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Pal European Box Art 

(C) Sega 2000


How Shenmue Changed our Lives

The Experience is F.R.E.E.

If I had to choose a video game that summed up the Martial Way then the mighty Shenmue would be the one.

Created by legendary Game creator Yu Suzuki from Sega's AM2 department it was the first video game that immersed you in to a Real life world where you had to go to sleep at night, travel to places, find jobs and generally pass the time .

Hence the label by Yu Suzuki as F.R.E.E. which stood for '' Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment'' Giving Shenmue it's own Genre and one that has never been approached in the same manner again, though Sega's own Yakuza series on PlayStation 2 / 3 and 4 are similar in it's style and story driven proceedings. 

Shenmue was originally bench-marked for the Saturn console ,under the working title of Project Berkeley, but when the Saturn failed to stand up against the might of Sony's Playstation with it's dedicated 3D chip  heavy games it was decided that the Saturn best be put to rest.

Yu Suzuki who had been working on the title was not to troubled by this as he was involved in  Sega's work on the new KATANA console ( Renamed Dreamcast for launch), he was sure it would be easy to transfer the idea to Katana ( he was probably pleased as even he said Saturn was a bugger to program for), with the ease of Katana's programming techniques and the fact it used a open world operating system made life easier to.

Now for you Dreamcast (Katana) owners two dates are important to you ,the first is ''November 29th 1986'', the next date varies to where in the World you are .

So if your in the region of Japan it would be ''December 29th 1999''

if your in North America then it would be '' November 6th 2000''

and if in Europe then the date would be '' November 24th 2000''.

Yes the first date is the date when you start the game Shenmue, the second date is of course the release date for the game in various regions. If only they waited another 5 days in Europe, how cool would that be?

Now with nearly a year between the Japanese and American and Europe releases Dreamcast owners in the latter regions where on tender hooks for months. Unless of course you could understand Japanese then you could import the game and make your friends jealous.

Of course the translation of the game into English took a while ( if they had subtitled like part 2 it may have been sooner) .

Everyone new of this game, but by the time the game arrived in the west it looked liked Sega where spewing money from every orifice. But at that time Dreamcast was starting to gain respect and selling consoles, partly due to Sony's failure to deliver enough Playstation 2's for the Christmas 2000 rush.

I for one remember waiting for the date in Europe and picking up my copy on the day of release . Nothing could prepare me for the experience that the Dreamcast would unleash on me that day in November 2000.

But it was not just me that got swept away in a story that would literally take over my life for weeks ( I was thinking of changing my name to RYO by de-pole at one point ) , I had spoken to others and the story was the same, in fact I was part of a band of people who's lives where disturbed by real life events like having to go to work, wash, eat, sleep or anything else you actually you need to do, why because in my mind I was already doing this in SHENMUE.

SHENMUE had arrived and the fine line between gaming and real life was never the same again.

So what is it about this game?

(c) Image Copyright SEGA 1999 / 2018 


Shenmue on the Sega Saturn

Shenmue was originally conceived on Sega's Saturn console, a total of about two years work was put in to the project ( project Berkeley), whats amazing from the screen shots and video ( all of which feature on a special disc with the Japanese edition of Virtua Fighter 3tb on Dreamcast) is how great the game looks, surpassing that of anything the PS1 could do at it's time . It's a shame that SATURN was a problem to program for as if it was easier I'm sure Shenmue would have been released on the machine in a timely manner and maybe securing a brighter future for SEGA as a hardware innovator, of which they clearly where. I think I read, or maybe it's on the video I watched that they even considered adding a special expansion pack for the Saturn Cart slot so that Shenmue on Saturn would look even better. 

The fact that Yu Suzuki was in the process of having Shenmue on Saturn in a working form is quite something, to think the previous generation we where all playing 2D sprite based games on our 8 bit and 16 bit consoles and computers.

Saturn Shenmue

Starring : Ryo Hazuki 

Directed By : Yu Suzuki

Country: Japan

Hardware : Sega Satrun Games Console - Released 1994 Japan

Status: Unfinished , Concept moved to Dreamcast

Back in the day as a Saturn owner i think Saturn Shenmue would have mean as mesmerising as it was on Dreamcast and being that the Saturn was actually popular in Japan it would have done pretty well i think.

