Why Shenmue III matters so much
It’s about the fanbase, stupid
You may not be a big Shenmue fan. That’s okay. You’re wrong, but we forgive you. We jest, of course (a little), but Shenmue is an incredibly important series that legitimately fosters a lot of passion from those who had the pleasure of playing it. When Yu Suzuki first brought his vision for an RPG to the Dreamcast it flew in the face of conventional thinking. Shenmue makes a mockery of the concept of a ‘Japanese RPG’. It’s a role-playing game and it’s made in Japan (and set there in the case of the original release), but it has little in common with the atmosphere, tone, gameplay, mechanics, music, characters or style of a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest.
And, once again, we start talking about Shenmue III by pontificating on the triumphs of the past, so let’s redirect our attention back to the game at hand. Shenmue III is a little bit of a mystery, which is probably why we spend so much time reflecting on what came before it, but it’s important because this is a voice in gaming that we haven’t heard from in a while. Shenmue set a new agenda for action-RPG design. It put a focus on exploration and immersion alike, which had always been important but not to this degree. And so Shenmue III represents another chance to invest ourselves in the life of Ryo and his search for justice.
More importantly it’s a chance to see a story finished that many people spent hours upon hours involving themselves with. Ryo’s struggle was a very real one. It involved painstaking hours of manual labour that we as players had to share. It involved taking on real jobs, getting into fights, walking through markets and living a life. We got to see the mundane side of Ryo’s reality as well as its thrills, but the ending has never been told. We’ve been left dangling, waiting for a resolution.
And the fans who have tracked, pestered and pleaded deserve so much credit for their consistent campaign. They refused to let Shenmue die. They refused to allow Yu Suzuki to fade into obscurity. They refused the call to play Yakuza instead and be satisfied (some of them probably enjoyed it, but it didn’t satisfy them). Shenmue III is a testament to the power of gamers uniting behind a good cause. There was nothing malicious about the calls for Shenmue to be supported. It came from a place of love and for once it really paid off.
Seeing The Last Guardian launch this year has reminded us of the importance of a certain level of realism about what games can be after years in development or out in the wilderness. In many ways this return shares much in common with a follow-up to Shadow Of The Colossus in that, although the two games couldn’t be more diametrically opposed, they similarly broke with conventions to offer a new take on classic Japanese game design conventions. Shenmue III has been well-funded by fans, but perhaps not to the level of modern blockbusters and so, like The Last Guardian, it may not be looking to compete at that level. But so long as we’re willing to let our imaginations fill any gaps that may exist, Shenmue III can still be the powerful, emotional and uplifting sequel we’ve waited so long for.