Video Game / Shenmue
"Great, superb, remarkable, extraordinary, wonderful, monumental..."IGN's review of Shenmue in 2000.

"He shall appear from a far eastern land across the sea...
A young man who has yet to know his potential...
This potential is a power that could either destroy him or realize his will...
His courage shall determine his fate...
The path he must traverse, fraught with adversity, I await whilst praying...
For this destiny predetermined since ancient times...
A pitch black night unfolds with the morning star as its only light...
And thus the saga...

Shenmue is a game developed by Sega-AM2, released in 1999 for the Sega Dreamcast. A sequel, Shenmue II, was later released in 2001 also for the Dreamcast and then later for the Xbox. Shenmue was originally meant to have more titles ranging from 4-7 over which the complicated story would be told, yet due to disappointing sales, Sega's withdrawal from the console market and the high production costs needed to make Shenmue games, fans had to make do with only two games.

The gameplay was very ambitious for the time, placing player immersion at the forefront of the game design so that they didn't simply play as Ryo, they were Ryo. The first game placed you in a rather small town with complete freedom, and the second had you in a truly massive sprawling area to explore. The game made use of a weather system which as the name implies would change the weather; some days it'll rain, others it'll snow, or it'll be bright and sunny or cloudy and overcast. The days would pass and the seasons would change; if you really wanted to you could wait until spring (the game is set during winter). All the NPCs had their own lives too; in many other games characters would simply walk in a certain pattern or stand there all day, while in Shenmue people came out of their houses around 9am, went shopping, chatted with their friends, headed to the bar at night and then walked home. If it was raining they had raincoats, and add to this that the characters had more than one stock phrase all voiced in English! (in the first game; the second game had Japanese voice overs and English subs - until the Xbox port).

The game probably also popularized the Quick Time Event. Shenmue made it big (Dragon's Lair did it first), and on top of that, in most QTEs if you didn't press the button in time, the story would keep going just slightly differently. There were also random encounters with people, conversations, fights, and the like, so no people ever played the same game. Also, there were classic Sega arcade games to play, Ryo could collect little toys, and even look after a small kitten... basically anything you wanted to do within the world. In the second game, Ryo could gamble, take part in fights, and get part time jobs to get money.

Of course, Shenmue wasn't all about walking around asking people about the day the snow turned to rain and if they had seen a black car; there was fighting too. Based of the Virtua Fighter games, Ryo would enter a free fight where he would either fight a group of people or one worthy opponent. You could learn new moves, and practice them to become more powerful.

The story is a simple one. Ryo's father was killed by the Big Bad Lan Di after he was interrogated to give up the location of the Dragon Mirror (a mysterious jade engraved item). Though Lan Di successfully gets his hands on the mirror, he murders Ryo's father anyway, claiming to have done so in order to avenge a murder that he alleges was committed by him. So Ryo goes out on a quest to get revenge on Lan Di. As it turns out Lan Di is part of a very powerful crime organization, the Chiyoumen, and has connections with the Mad Angels, a group of bikers that hang around in the docks. He meets up with Master Chen who then reveals there is a second mirror which Lan Di is also looking for, the Phoenix Mirror, which just happens to be hidden under the dojo in Ryo's house. After finding the mirror Ryo then proceeds to beat up 70 bikers and learns that Lan Di headed towards Hong Kong. The first game ends with Ryo getting on a boat to Hong Kong.

Due to the disappointing sales, as Shenmue was recorded as the most expensive video game at the time, Sega expressed no plans of developing further entries in the series after the sequel, Shenmue II. Wanting to keep the franchise alive, Suzuki later announced the MMORPG Shenmue Online, which unfortunately suffered from Development Hell and changed developers for years and was never released. In 2010, he attempted to resurrect the franchise with Shenmue City, a social RPG for cell phones, but was only released in Japan and discontinued a year later. With Sega changing as a company as well, many fans began to lose hope for a further entry in the franchise and the series as a whole...