 Maybe we would  all be playing SHENMUE  5

on Dreamcast 2 if things had gone better.

But remember Shenmue was first conceived as a Virtua Fighter RPG, which took on a life of its own and eventually appeared on the Nintendo Gamecube.


Shenmue a Story of Righteousness 

SHENMUE the Story

Shenmue takes place in a Harbour town called Yokosuka, within the town is the Hazuki Dojo where Young Ryo Hazuki lives with his Father. The game starts with a cinematic event in the life of young Ryo Hazuki.

Ryo returns home to find his father Iwao Hazuki in confrontation with a man by the name of Lan Di, The man who is tall and dark wears a Green Kung-Fu suit . He demands from Iwao an item by the name of the Dragon Mirror.

Iwao refuses, but when Ryo acts on impulse and attacks Lan Di he gets put down by this ominous man. With Ryo's life in the balance Iwao reveals the location of the mirror to save his son.

With the mirror recovered by Lan Di, Lan Di tells Iwao of a man by the name of Zhao Sunming, a man allegedly killed by Iwao Hazuki.

The two engage in battle once again, Lan Di lands a deftly blow to Iwao leaving him for dead. With his final moments in Ryo' arms Iwao dies leaving young Ryo in despair and hot for revenge.

By now I was hooked, like some Kung Fu movie I had been taken in and had to know the truth, but this time it was really up to me, for I had become Ryo Hazuki and I wanted revenge …..

Now Ryo needs to find out why his father was killed for a mirror and who is Lan Di. His only clue is that the neighbours saw a black car speeding away on the day of the incident.

It's here my investigation will begin (told you I was Ryo Hazuki) , by talking to the towns folk and venturing into the shopping area of town Ryo will meet various characters who may or may not help him.

Some characters just want to chat and others give vital clues to help you along. Ryo must do his investigation by day and get home by 11pm to sleep ( if you fail to get back home your automatically taken there to continue your quest the next day) .

Ryo can also get food and drink from stores and Vending machines, though these are not vital to survive in the game. But it's a fun way to pass the time. There's also a local games arcade where you can play Space Harrier and Hang On ( yes Yu Suzuki arcade games – awesome), your find yourself frequenting the arcade for long periods sometimes that's all you want to do.

There are other elements to ,your meet a old master who will teach you new fighting techniques, there's also a place where you can train in town, this is vital for you to practice your moves for R.E.A.L. Time fighting, fail to practice and when your up against adversaries your stamina will suffer.

There's also the Quick Time Event or QTE, these come along at certain points in the game, they require to hit a button sequence which flashes up on screen in a certain time frame. Succeed and you get to move on, fail and your left to try again until you do succeed.

In fact the QTE events where a ingenious way to accomplish certain events, such a good idea that many games publishers copied the style of game-play for their titles up until this very day.

The clues don't come so fast in town and it's only when Ryo receives a letter from a man called Yuanda Zhu, in the letter it suggest Ryo seek the help of one Master Chen . 

Master Chen can be found at the harbour ,it's here that the story will start to unfold, as Ryo will have to get a job at the harbour so he can investigate further, also it's the place where he will come into contact with the Mad Angels who are a local gang connected to Lan Di.

He will also find out about another mirror, the Phoenix Mirror which also resides at his home.

There's always time for a quick game in Shenmue , Well you got to take a break sometime

Ryo is the man , he always gets the girl , the lovely Nozumi

As pretty as flower is young Nozumi

Again the wharf Harbour area has many other elements where you can be sidetracked ,such as playing darts in the workers café,and of course doing your job of driving a forklift truck, which is vital to progressing in the game, if you don't get the job by a certain time then your be left in Shenmue limbo unless you have previously saved game from a earlier area so you can try again.

But if you manage to do the right things at the right time, Shenmue will reward you with a sense of fantastic achievement .

