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Video Game / Shenmue

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"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 story is a simple one. Ryo Hazuki's father is killed by the Big Bad Lan Di after he is 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.

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.

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 it 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. The game was released in November 2019. Of further note, Suzuki has hinted that III won't entirely wrap up the storyline, meaning that a Shenmue IV might possibly come along in the future.

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.

In September 2020, a 13 episode anime adaption of the game co-produced by [adult swim] and Crunchyroll was announced, with Yu Suzuki serving as executive producer. The series, entitled Shenmue the Animation, premiered on Crunchyroll and Toonami on February 6, 2022, the former being the subtitled version and the latter being dubbed.

Tropes specific to Shenmue II and Shenmue III should go on their respective pages.

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: Downplayed. The game is set in late 1986/early 1987, and for the most part it very much sticks to a time-accurate portrayal of that moment in time. However, a few subtle oddities does pop up:
    • 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.
    • Ryo's Timex watch includes an Indiglo backlight, which wasn't introduced until 1992.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • When Ryo is searching the dojo for the Phoenix Mirror, he'll drop some hints if the player spends too much time searching without finding any clues. In the basement, Fuku-san will often pop up and lead you in the right direction.
    • The HD release gives you the ability to save anywhere, as opposed to only at night by Ryo's bed, which was originally one of the new features introduced in the sequel.
    • If you take too long trying to sneak into Old Warehouse 8, the bum will eventually appear and start to write you a map. How quickly he does so depends on how nice you were to him before this scene.
  • 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, when he dashes to the harbor on his friend's motorcycle after Nozomi is kidnapped.
  • 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.
  • 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 travels alone to Hong Kong. He's the Final Boss.
  • Birthday Beginning: A bit more subtle than most cases, but the intro scene where Ryo's father is murdered in front of him takes place on November 29, 1986, which happens to be Ryo's 18th birthday.
  • 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, making it a good choice for mapping to the shoulder button. The sequel makes the input for this move simpler to perform, to make up for how you can no longer "hotkey" a favorite attack.
  • 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.
  • Bullying a Dragon: By the second time thugs like Enoki or the two sailor jerks get their asses kicked by Ryo, you'd think they would learn to leave you well enough alone, but nope; they just keep coming back for more, and they keep getting waylaid (the sailor jerks eventually catch on near the end, but by then Ryo is coming after them to get information on their gang).
  • But Thou Must!: Around the middle of the game, when Ryo is trying to scrounge up enough money to get a ticket to Hong Kong, he gets a couple lump sums of money which likely represent considerably more than the player has ever seen in the game up to this point, but refuses to spend any of it before he's able to secure the ticket. This is almost certainly to avoid an Unwinnable situation, as the ways to gain money in this part of the game are very limited. What must be done to progress at this point is also this trope, as the only place to find an affordable ticket is at the Asia Travel Company, even though asking other characters about it beforehand will lead to them being very vocal about its bad reputation.
  • Central Theme: The Power of Friendship and the futility of Revenge. Many characters throughout Ryo's journey attempt to dissuade him from taking revenge on Lan Di as he's needlessly putting his life in danger, and warn him that he'll either lose his life if he fails or lose himself if he succeeds. There are many people he meets along the way whose help is crucial to his journey, and Ryo also leaves a wide impact on their lives as well. However, Ryo is too stubborn and determined to abandon his quest for vengeance, and keeps most of his friends at a distance as to not endanger them.
  • Charged Attack: Enoki has a special attack where he charges up a punch for a couple of seconds before throwing it. If Ryo dodges at any time while he's winding it up, he'll keep low until Enoki throws the punch and whiffs it. If it connects, it'll knock Ryo flat on his ass and take out a huge chunk of his health bar.
  • Chase Scene: The game is 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. Many people living there have known Ryo for years and are eager to help him.
  • 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.
  • 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 (the latter exclusively for Shenhua, as she wouldn't meet Ryo in person until the end of the second game). Chai or Nozomi being on the front would have been more accurate.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: When in Hong Kong, a bartender thanks Ryo, who's 18, for being honest that he's not old enough to drink. This is based on the drinking age in Japan, which is 20, but inconsistent with that of Hong Kong, which is 18.
  • 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.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: The HD version can be this for both games during free roam mode. The Dreamcast version of the original game presented an A button prompt whenever Ryo could interact with a person or object, but was otherwise hidden. The second game had all face buttons present at all times to highlight their multiple functions, while changing the button that Ryo interacts with objects from A to X. The HD version implements the second game's HUD into the first game but keeps the button functions the same for their respective games, which can make things confusing for players going from one game back to another.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: For the most part, losing fights and failing QTEs allow the player to either retry the sequence, or the story will go on with a minor setback, such as Ryo having to spend the rest of the day recovering in bed. There are some major exceptions, such as losing all your money at the harbor if you lose a fight, and being sent back to the first floor in the Ghost Hall Building in the sequel. And if you play too long into the year and get an actual Game Over, you'll need to start a new save file.