...Until 2015, when the unthinkable finally happened and Yu Suzuki confirmed Shenmue III for PlayStation 4 and PC at E3 2015. The game will be Kickstarter-funded and the game is set to answer the questions left open from the first two games. The game already met the halfway point of funding in under two hours, utterly obliterating the previous record for fastest video game Kickstarter campaign to one million dollars. And in nine hours, it completed its main goal of $2,000,000. By the end of its campaign it had raised a record-breaking $6,333,295 from 69,320 pledges, making it the highest-funded video game on the website at the time.

In 2018, Sega announced that both this game and its immediate sequel would be released on modern platforms as Shenmue I & II with options for Japanese/English voicework, updated controls, and an HD touch-up.

Tropes for the sequel go here: Shenmue II

Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Game: QTEs and fights add some spice to the melting genre pot of the game.
  • Adventure Game: Of an unprecedented scale, with its huge explorable 3D world.
  • All There in the Manual: For the first game, at least, every single character is unique and has their own name and detailed backstory. Everyone from Ryo to his friends to the NPCs who spout generic lines to the guys getting beat up in the 70 Man Battle to the animals running around. None of this actually comes through in the game itself however.
  • Amateur Sleuth: You've got to wander around garnering clues about the whereabouts of Lan Di.
  • Anachronism Stew: Besides the Sega Saturn note  in Ryo's living room, there are other references to franchises that didn't exist yet in 1986, such as Sonic the Hedgehog.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Ryo Hazuki and Guizhang perform some of the best moments in the series when they ally with each other and start breaking the Hell loose all over the place. Like the epic 70-men battle towards the end of the first game.
  • Badass Biker: Ryo and Joy.
  • Badass Grandpa: Many of the Old Masters certainly qualify, even if they don't flaunt it.
  • Bar Brawl: One of the most epic scenes in the series happens to be one of these, with nice QTEs included. You can see it here, in all its QTE glory! Too bad that scene marks the end of Ryo's quest for sailors.
  • Beat 'em Up: You live in The '80s, know martial arts, and have Bar Brawls and fights against gang members, doing things like going to the streets and kick 7 asses all by yourself. Shenmue could as well be an affectionate homage to Sega's Beat 'em Up games, like Streets of Rage and Golden Axe.
  • Betting Mini-Game: Would you like to play a game of Lucky Hit?!
  • Big Bad: The Dragon of Lan Di is a separate one in each game. Chai from the Chi You Men hunts Ryo and they fight twice, in the middle and near the end. he almost stole the Phoenix Mirror, eats the Hong Kong Ticket and breaks the Cynical Mentor Guizang's leg so Ryo's travels alone to Hong Kong. He's the Final Boss.
  • Boring, but Practical: The "Hold Against Leg" kick. Probably the least flashy move Ryo can use, but it deals good damage and, more importantly, quickly puts some distance between you and your opponents, allowing you to keep spamming it before they can close the gap.
  • Bottomless Bladder: You follow Ryo pretty much every minute of every day, and he never hits the bathroom, even if you spend every yen he has on pop machines.
  • Chase Scene: The games are filled to the brink with them, usually in the form of QTE sequences. Ryo will have to chase enemies on foot while avoiding obstacles and other people. At the harbor, he even engages in a motorcycle chase against the Mad Angels.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The beginning of Ryo's notebook at the start of the game has the numbers for the police and fire departments, information, weather forecast, Naoyuki, and Nozomi. You obviously can call them, especially the last two because they give more character conversations/interactions.
  • Close-Knit Community: Yamanose, the fictional hamlet in the real city of Yokosuka, has only eight people living there—three of whom live in the Hazuki residence. The areas of Sakuragaoka and Dobuita are also like this.
  • Cool Bike: The touring motorbike Ryo borrows from one of his neighbors towards the end of the first game, when he has to rush to the Harbor to rescue Nozomi, complete with ass-kicking 80s style Heavy Metal music! Years later, in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, this became Ryo's vehicle of choice.
    • Joy's bike counts as well, which is also accompanied by heavy metal music.
  • Cool Car: It's hard to resist to Ryo's forklift's unique charm. It even managed to be one of his vehicles when he starred years later on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.
