The Curious Case of Shenmue 3

E3 is nearly upon us. Next week, we’ll be watching conferences, debating who won, and talking about which games we’re are anticipating the most. Leading up to E3, gamers feverishly speculate about what surprises are in store for the year to come in gaming.

One of the biggest surprises in recent memory happened at E3 2015. At their PlayStation E3 conference that year, Sony trotted legendary game developer Yu Suzuki (of SEGA/AM2 fame) on-stage. It was then that Shenmue 3 was announced, and at that moment I think I may have either screamed or achieved orgasm (or both), if my memory serves me correctly.

Before I talk about Shenmue 3, please understand my perspective on this series. Shenmue is my favorite game of all time on my favorite console of all time, the Dreamcast. I played through Shenmue multiple times. I beat up some goons, retrieved a Sega Saturn from under Ryo’s TV, talked to Tom at his hot dog cart, and drove a forklift around the docks while trying to uncover Mark’s backstory. Then, I played some Space Harrier at the local arcade, took care of a stray cat, and shot some darts. And I loved every second of it. All the while, I eagerly awaited the follow-up to Shenmue.

It was during my wait for the sequel that I felt the first sting of disappointment. The Dreamcast was cancelled, as was the North American release of Shenmue 2. My soul was crushed. What would happen to Ryo? Who was this mysterious Shenhua? I was afraid I’d never find out.

Surprisingly, GameStop came to the rescue. Shortly after the North American cancellation of Shenmue 2, GameStop and Electronics Boutique announced they would be importing the game, and would sell it to you with a “DCX” disc that allowed you to play Japanese-market games on your U.S. Dreamcast. Joyously, I played through Shenmue 2. I played through it again when it released on the original Xbox in 2001. While not as groundbreaking as the first, my love for this series remained strong.

SEGA was still financially reeling at the time due to the combined failures of the Saturn and Dreamcast. Moreover, Shenmue proved to be astronomically expensive to develop, yet did not recoup nearly as much money as SEGA invested in it. Years passed. I became an adult, graduated from college, got a full-time job, and got married. Somewhere along the line, I stopped scouring the Shenmue Dojo website, and gave up hope of ever seeing Shenmue 3.

Finally in 2015, nearly 13 years since Shenmue 2 released on Xbox, there was hope. Shenmue 3  was officially announced for PS4 and PC, to be at least partially funded via Kickstarter. If Suzuki’s development team met their Kickstarter goals, development on the game would continue. After the game was announced and I cleaned myself up, I promptly donated $100 on the game’s Kickstarter page. This was the first (and still the only) time I’ve ever backed a game on Kickstarter.

The game went on to shatter Kickstarter records. Backers pledged over $6 million to the game’s development, more than tripling the initial $2 million goal. Ys Net would also provide updates to the public through the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter page.

I was pumped. Gamers worldwide were just as amped for Shenmue 3 as I was, if not more. Finally, my favorite game series would be able to continue. At E3 2015, it was stated that Shenmue 3 would release in late 2017. Time to start counting the days, right? Unfortunately, things took an odd turn shortly after the Kickstarter campaign began.

I kept up with the development diaries on Kickstarter. They began to focus less on game development, and more on trinkets that the development team received in the mail. Seemingly arbitrary stretch goals, such as “improved battle system” and support for multiple languages, were set. Why should a goal of $3 million need to be met in order for another language to be supported? This seemed strange to me.

Here comes the second sting of disappointment.

An update was posted by Ys Net on December 14, 2014. In the post, it is stated that R&D was on course, and that the team was beginning to focus on production. The game was announced one and a half years prior to this date, and was scheduled for release in a year. Yet, it still hadn’t even entered the production phase.

Words couldn’t express my disappointment. What, exactly, was Ys Net doing during the past 18 months with the $6,333,295 that they solicited from 69,320 gamers? Something didn’t seem right to me. To be truthful, it seemed downright fishy. This is after the team struggled to release meaningful game updates throughout 2016.

The third, and arguably biggest, sting came just last week. Ys Net announced that Shenmue 3 would not be featured at any gaming trade shows, including E3.

What. The. Hell.

This month marks the two year anniversary of the announcement of Shenmue 3 at E3 2015. Next week, at what is arguably one of the most anticipated E3 events in recent memory, Ys Net will have nothing to show to the tens of thousands of fans that donated their hard-earned money to the project. This for a game that is supposed to be releasing about six months from now.

Several adjectives could be used to describe how Ys Net has handled Shenmue 3. Deceitful, disorganized, underhanded, and dishonest would be a few. You could also say that the developers have become complacent after taking millions from gamers’ wallets. Either way, this type of behavior from a developer is downright unacceptable. It serves as yet another example of gamers getting raked over the proverbial coals.

If this were any other game I would not care nearly as much. But this is Shenmue. As far as my gaming experience is concerned, this series pretty much defined my teenage years. To dangle a carrot in front of hardcore fans of the series like myself only to move the carrot an astronomical unit away from our faces is mean. Plain and simple.

What exactly is going on over at Ys Net? It’s clear that development has fallen well behind schedule at this juncture. Perhaps additional funding from Sony or elsewhere hasn’t come through, placing financial constraints on the team. Maybe there have been personal concerns or quality-of-life issues going on, such as what apparently happened with Scalebound.

Whatever the case, Ys Net owes it to all backers to explain what is going on. At this rate, Shenmue 3 may eventually see the light of day on the PlayStation 5 in 2021, if it releases at all.

I hope that I’m completely wrong about all of this. I hope Shenmue 3 releases this year, and that it’s even more amazing than the two games that preceded it. Unfortunately, at this time I have lost nearly all hope for this game and the series as a whole.

Yu Suzuki is a legend. He’ll always be remembered for his achievements with Shenmue, Virtua Fighter, Daytona USA, and Ferrari F355 Challenge, among other classics. I just hope he isn’t remembered as the guy that took the money and ran, too.


SOURCE: Kickstarter

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