Lamentations of Lost Ardour – Remembering Shenmue
I have a date for you to remember, it is a most pivotal event. If not for you (which it is, you just don’t know it yet), it definitely is for me. Friday 17th July 2015. 09:15 EDT, the day that Shenmue III (or 3) broke the Kickstarter record for a crowd-funded video game and leapt straight into the Guinness Book of Records. How much did this obviously popular Kickstarter make? Oh, only $6.33million. I would like you to dwell on that for a moment, absorb it, let it sink in. $6.33million. That’s not too bad is it?
I was also one of the backers for the game, and that is why I am writing this article. I want to share with you my experience of Shenmue and how it impacted upon me as a person, a 17 year, 7 months and 9 days old person specifically.
23rd November 2001, that was the day Shenmue was released in Europe. It was a miserable day (as is standard in Sheffield), a fine rain seeped through the seams of my supposedly waterproof jacket. Onwards I trudged to the GAME concessions store, located at the top floor of Debenhams on The Moor*. Windswept as I entered the store, I made my way to the escalator leaving in my wake little puddles and mud-flecked outlines of my trainers (sneakers to the American folks) on the tiled floor. Removing my hood as I made my way up the escalator, I wiped my face clear of excess rainwater. Peering up to the roof between the parallel escalators, a large chandelier glistened as though it beckoned me forth to the holy grail… the video games haven.
I remember picking up my game, but everything that followed was a haze. I could not tell you if the weather had changed, if the sun had crept out from the sky, if the heavens had truly opened and there was an impending flood, whether there was snow. I could tell you this… I too was as out of breath as Ryo-san as he ran up the hill to the Haruki residence, snow flakes falling steadily around me. A polygonal daydream as I saw the snapped-in-two sign at the gates and ran ahead without looking around the surroundings, I was entranced, but I was also scared. Why was Ine-san on the floor? Who had hurt that cute old lady? I tentatively made my way to the door of the dojo, standing at the base of the steps. The orchestral score fades out, silence, stillness, a momentary pause… then a body is flung through the doors landing at the base of the steps Fuku-san!
Ryo runs up the steps and into the dojo only to see his father being brutally beaten to a pulp (and his eventual death) by a mysterious man known only as Lan Di, all in aid of some mythical mirror.
I am barely 5 minutes into the game and I completely and utterly ravaged by tension, ravaged I say.
What followed was a video games experience that has remained with me for the last 15 years. The memories of this experience resuscitated following the announcement of the Kickstarter.
Shenmue has always been one of the finest and most anticipated gaming experiences I have ever had. When it was announced in 1999, Yu Suzuki stated that it was a completely new genre of game Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment (F.R.E.E). Don’t get caught up in that hype however. It was an adventure RPG, it was a technical marvel and it was also home to some of the worst voice-acting ever in video games history. But it was charming, endearing and most of all memorable. Every person that has played Shenmue through to completion will always have memories that they cherished. Those memories could be the visuals (graphically the game was so far ahead of everything else it was almost CG realised at this time), the combat system (cribbed from Virtua Fighter), the horrendous dubbing (rectified to a degree in Shenmue II in Europe), or even the borderline racist representation of Tom the West Indian, Indian Scottish accented-hybrid which served only to reinforce negative calypso character stereotype in popular culture (seriously cringe-inducing).
But for all it’s foibles aside, Shenmue represented a realisation of a grand ambition, an attempt to do something no other games had tried before with a focus on immersion. In part it worked, in many places it fell apart. But it resonated and left a mark on each person that played it.
In the years that followed it was unfairly blamed as the game that sank SEGA. It was an unapologetically ostentatious idea, delivering plans of a trilogy before the first game had even released obviously rubbed some people up the wrong way. But looking back on this now, it’s just a season pass essentially. Amazing how such a base comparison can be cast willy nilly.
A couple of months ago, hot on the back of one of the many frequent Ys Net Kickstarter updates. Digital Foundry further discussed the allure of the game to this day, as well as its hugely ahead of the time technology. Well worth a watch, and it’s only 15 minutes long.
I still own Shenmue & Shenmue II. I shall always treasure them until disc rot sets in (fingers crossed this doesn’t happen), I shall even take them both out and play through in the run up to Shenmue III’s eventual release.
How about you? How do you feel about Shenmue? Do you have any memories you would like to share?
Shenmue III is currently being developed by Ys Net, with a planned release of December 2017.
*This is the same GAME store I would eventually begin working once I became of age, some of the best years of my working life. A great team and so many wonderful memories.