  • Cosmic Keystone: Apparently there are two mirrors, the Dragon mirror and the Phoenix mirror, which, when together, grant their holder unbelievable power.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The game carries several, with the most famous example being the first game's opening sequence where Big Bad Lan Di effortlessly makes short work of Ryo and his father without being touched once. Many QTE fight sequences in both games become this in Ryo's favor, and some Free Battle fights can be this depending on Ryo's skill.
  • Covers Always Lie: Lan Di and Shenhua barely appear in the main story or in brief abstract dreams. Chai or Nozomi being on the front would have been more accurate.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Ryo goes on a quest to avenge his father Iwao's death at the hands of Lan Di, who in turn killed Iwao for supposedly killing a man in China. By the end of the second game, he discovers that Lan Di killed Iwao to avenge his father, Sun Ming Zhao. While Sun Ming Zhao did die, Iwao's involvement in the matter has yet to be revealed.
  • Double Entendre: A lot of the NPC dialogue regarding sailors feels like this.
    Ryo: "Do you know where I can find some sailors?
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Several characters appeared in the first game that wouldn't be seen in the story until later installments.
    • Izumi is first seen in the What's Shenmue demo as a guard that prevents the player from entering a restricted area. She doesn't appear in the main game, but appears in the sequel.
    • Xiuying is first seen in a Shenmue Passport tutorial explaining the use of items, before Ryo finally meets her in the second game.
    • Ren and Niao Sun could be downloaded as VMU animations through the Shenmue Goodies minigame found on the Shenmue Passport. Ryo would meet Ren in the sequel, and will finally meet Niao Sun in Shenmue III.
  • Easy Level Trick: Remaining in the starting location makes the 70-man battle a cakewalk, as opponents slowly trickle in and can be easily taken out before they're able to overwhelm you.
  • The '80s: Yu Suzuki really wants to recreate how Yokosuka and Hong Kong looked like in 1986 and 1987, and also the kind of changes these places were experimenting at the time. The gameplay of the fights is like a homage to one of the '80s most outstanding game genres: Beat 'em Up (complete with a me-against-the-neighborhood, kicking-asses-on-the-streets appeal).
  • Embedded Precursor: Not as hidden in the traditional meaning of the trope, but you can still play some of Yu Suzuki's early hits in the local arcades in the games.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Not surprisingly, since the game has its roots in Virtua Fighter.
  • Everything's Cuter with Kittens: Very famously, the first game lets you help raise an abandoned newborn kitten. Probably put as a mean to tell the players to start looking for the little, beautiful things the game has to offer, and thus a cute little critter was the best way to start it.
  • Fighting Game: The game's original concept was a Virtua Fighter spinoff with Akira as a protagonist, so there are some remains such as the free battle mode.
  • Final Battle: Both games have a boss fight towards the end, first one against Chai, second one against Dou Niu.
  • Flashback: Scenes when Ryo was a kid and he was talking to his father can be seen, some of them even teach you new fighting moves!
  • Game Within a Game: Lots of them: classics from arcades, pool, darts, gambling and forklift races.
  • Genre-Busting: Aside from being one of the earliest examples of a modern Wide Open Sandbox game, it also touted Adventure Game mechanics and Visual Novel aesthetics, Quick Time Event action sequences, beat'em-up mechanics, and plenty of interactive minigames to keep you busy. It was revolutionary enough to be labelled as its very own genre by creator Yu Suzuki: Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment, or F.R.E.E.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: After the fight between Ryo and Guizhang, Terry tries to take advantage of the moment by smashing his longtime enemy's head in with a chunk of concrete. Fail the QTE and the camera moves up to hide what would've been an extremely unpleasant sight.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The leader of the Chi You Men, Lan Di, kills Ryo's father in the intro and sets him on his quest for vengeance but he hardly appears again he escapes to Hong Kong before a second confrontation could take place.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first half is based mostly in the suburbs of Yokosuka and focuses on Ryo finding out about the Chi-You Men and their leader Lan-Di. Then he tries to find a ticket for Hong Kong in pursuit. The second half on the largest disc 3 is focused mainly on Ryo having a job on the docks of New Yokusuka Harbor and teaming up with Guizhang to fight the Mad Angels.
