Shenmue (series)

Genres Action-adventure
Interactive cinema
Life simulation
Social simulation
Developers Sega AM2
Ys Net
Publishers Sega
Microsoft Games Studios
Sony Computer Entertainment
Creators Yu Suzuki
Platforms Dreamcast
Mobile phones
Microsoft Windows
PlayStation 4
Platform of origin Dreamcast
First release Shenmue
December 29, 1999
Latest release Shenmue City
December 2010

Shenmue (Japanese: シェンムー Hepburn: Shenmū) is an open-world action-adventure video game series created, produced and directed by Yu Suzuki. Shenmue and Shenmue II were developed by Sega AM2 and published by Sega for Dreamcast on December 29, 1999, and September 6, 2001 respectively; Shenmue II was ported to Xbox in 2002. Shenmue III, developed by Suzuki's company Ys Net, is due for release in December 2017 for PlayStation 4 and PC. Suzuki plans the series to span at least four games.

The Shenmue games consist of open-world 3D environments interspersed with brawler battles and quick time events. They include elements of role-playing, life simulation and social simulation games, such as a day-and-night system, variable weather effects, non-player characters with daily schedules, and interactive elements such as vending machines, arcades, and minigames. A "revenge epic in the tradition of Chinese cinema",[1] the story follows the teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki as he travels through 1980s Japan and China in pursuit of his father's killer.

After developing several successful Sega arcade games, including Hang-On (1985), Out Run (1986) and Virtua Fighter (1993), Suzuki wanted to create a longer game experience. The original Shenmue was the most expensive video game ever developed at the time, with an estimated production and marketing cost of $47 to $70 million USD, though some of the development also covered Shenmue II. Despite attracting positive reviews and a cult following, the games failed to recoup their development cost and further installments entered development hell.

In 2004, Sega announced a spin-off MMORPG, Shenmue Online, but it was never released. In 2010, a spin-off mobile phone game, Shenmue City, was launched in Japan; it was discontinued the following year. In July 2015, Ys Net began developing Shenmue III after a successful crowdfunding campaign, having licensed the series from Sega.


The Shenmue series was created by Yu Suzuki.

Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki joined Sega in 1983 and went on to create several successful arcade games including Hang-On (1985), Out Run (1986) and Virtua Fighter (1993).[2] In comparison to arcade games, where the ideal experience was only a few minutes long, Suzuki wanted to make a longer experience.[2] In 1996, AM2 began developing a Saturn RPG based on the Virtua Fighter series.[2][3]

In 1997, development moved to Sega's upcoming console, the Dreamcast,[4] and the Virtua Fighter connection was dropped.[5] By the time of the Dreamcast's release in Japan in November 1998, the game had been titled Shenmue, meaning "spirit tree" in Chinese.[2] It became the most expensive game ever developed at the time, reported to have cost Sega $70 million; in 2011, Suzuki said the figure was closer to $47 million including marketing.[6] Development also covered some of Shenmue II (2001) and possibly groundwork for future Shenmue games.[7]

Shenmue was released on December 29, 1999 in Japan,[8] November 8, 2000 in North America,[9] and December 1, 2000 in Europe.[10] Shenmue II was "completed for a much more reasonable sum",[11] and was released for Dreamcast in 2001 in Japan and Europe only; an Xbox port followed in 2002 in Japan, Europe and North America. Despite attracting positive reviews and a cult following, neither game recouped their development cost and Shenmue III entered a period of development hell lasting over a decade.[12]

In 2004, Sega announced a PC MMORPG spin-off set in the Shenmue world, Shenmue Online.[13] It was planned for release in China and Korea, but is now believed cancelled.[14][15] In 2010, Sega announced another spin-off, Shenmue City, a social games service for the Yahoo! Mobage service, but it was shut down in 2012.[16]

During Sony's E3 conference on June 15, 2015, Suzuki announced a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for Shenmue III, having licensed the series from Sega. The campaign reached its initial $2 million goal in just over nine hours.[17] On July 17, 2015 Shenmue III became the fastest-funded and the highest-funded video game project in Kickstarter history, earning 6.3 million USD.[18]