Nothing is more exciting then having to fight a 70 man battle and providing you have trained well your have little to no trouble getting through. But if you have failed to train your senses or techniques then chances are your be fighting the battle time and time again.

At the end of it all the clues will lead Ryo to have to venture to Hong Kong and as he sets sail you can only feel happy that you have succeeded but also sad as your time as Ryo Hazuki has come to a end …

Of course Ryo will return in Shenmue 2 when he docks in Hong Kong but that's another story and another game.


Ryo Get's a Bicycle and then Loses it in Shenmue

Originally, there was a idea to have Ryo get around on a Bicycle, but the feature never made it into the final game, but it was implemented at some point, as these pictures show. 

How cool would have that been?


Shenmue the Addiction , a passport to a new life

Now as I mentioned earlier Shenmue will take over your life,  I use to frequent the local games shop close to where I worked everyday, the guys in there I new for many years and Shenmue was big news,  I would go in every morning as I picked up breakfast, everyone would be talking Shenmue .

Each one telling each other where in the game they had got or how many hours they spent in the arcade playing Space Harrier, Hang On or darts. Everyone would be bleary eyed as they had often got home after work entered their new found world and basically lost all sense of time, finally realising at three O'clock in the morning that they had not eaten, washed or relieved themselves . ..

No wonder I felt so tired, I  was living two lives. I remember listening to my brother telling me how my nephew was going on about getting a job at the harbour, it took him a while to realise he was talking about a video-game. Who's fault was it ?, well mine of course I had persuaded everyone to have a Dreamcast and then said you have to have Shenmue!


Shenmue a Gallery of Memories

  • The Official Dreamcast Magazine in the UK with Ryo on the cover
    The Official Dreamcast Magazine in the UK with Ryo on the cover
  • Japanese Box Art
    Japanese Box Art
  • US Shenmue , was a Japanese release of the USA GAME with English Language
    US Shenmue , was a Japanese release of the USA GAME with English Language
  • USA Box Art
    USA Box Art
  • Bio's from the Manual of the American Release
    Bio's from the Manual of the American Release
  • Bio's from the Manual of the American Release
    Bio's from the Manual of the American Release
  • A custom painted Dreamcast ,which is a masterpiece.
    A custom painted Dreamcast ,which is a masterpiece.
  • What if Shenmue had come to the Wii? , especially with those motion controls.
    What if Shenmue had come to the Wii? , especially with those motion controls.
The Official Dreamcast Magazine in the UK with Ryo on the cover
The Official Dreamcast Magazine in the UK with Ryo on the cover

The Cost of Shenmue

The cost of Shenmue

In terms of buying the game Shenmue was average, think I paid around £36.00 for my package after my in-store discount (hell some people buy newspapers everyday , i use to buy video games). 

In terms of the game it self to produce it is said that it cost in the region of $70'000'000, it was also said that every Dreamcast owner would have to buy the game twice for SEGA to break even .

Truth be told the game cost around $47'000'000 to make in 1999. Combined with part 2 it amounted to the $70 million , still a lot of money and at that time SEGA was running at a loss with Dreamcast Consoles stock piled as not enough people took the challenge , many waiting to see Sony's new PS2 which included a DVD player ( a big selling point at the time) Even by only subtitling part 2 and selling it for a very reasonable £29.99, they could not entice more consumers to go the Dreamcast route.


What's Shenmue ?

Released in Japan prior to the Japanese release ,as Shenmue was delayed in Japan, anyone per-ordering the game received ''What's Shenmue '' on the original day of release    ,it was playable version of the game covering Dobuita, you wondered around town and your quest was to find the offices of Sega executive Yukawa San.

Not all sections of Dobuita where accessible and some characters blocked paths to other areas. There was also a giveaway of the preview on Japans gaming magazine  ''Famitsu'', this version featured a orange cover as opposed to the blue one.

At the time 'What's Shenmue '' was quite a in demand item for Shenmue collectors and often sold for more then the game originally sold for in Western Regions due to it being a Japan only item. 

The Instructions from inside the 'What's Shenmue'' disc.

Yes i think i understand.