  • Heavy Metal: Set in The '80s, with rude sailors, mean bikers and a tough underworld, some elements of '80s Heavy Metal culture pop up. Not to mention Joy's theme song.
  • Hero Protagonist: Ryo Hazuki.
  • Hip-Hop: Tom, the American hot dog stand vendor, likes to dance to the rhythm of some groovy tunes and he takes his stereo system everywhere he goes, even to work. He says his dancing could attract more clients.
    • Cool Z in the second game always carries a boombox blasting hip hop music.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: The battle with Chai at the arcade is a subversion since he can be beaten, but this outcome doesn't affect the story.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: The soundtrack of Shenmue is composed of many orchestra scores.
    • The aforementioned epic 80s style Heavy Metal instrumental tune, which plays when you're in a motorbike rushing to the Harbor to save Nozomi, is in fact a synthesized instrumental remix of one of the songs from F355 Challenge, "Scarlatto".
  • In-Universe Game Clock: Shenmue attempted to portray a realistic and groundbreaking day and night system that widely affected all of Ryo's surroundings in the game. Each NPC had their own schedules and would be in different places depending on the time of day, stores would open in the morning and close at night, while bars would be closed throughout the day and open at night, the bus would only be accessible at certain times, making time an important factor in the game. Each day also had different weather and seasons, beginning in December and can only be played until April.
  • Japanese Delinquents: There are a couple of guys in black coats that hassle Ryo and Nozomi throughout the game, and there are several QTEs and fights against them. There are also schoolgirls who are extremely hostile and are also fought.
  • Leitmotif: Several main characters have theme music whenever they have a cutscene, many of which can be purchased as cassette tapes in-game.
  • MacGuffin: The twin stone mirrors, Dragon and Phoenix, have never quite had their purpose identified in the series, so for now they're this (Master Chen speaks of some immense power if they're brought together and Lan Di seems to be trying to harness this but it's not clear what exactly this entails).
  • Mafia: Lan Di seems to be the leader of a powerful Chinese cartel.
  • Mobstacle Course: Many QTE chases have you dodging around civilians in order to catch up.
  • New Media Are Evil: Upon interviews with Yu Suzuki, he explained that back in the early 80s, video games were seen in Japan as a mother´s worst enemies, taking place in dark, gritty rooms frequented by anti-social teens. So He came with the idea of broadening the video game public, bringing games from dark places to brighter places, and developing innovative, fresh games that would appeal to a more massive audience. Thus he created hardware like the riding motorbike in Hang-On or the 360° rotating cabinet in After Burner, and thus expanding games interface from the typical coffee-top tables seen until that moment. What does this have to do with Shenmue? Well, that dark, gritty kind of atmosphere is the one you get when you enter the You Arcade place on Dobuita street, reflecting how the video games scene looked like back then until he released his arcade hits.
  • The '90s: The time where Shenmue was originally developed, and released in Japan.
  • Non-Lethal K.O.: Ryo has yet to definitively kill any of his opponents, and the only way for him to die in the first game is via the Non Standard Game Over mentioned below. There are, however, several QTEs and one free battle in Shenmue II that can indeed be fatal to Ryo even if the game just lets you take as many Mulligans as you have to.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: You have until April 14th to finish the first game. When April 15th rolls around, Big Bad Lan Di reappears in the dojo and kills Ryo the same way he killed Ryo's father. Similarly, failing to progress to the next chapter in the second game in a reasonable amount of time would result in a game over as Lan Di's trail goes too cold.
  • NPC Scheduling: One of the first 3D examples of this, and one of the game's largest features. As Shenmue operates through a realistic day and night cycle, every NPC character has their own schedule they go by in their daily lives. They'll leave home in the morning, will be found in certain places depending on what time of day it is, and return home by the day's end.