In Shenmue I and II, the player controls teenage martial arts pupil Ryo Hazuki as he investigates his father's murder. The player explores the games' Yokosuka, Hong Kong and Guilin open worlds, searching for clues, examining objects and talking to non-player characters for information. The games feature a 3D fighting system similar to Sega's Virtua Fighter series; Ryo can fight multiple opponents at once, and can practice moves to increase their power. In quick time events, the player must press the right combination of buttons at the right moment to succeed.[6][19]

The games feature a level of detail considered unprecedented for games at the time of their release.[20] Shops open and close, buses run to timetables, and characters have their own routines, each in accordance with the game's persistent clock.[21][22] Ryo receives a daily allowance which can be spent on objects including food, raffle tickets, audio cassettes and capsule toys. There are several minigames; for example, Ryo can throw darts or play complete versions of Sega arcade games. In Shenmue he takes a job as a forklift truck driver,[6][19] and in Shenmue II he can earn money by gambling, arm wrestling, street fighting, and running a pachinko stand.[23][24] The Dreamcast version of Shenmue II allows the player to import their save data from Shenmue, carrying over money, inventory items and martial arts moves.[24]

In 2015, Suzuki said he felt the series was popular because "by focusing on nostalgia and the ordinary, Shenmue creates a window into Japanese and Chinese culture ... it shows us cultural differences through the ordinary and familiar."[25]


Described by IGN as a "revenge epic in the tradition of Chinese cinema",[1] Suzuki plans the Shenmue story to span at least four games.[3]


Main article: Shenmue

In 1986 Yokosuka, Japan, teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki returns to his family dojo to witness a confrontation between his father Iwao and a Chinese man, Lan Di. Ryo intervenes, but is easily incapacitated. Lan Di demands Iwao give him a mysterious stone artifact known as the dragon mirror. When he threatens to kill Ryo, Iwao tells him the mirror is buried under the cherry blossom tree outside. As Lan Di's men dig up the mirror, Lan Di mentions Zhao Sunming, whom Iwao allegedly killed in Mengcun, China. Lan Di delivers a finishing blow and Iwao dies in Ryo's arms.

Ryo's investigation leads him to Master Chen in the Yokosuka harbor. Through Chen and his son Guizhang, Ryo learns that the dragon mirror taken by Lan Di is one of two mirrors. He locates the second, the phoenix mirror, in a basement hidden beneath his father's dojo. After he defeats a local gang connected to Lan Di's organization, Ryo boards a boat to Hong Kong in pursuit of Lan Di.

Shenmue II

Main article: Shenmue II
Ryo (center), Ren (left) and Joy (right) in a scene from Shenmue II

In Hong Kong, Ryo finds Master Xiuying Hong, whom Master Chen suggested he seek the aid of. She refuses to help him, considering his quest for vengeance reckless. Ryo teams up with a gang leader, Wuying Ren, a free-spirited motorcyclist, Joy, and a street boy, Wong, to find Yuanda Zhu, who sent Ryo's father a letter warning him of Lan Di's intentions.

Ryo and his allies locate Zhu in Kowloon Walled City, but are ambushed by the criminal Yellow Head organization and Zhu is kidnapped. Ryo rescues Zhu as Lan Di departs by helicopter. Zhu reveals that Lan Di killed Ryo's father because he believes Iwao killed his own father. Zhu also reveals that the mirrors will lead to the resurrection of the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. Zhu advises Ryo to continue his search in Bailu Village in Guilin, where Lan Di is also heading.

In the mountains of Guilin, Ryo meets a young woman named Shenhua Ling, whom Ryo previously saw in dreams. Shenhua's family is connected to the legacy of the dragon and phoenix mirrors, and she seems to have magical abilities. She leads Ryo to a stone quarry on the village outskirts to meet her father, but discovers he is missing. The pair discover a cryptic note and sword; Ryo combines the sword with the phoenix mirror, triggering a device that reveals a large mural of the dragon and phoenix mirrors.

