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Shenmue Revival Breaks Kickstarter Website

You know your game is popular when your Kickstarter campaign crashes their website.

By 3 min read 1

The second biggest announcement during Sony’s E3 press conference was that beloved video games series Shenmue would finally be returning. Fourteen years after the last installment, Shenmue III is finally being developed for Sony PlayStation and PC. There was just one catch: Shenmue III would be Kickstarted.

Shenmue with its rumored $100 million budget was, at the time, the most expensive video game ever made. Producer Yu Suzuki set the meager sum of $2 million as the project goal, and it was met in record time. A day after posting, Shenmue III has received $3 million in funding and is on its way to being the most successful videogame Kickstarter of all time.

Shenmue was the Japanese video game industry at the peak of its creativity

To be clear, in spite of the pleading #SaveShenmue hashtag, Shenmue III absolutely did not need a Kickstarter. Crowd funding is generally meant to fund projects that are denied traditional financing, but Shenmue III is being developed with the support of mega-corporation Sony itself. The campaign is less about funding and more about marketing, with some chest thumping added in. The series was dead in the water after Shenmue II failed to meet Sega’s, the previous publishers, expectations, but now it can lay claim to one of the biggest, fastest, and most successful Kickstarters in history.

Marketing ploys aside, fans’ love for Shenmue is deep and genuine. When Shenmue was released in 1999 for the Sega Dreamcast, there was no other game like it. Shenmue presented the first fully realized 3D world in console gaming. The digitized town of Yokosuka felt like a living breathing world. Townspeople spoke to you on the street and the weather changed from day to night. As Ryo Hazuki you had to sleep, you had to get a job, and you had to diligently train in martial arts if you ever wanted to win a fight.

Shenmue 3

The relaxed pace and meditative quality of Shenmue is one of the most criticized aspects about the game, but it’s also what made it connect so deeply with so many gamers. Unlike most games or films you didn’t just experience the most exciting moments of the most important day of a character’s life; you simply lived Ryo’s life. This approach grounded the game and made the intermittent bouts of high-stakes video game action seem all the more consequential.

Shenmue was the Japanese video game industry at the peak of its creativity. The fact that so much money was spent on making an entirely new type of game showed a willingness to take risks long since beaten out of the industry. The Yakuza series is considered a spiritual successor to Shenmue but, as the name implies, you don’t spend a lot of time living like an average 20 something. Every open-world game from Grand Theft Auto to Fallout takes something from the Shenmue, but those worlds are playpens made for you the smash as you see fit. The world of Shenmue was something you lived in; it felt bigger than you, and rarely have games achieved that since.

Shenmue isn’t the first dead franchise brought back to life by crowd funding. It’s also not even the most talked about return of an old game this E3. So it’s worth asking: are video game makers becoming too dependent on rehashing the past? With the remake of Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue III, Japan’s video game industry is trying to recapture the glory of the past. Giving fans what they want, and making them feel like a part of the process, is a no-risk move.

What’s going to be the next ground-breaking, industry-changing Japanese video game? If it exists, it wasn’t at E3. Maybe someone will Kickstart it.


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  • Josh Radick says:

    I’m pretty sure Fallout predates Shenmu; it’s just that Fallout adapted its style to utilize the newer technology.



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