  • Present Day Past: The first game puts you between the end of 1986 and the start of 1987, and the second one takes place in 1987. However you will find Sega-themed trappings from the early and mid-90s pretty frequently (the Sega Saturn, Virtua Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog, and others).
  • Press X to Not Die: One of the earliest to make use of the QTEs, and a good user on that. In fact you could say that Shenmue is The Godfather of the mid cutscene QTE (It even coined the actual term!).
  • Product Placement: To help with the sense of realism, the game includes some real-world brands like Timex and Coca-Cola (though Coke is only present in the Japanese version, with the US version going with "Bellwood's" in a Coke-styled font).
  • The Quiet One: Ryo, Guizhang, and the masters seem to be this.
  • Racing Minigame:
    • At the harbor, Mark starts each day with a three lap race, and everyone races in forklifts. Ryo has to beat four other racers to the finish line.
    • Late in the game, Ryo burrows a motorcycle and races against the clock to get to the harbor. Although traffic is clear, you'll run out of time if you keep hitting the walls.
  • Real Life: Yu Suzuki did an amazing job recreating the Real Life Yokosuka and how daily life looked in The '80s. You just have to look how the real Dobuita street looks like to truly appreciate his work in the game.
  • Real Place Background: Yokosuka is filled with the memories Yu Suzuki had when he was living there.
  • Revenge:
    • What ignites Ryo's motivations and what starts his adventure. Word of God says that Ryo's bloodthirsty quest for revenge would slowly be put aside as the series continued, and that other features from life, like inner feelings, personality traits, and relationships between people, would be explored.
    • Likewise Lan Di speaks as if he's seeking revenge for someone (Sunming Zhao) during his fight with Iwao (claiming Iwao took this man's life and Lan Di intends to return the favor).
  • The Rival: Ryo seems to be pitted with one in each game. The first is Guizhang Chen, whose skills rival that of Ryo's, and makes it clear he thinks Ryo will only get himself killed before realizing he'd act no different if the same thing happened to him. The second game has Wuying Ren, the leader of a gang who is far more cunning than Ryo and driven by greed.
  • Role-Playing Game: Some elements, like the powering up of skills and the NPCs talking, are brought to the game.
  • Sailor Fuku: Mai and other teenage girls wear them in the first game. Some of them happen to be very rude and hurtful towards Ryo, as seen here.
  • Scenery Porn: The entire series is an ode to the beauty of life, and so you can see that message from its settings, from the crowded street of Dobuita to the magical forest of Guilin. The level of detail and depth just adds to its charm. In fact, it sort of defies the trope in the traditional meaning that it wants to make gorgeous urban settings too, not just countryside or rural settings.
    • The Hazuki's house garden has a fountain and some gorgeous trees and flowers.
    • Dobuita street comes to life like if it were in 1986, with all the city's folks coming and going. You can feel like the street is breathing with life. Such a beautiful showing of daily routines and everyday life comes close as nothing more than pure costumbrism art style.
    • When the Harbor starts to be painted by the falling snowflakes, it acquires an impressive and stark personality.
  • Schizo Tech: Ryo owns a Sega Saturn. The game is set during The '80s. Word of God says that little Sega Saturn was put as an homage to the console where Shenmue was originally programed and meant to be released.
  • Shout-Out: Given the depth of the game, you're bound to find quite a few.
    • A Sega Saturn is in Ryo's room, to pay homage to the console where Shenmue started development.
    • An Astro Blaster cabinet can be seen in the YOU Arcade in Dobuita, but it has an "out of order" label on it and is not playable.
    • Katana-brand cigarettes can be seen on NPCs smoking. Guess what was the codename of the Sega Dreamcast during its development?
    • Ryo certainly looks a lot like the character where his roots come from, Akira, even after giving him characterization.
    • Guizhang's design is similar to that of Liu Kowloon of the Virtua Fighter anime, which is also interesting considering Guizhang's design was originally the Big Bad's design for this game.
    • Many fighting moves are also similar to those from the Virtua Fighter series.
    • When Megumi finds the little orphaned kitten at the start of the game, she begs "to call her Sasuke, so she'll grow up big and strong like a ninja!".
    • Drinking machines, all colored red.
      • Though this is just because they couldn't secure the license to Coke's logo in the United States. In Japan it's straight-up Product Placement.
