Street brawls, toy capsules, forklift racing, and a murder mystery spanning two countries.
With the monumental release of Shenmue III on Nov. 19 — a sequel that people have waited on for 19 years — now is the best time to familiarize yourself with the series.
What exactly is Shenmue, and why should you even care about the upcoming release?
During the mid-90s, a Sega Games employee named Yu Suzuki wanted to develop a grand gaming experience that would allow players to live a “second life.”
Players would be able to eat, drink, fight, play arcade games, and do whatever else with the time that’s allotted to them.
At the time, this was unprecedented. Traditionally, video games would offer quick thrills and excitement without any type of deeper substance. They were basically arcade games.
Suzuki’s brainchild would go on to be called Shenmue, an open-world action RPG (role-playing game) infused with social sim elements.
The first Shenmue initially released back in 1999 for the Sega Dreamcast, and it kickstarted an expansive story that would flow over into its sequel, Shenmue II, which was released in 2001.
Shenmue II ended on a cliff-hanger, and at the time, fans were expecting a speedy follow-up. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Though the series has garnered a massive cult following and positive reviews, at the time, both the first and second game were considered commercial failures, causing the third game to enter a very rough development patch.
Back then, the Shenmue games were the most expensive video games to ever be created, with a whopping budget of $70 million.
This made Sega weary of producing a sequel that was bound to be even more broad in scope.
The Shenmue series was cut short too soon, and for nearly 20 years fans have been desperately holding out hope for a sequel.
In Shenmue, players take on the role of Ryo Hazuki, an 18-year-old high school dropout.
The story starts with the death of Ryo’s father at the hands of a mysterious martial arts master named Lan-Di.
The plot thickens as Ryo realizes that his father’s death might’ve been linked to an ancient artifact called the Phoenix Mirror.
Early on in the first game, Ryo gets viciously beaten-up by one of Lan-Di’s associates. Afterwards, the player will spend the rest of the game developing Ryo’s move set for the inevitable battle to come at the end.
It’s like watching a sports movie from the 80s. Initially, there’s defeat, but through rigorous training, triumph is possible.
Your time in the Shenmue games will be spent exploring the streets of Japan and Hong Kong in search of your father’s killer.
You’ll track down clues, beat-up the occasional thug, and spend your downtime partaking in arcade games and other distractions.
You can even race forklifts at the local shipping docks and buy toy capsules at vending machines to add to your collection.
It sounds crazy, but it all finds a way to fit into the game.
Similar to real life, the world of Shenmue is run on money. This is especially true in the second game, where you actually have to pay rent in order to stay in your apartment.
It’s easy to take money for granted toward the end of the first game because by that point, Ryo will be working a highly lucrative job at the shipping docks.
At the beginning of the second game though, money becomes far more scarce once you arrive in Hong Kong.
In Shenmue II, the option to partake in gambling is made available, which is a “high risk, high reward” strategy to make some daily cash.
You can wager money on arm wrestling, or run your own “Lucky Hit” stand on one of the many street corners in Hong Kong. Lucky Hit is basically Plinko from The Price is Right.
Or if you prefer to make money using more honest principles, you could always help move crates down at the pier.
The one downside about gameplay is the combat system. It can feel clunky, stiff, and takes some getting used to.
I found that there’s no true block button. Just evade enemy attacks and strike when you see an opening. Stay on the offensive, but be smart about it.
If you’re a fan of Grand Theft Auto, Skyrim, or the Yakuza series, then you owe it to yourself to check out the franchise that started it all.
The Shenmue Remastered Collection is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Shenmue III will launch on PS4 and PC Nov. 19.