Shenmue III

Main article: Shenmue III

Ryo and Shenhua embark on a new journey which will reveal their shared destinies. Lan Di will return, with a new antagonist Niao Sun.[26]


Aggregate review scores
As of July 18, 2015.
Game GameRankings Metacritic
Shenmue (DC) 90%[27] -
Shenmue II (DC) 90%[28]
(Xbox) 82%[29]
(DC) 88/100[30]
(Xbox) 80/100[31]
Shenmue III (PC) -[32]
(PS4) -[33]
(PC) -[34]
(PS4) -[35]

The Shenmue series has received mostly positive reviews[36] and attracted a cult following, with both games appearing in several "greatest video games of all time" lists.[37][38][39] Shenmue is credited for pioneering several game technologies; its large environments, wealth of options and level of detail have been compared to later open-world games including the Grand Theft Auto series, Sega's Yakuza series, Fallout 3 (2008), and Deadly Premonition (2010).[40][41][42][43] Shenmue is also credited for naming and popularizing the quick time event in modern games,[44][45] including the Resident Evil, God of War, and Tomb Raider series.[46]


Several soundtracks related to the series have been released. A promotional album entitled Shenmue Juke Box was packaged with the limited edition of the original game in Japan and North America, containing ten select tracks from the in-game cassette tapes.[47] In 1999, the arrange album Shenmue Orchestra Version was released as a tie-in to the game. The music was performed by the Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra with professional erhu player Jia Peng-Fang.[48] An official soundtrack for the first game was additionally released in 2000 titled Shenmue OST: Chapter 1: Yokosuka.[49] In May 2015, it was announced that the newly formed London-based video game music record label Data Discs would be releasing the music of Shenmue in addition to Streets of Rage on vinyl in three separate colored editions. It was made available for sale in September 2015, making it the series' first official soundtrack release in 15 years.[50] In March 2016, the music of Shenmue was inducted into the Classic FM Hall of Fame at 144th place.[51]

Other appearances

Ryo Hazuki is a playable character in Sega's mascot racer Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Ryo rides Naoyuki's motorbike and his special move features him driving a forklift, referencing his job at the Yokosuka Harbor.[52] In 2012, Steve Lycett, executive producer of Sumo Digital, encouraged a fan-made poll on the SEGA Forums to determine which three SEGA characters the fans would like to see in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed as DLC (Downloadable Content). Out of the 28 SEGA characters chosen by the forum, Ryo Hazuki had the majority vote ranking 1st, while Hatsune Miku ranked 2nd, and Segata Sanshiro ranked 3rd.[53] On January 1, 2014, SEGA announced that Ryo will appear in the iOS and Android versions of Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed which was released on January 2.[54] On January 14, Ryo became available for purchase as DLC on Steam for the PC version of Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed. In this game, Ryo rides an arcade-themed vehicle that switches between OutRun, Hang-On, and Space Harrier arcade cabinets depending on its form.[55] Ryo also appears as a solo unit in the tactical role-playing game Project X Zone 2.


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  14. "Shenmue Online canceled: Who will move all of these online crates now?". Destructoid. August 4, 2007.
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  19. 1 2 "Why is everybody so excited? WHAT'S A SHENMUE?". Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  20. "'90s Making of Shenmue documentary gives glimpse into legendary game". Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  21. "Shenmue once featured cats that walk on two legs". Retrieved June 29, 2015.
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  40. Brendan Main, Lost in Yokosuka, The Escapist
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  46. Adam LaMosca, On-Screen Help, In-Game Hindrance, The Escapist
  47. "Shenmue Juke Box". VGMDB. The Video Game Music Database. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  48. "Shenmue Orchestra Version". VGMDB. The Video Game Music Database. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
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  53. "S0L's Challenge: The Campaign for SEGA characters to become DLC". November 17, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2014.
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