    • Lots and lots of collectable toys are from well-known Sega franchises, like Sonic the Hedgehog (specifically, Sonic the Fighters), Virtua Fighter, Space Harrier, Bonanza Bros, Ristar or Fantasy Zone.
    • You can play a few of the other creations of Yu Suzuki himself at the arcades, like Space Harrier and Hang-On.
    • The MJQ Jazz Bar is a reference to jazz group Modern Jazz Quartet.
    • If you examine the cassettes closely you'll find that most of the names on there are mash-ups of various NBA players. Examples include Kobe O'Neel (Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal) and Michael Barkley (Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley) among others.
  • Snow Means Death: It's snowing on the day Iwao Hazuki is murdered.
  • Stalking Mission: To find Lan Di, you've got to first find some sailors, then find a guy named Charlie, then find another one named Jimmy, and so on.
  • Stealth-Based Mission: Ryo sneaks into the Old Warehouse district at night to locate the warehouse where Master Chen is located, and must avoid being detected and caught by the guards. He's thrown out if he's caught and will try again the next night, and repeated failures will prompt the homeless man to provide Ryo with a map of the area as well as a layout of the guard patrol paths.
  • Take Your Time: Averted. Despite the game's manual emphasizing that players should do this and explore everything in order to get the most out of the game instead of rushing through the story and beating the game, there is actually a time limit to complete it. However, most players will be able to do this without even coming close to said limit, and are warned when they are.
  • Talk to Everyone: The game cannot further emphasize the importance of interacting with the world: in this game, the NPCs have a lot of things to say, and these things themselves change as the plot moves on, too. Plus, some characters like the hilarious Goro, Tom the hot dog stand vendor and the cute Nozomi are quite pleasant to chat with!
  • Temporary Online Content: The online "Shenmue World" feature found on the Shenmue Passport, as Sega's online servers shut down with the Dreamcast's cancellation. The Shenmue World provided a database containing detailed information on all characters and locations, detailed stats on various things found within each save file, allowed players to trade in winning cans and toys, along with official announcements and (perhaps a first) online leaderboards for the various mini-games.
  • Tiger Versus Dragon: Symbolized by Ryo and Lan Di. Ryo wears a brown leather jacket with a red tiger on the back of it, while Lan Di wears a green robe with a dragon imprinted on it. Although Ryo's a strong martial artist, he's reckless and his technique leaves much to be desired in the eyes of other masters, while Lan Di is far more composed and calculating, which makes him far more dangerous and deadly. It remains to be seen what the outcome would be should these two cross paths again.
  • Timed Mission: In both games, you have a time limit. Go overboard and you get a Non Standard Game Over (Which is ironically the only way to get an actual Game Over). Fortunately, you are given way more than enough time to beat the game.
    • When Nozomi is kidnapped and Ryo borrows a motorcycle to go rescue her, the player is given a time limit to race to the harbor.
  • Trope Codifier: Some things got huge thanks to Shenmue despite appearing sometime before.
    • QTEs.
    • Weather system.
  • Trope Maker: For a game as innovative as Shenmue, you're bound to find some.
    • The Wide Open Sandbox genre started in its modern form with Shenmue.
    • Full voiced NPCs, each with their own unique designs and complex strolling patterns.
    • Picking up and examining items.
    • Bringing people from the film industry to develop the cinematics of the game.
  • Visual Novel: The game's aesthetics are compared to the ones from this genre.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Ryo learns techniques from a myriad of masters, but almost none in the game actually simply give him straightforward lessons.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: Shenmue was possibly the first 3D sandbox game, to the point that Sega gave it its own genre — FREE, short for Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Some girls wearing school uniforms that are part of a gang assault Ryo and get the crap beaten out of them in the first game. In an optional scene, Jerk Ass bully Enoki winds up to slug Nozomi for protecting a little kid the bully was picking on, mind when Ryo steps in and kicks his ass.
  • You Killed My Father: Ryo will track Lan Di down and avenge his father's death.