Drop Dead Gorgeous is Shenmue

As with many Dreamcast games (that where not simple ports) the graphics where stunning, nothing on any other gaming console looked so wonderful, with HI-Rez graphics and in Shenmue a brilliant weather system where it could be bright sunshine one minute, and as the day went on you could experience Rain or Snow .

 There was even a detailed variation of representing the weather which was evident in the real Yokosuka in Japan between 1986 and 1987, which was the games time frame.

This gives Shenmue a distinct look, one which changes each time you play. No wonder I mixed up my virtual life with my real one .


The Sounds of Shenmue

Shenmue Music OST

Shenmue also had a vast musical accompaniment which consisted of 32 tracks ,amounting to over two hours of music, The official soundtrack was released on the March 23rd 2000 by Toshiba EMI. It was mainly composed by SEGA'S Japanese video game composer, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi. A further fifteen tracks where composed by Yuzo Koshiro.

Consisting of mainly instrumental tracks there is however one vocal track which is sung in both English and Japanese.

The soundtrack which was released only in Japan can fetch good money when it becomes available on sites like eBay and such like.


Shenmue the Movie

Shenmue the Movie was bundled with the Xbox release of Shenmue 2 ,.

Where as in Europe we where lucky enough to get Shenmue 2 on Dreamcast as well as the Japanese, in North America because of the decline of SEGA and Microsoft launching their new Console the XBOX it seemed fit to port Shenmue 2 to XBOX and launch it with a movie consisting of cut scenes from the first game to give newcomers the whole story. 

For this to happen SEGA had to agree to not release Shenmue 2 on Dreamcast in the USA. 

There-fore forcing any Shenmue fans in the USA to fork out for a new Console to play part two or try and import a European copy of the game, and with not a vast number made for distribution in Europe this looked impossible. 

Of course here in the UK  I was unwrapping my new copy of Shenmue II on Dreamcast.  Funny thing as I also purchased the XBOX version as well when it was released.  I think just so I could see the movie.

In a way Shenmue was such a important game in truth it would not have hurt Sega if they had also ported the first game to Xbox as well. They would have captured a new audience for the game and not just desperate Dreamcast owners who in the USA had no real choice but to buy a Xbox to play Shenmue 2.


Waiting For Shenmue

After hearing about Shenmue my anticipation for the game was so high,  but on release day my retailer I used had a call to say their deliveries wont be until the following morning. 

I had to wait a whole twenty four hours before I could lay my hands on the game,  and then I had to work the whole day until I got home to actually play it.

 Here is my receipt for the greatest game ever.



Yu Suzuki

YS Net / Formerly at Sega AM2 
Born: 1958 

Legendary Game developer who was in charge of Sega's AM2, Yu Suzuki has been responsible for some of Sega's greatest works. From the Legendary Outrun , Afterburner ,Space Harrier to 3D ground breakers like Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, and Shenmue.
He also was invloved in the development of  Sega's arcade boards and their final console the Dreamcast.


Gaming Corperation

Producers and Developers of Shenmue

Developer : SEGA AM2

Publisher: SEGA

Designers : Yu Suzuki  - Director / Producer
Hiroshi Aso - Production Manager

Writers : Yu Suzuki - Game Story
Masahiro Yoshimoto - Script and Screenplay

Composers :  Takenobu Mitsuyoshi  (Also sound director)
Yuzo Koshiro 

Platform ; Sega Dreamcast Console - 1999 Japan / 2000 Europe , USA 
Xbox One  / Playstation 4 / PC   - 2018

(C) Image Copyright SEGA 1999 /2018 
/ YS Net 2019 / Future Publishing 2000

In 2018 SEGA released HD editions of Shenmue  1 and 2 in a double pack for the Xbox One  / Playstation 4 and PC , this after many years of speculation and rumours of  HD versions of the game, Apparently they did have remasters in the works but development became complicated and in a bid to get the games out before the forthcoming Shenmue 3 by YS Net which was due to arrive in 2019. they did HD versions of the originals to speed things up.

Bruno B. 

Games writer for K.I.T.G. group of fan sites.

For more on the Shenmue series 

Watch this space...........