to make a game.
It never ceases to amaze me that Sega threw caution to the wind, and did their utmost to deliver the most incredible experience money and technology would allow at the time. If you see the Sega Saturn footage you’ll understand that, actually, Sega did their utmost to deliver a game that technology WOULDN’T allow at the time. Watching this after completing Shenmue 2 was overwhelming. It crystalised in my mind what a mammoth undertaking Shenmue really was.
I hate to reference testicles again in my column, but goddamn - that takes balls.
That takes BIG, MASSIVE BALLS – that NO ONE in the games industry has anymore. Everyone’s too cautious. Too sensible.
Show me a company that has the nerve to start making a game that they can’t even finish with technology they don’t even have and I’ll… I’ll… er… well, I don’t know WHAT I’ll do exactly… maybe I’ll have sex with a chiuahua on live TV or something…
Here’s the thing, and I know people will go nuts about this. I sometimes wonder if it would be best if Yu Suzuki never finishes Shenmue.
Could he, could anyone, ever make a game that would meet our ridiculously high expectations? Would Sega give him the freedom and the budget to nail the final chapter? Does anyone on the planet have that kind of money? Is Justin Bieber a Shenmue fan? Maybe we should petition him! Or just steal his lunch money…
For Shenmue 3 to work – it would need to have that exact same level of ambition and risk to recapture the original’s sense of wonder. If it can’t do that, it will be a disappointment…
…and yet, at the same time – who would have the nerve to mess with the original’s art style? Do you make Shenmue 3 to look the same as 1&2 – or do you start from scratch. Make all three all over again? I don’t think there’s enough money in the WORLD to do that.
To add a further complication to the proceedings – pinning down that intantgible ‘Shenmue-ness’ is not an easy task – it’s not something you can bottle and replicate. For those who played and finished both installments, the complexity of emotion surrounding that game is a tangled, multi-threaded beast.
Shenmue means so many different things to different people.
Taking out of the equation how amazing those games look – even now. Taking out of the equation the characters that you meet. And taking out of the equation that cliffhanger that has LanDi dangling, tantalisingly close to you finally getting revenge – removing all those things, Shenmue’s grip on a players psyche involves so much more.
In a weird way, in order to replicate the magic – you also have to replicate it’s ‘flaws’.
Spending hours wandering the streets doing absolutely nothing, knocking on strangers doors or staring at superficial details was part of Shenmue’s allure. You spent so much time being bored waiting for an objective that even the memory of being bored contributed to it’s appeal.
That’s a pretty fucked up feature for a game to have. I’d like to see that on the back of the box.
In fact, you often spent so much time not really knowing what you had to do, that any glimmer of progression, of advancement – no matter how small, felt like a revelation – sparking genuine excitement at the most mundane events. I don’t think that approach to entertainment would cut it at any existing dev studio now.
Can you imagine the development meeting?
Developer 1: ‘Yeah, I think we need to have longer phases of time where the player is just, you know, doing nothing. Wandering the streets with no real objective. Can we work that in please – it’ll set us back another $643, 000 in staff and development time…”
Developer 2: But why? That’s ridiculous. Why would we do that?
Developer 3: ‘Because when they finally get the Jackie figure from Virtua Fighter Kids on their 1,346th try, they’ll be SO psyched!’
Yeah right – like that’s going to happen.
I spent hours just looking at stuff. Picking up objects. Looking at signs. Following people to see what they do. Ultimately, I took up stalking women I liked the look of on the streets of Kowloon – for no reason other than that I could. Mentally cataloging where the prettiest girls were – for no other reason than I’m possibly a borderline psychopath.
So that might make me a bit sick – but if Shenmue 3 doesn’t give me the ability to stalk women, I will not be held responsible for my actions.
There is one more reason why Shenmue 3 should never be made – and I want you all to be honest with yourselves when I suggest this, to give it serious consideration.
In some perverse way, is part of the power this game has over us down to the fact that it was never finished?
Part of me thinks that if the story ever was finished, that magic would wither and die.
It pains me to say it, because with Ryo’s father un-avenged, there’s a little part of me that’s incomplete. But maybe, just maybe, that is the magic of this game.
For those who played both to completion, the heartbreak of unrequited revenge is now tightly woven with Shenmue’s legacy and it’s lasting appeal.
Maybe Sheunme 3 would destroy that.
ILJG runs the I Love Japanese Games Facebook Page.
His views are not those held by Rice Digital or it’s partners.