Shenmue – A commercial failure? Possibly. An artistic triumph? Without question.

ShenmueShenmue, Yu Suzuki’s flawed masterpiece is the extremely rare result of one man’s vision being backed by almost unlimited funding and resources. The decision may have backfired from a financial standpoint thanks in part to the Dreamcast’s relatively poor market share, but the resultant product is quite unlike anything released before or since.

While not for everyone and certainly not without its flaws, Shenmue overcomes its faults thanks to a fantastic story, fleshed out characters and a truly palpable sense of place – something that Shenmue has arguably yet to be matched on. Over 10 years after its release, Shenmue still holds its own both graphically and technically and while many of its features are now common place, back in 1999 it was doing things that had simply never been done before.

NPCs, beyond being brilliantly unique from one another, all go about their daily business in a believable manner, the animation work, specifically the facial animations of even the most minor of characters were, and still are, absolutely fantastic and the weather system, which incorporated actual weather data from Yokosuka for 1986 and 1987 all combine to make Shenmue an experience that you lived rather than played.

Some may argue that the game is too slow, others that it is self-indulgent. I however would argue that it is an experience quite unlike any other; one that, if succumbed to, is likely to leave as indelible a mark on you as any movie or book. We may never know how Ryo Hazuki’s tale of revenge ends, but we will never forget the journey.

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  • shenmuenextgen

    Is Shenmue a commercial failure? SEGA spent $60M on Aliens: Colonial Marines, which was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 video game consoles and for MicrosoftWindows. Playstation 3 owners = 75 million, Xbox 360 owners = 77.2million, Microsoft Windows gamers = ???. That is a total (let alone Microsoft Windows gamers) of 152.2 million gamers, and, it sold only 1,310,000 units.
    In the other hand, Shenmue I cost $47M, which was released exclusively for Dreamcast; Dreamcast owners = only 10.6 million. Now, then. By these facts, do you consider Shenmue I as a commercial failure? Not at all! Instead, Dreamcast was a flop. Shenmue sold about as well as it could have on the Dreamcast. To recoup that investment, it would have had to sell *TWICE as many copies as there were Dreamcast owners*. If there had been as many Dreamcast owners as there were GameCube owners (let alone Xbox or PS2), it might have been possible. But the Dreamcast was such a flop that any game with a budget that size was doomed to financial failure. When SEGA ploughed that money into Shenmue, they were banking on the console being successful, and it wasn’t. It wasn’t Shenmue that flopped, it was the Dreamcast. The cost of making games has certainly increased, but the proportional cost of making Shenmue-style games has fallen dramatically from the bleeding edge heights of its development in the ’90s. It really was an exceptional project to undertake in those days, whereas now, even *IF* SEGA aim for AAA presentation, its costs would be comparable to its modern peers.