  • Developer's Foresight: Try to call the police at the start of the game and Ryo will immediately hang up, saying that avenging the murder of his father is something he has to do on his own. This nets you a trophy/achievement in the HD release.
  • Double Entendre: A lot of the NPC dialogue regarding sailors feels like this.
    Ryo: "Do you know where I can find some sailors?
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: When you get a job as a forklift driver, you'll be invited to a forklift race the next day. The prize for winning is a forklift figurine numbered whatever you placed as. To get all five, you have to flub some of the races on purpose before you get fired for all the workplace fighting you did.
  • 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. Ren's name also appears on the high score tables of Space Harrier and Hang-On.
  • Earn Your Bad Ending: The only possible Game Over (where Lan Di returns and kills Ryo) requires over three months of in-game time to pass, meaning that if you want to see it, you'll need to either spend a long time failing a certain QTE to quickly skip through the days, or spend an extremely long time farting about town to keep the plot from advancing.
  • Easily Forgiven: When Ryo looks for Charlie in the first game, a biker's willing to tell Ryo his whereabouts on the condition that he get a tattoo and join their gang. If Ryo meets him later, the biker's not too pleased that Ryo had no intention of joining them. Ryo apologizes for lying about it, and the biker tells him it's okay (the English dub makes him almost drop his tough guy image), but not to bother him again.
  • Easter Egg: After the release of Shenmue I & II, nearly twenty years after the first game was released, a former AM2 developer revealed the existence a hidden Shoryuken move in the first game, which the team put in for fun, but was told by Suzuki to remove it. Instead, it was hidden under certain conditions. After fans discovered it within the game's code, another one was later discovered. Both require the kitten's affinity points, not visible to the player, to be at a certain level at that point in the game, and a special command must be put in within a very, very short time.
    • Nozomi joins the fight: Before the fight with Enoki and Nagashima at Sakuragaoka Park, by having the kitten's affinity points above 500 and inputting the commands at the first shot of the cutscene, Nozomi will fight alongside Ryo using his moveset.
    • Shin Shōryūken: During the QTE fight with Goro at the harbor, by having the kitten's affinity points over 1,000 and inputting a certain command, Ryo will finish the fight with a Shoryuken. According to the developer, the input sequence must be done within 6 frames.
  • 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 experiencing 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 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.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: During the search for a Hong Kong ticket about halfway through the game, Ryo can inquire at the Global Travel Agency who only offer round trip air fare at 220k yen, which is more than he can afford at the time. However, if the player exploits the time mechanics to keep working at the harbor indefinitely later in the game, it's entirely possible to earn this much money several times over given enough time, but Ryo will never consider Global Travel as an option again.
  • 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.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • Pertaining to Permanently Missable Content below, there are many scenes and events that require the player to be at the right place at the right time during certain points in Ryo's quest, some of which teach you new skills.
    • The pool shot in the MJQ Jazz Bar early in the game, which can only be attempted once. Most players had to rely on a guide so they wouldn't lose ¥1,000.
    • The location of the Heartbeats bar can be difficult to find for first time players. It's not on the map, the alleyway that it's located in can be easily skipped and overlooked, most of the locals don't seem to know its location, those that do can give rather vague directions, and most information isn't updated in the notebook. Saijo-san will actually tell Ryo its location if he's pressed for more info when he's asked about sailors, but once Ryo wins the bet at the MJQ Jazz Bar, Ryo won't ask him where the bar is located.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: There is a trend in this game of Ryo having to beat up the same people at least three times in order for them to learn their lesson; even those who are well aware of the Hazuki talent for martial arts. The two sailors that Ryo first beats up outside of the Heartbeats Bar (the black guy in the purple shirt and the guy in a beige top and green pants) take the crown as you'll be fighting them a good half a dozen times by the end. At least some of these people should have gone y'know, its just not worth it after the second time of spitting their own blood onto the sidewalk and left it at that.
  • 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.
  • Long Song, Short Scene: The little tune that plays when nighttime rolls around is actually fifty seconds long, but you'll usually hear about only seven seconds of it, and fifteen seconds at most.
  • 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).
  • The Mafia:
    • Lan Di is one of the leaders of a powerful Chinese cartel known as the Chi You Men.
    • There's also Nagai Industries, a business on the outskirts of Dobuita that is very obviously a front for the Yakuza, filled with well-dressed but dangerous-looking guys. Aside from their doorman, they're a surprisingly cordial bunch, politely tolerating Ryo's presence and answering his questions as honestly as they can.
  • Mobstacle Course: Many QTE chases have you dodging around civilians in order to catch up.
  • Money Grinding: Averted for the most part, as ways to earn money are very few compared to the ways you have to lose it. About the only thing you have to rely on to do this for the first half of the game is Ine-san's daily allowance of 500 yen, which is extremely quickly burned up buying food for the kitten and other optional things. Better grinding is possible when Ryo gets a job later in the game, but at this point you're restricted from most of the free roaming stuff you could do in Dobuita, and progressing through the story normally means Ryo only gets about 5 days' worth of wages. One trick you can do if you want more money is to avoid going to Warehouse 17 after the second day of work (technically the third if you count the 'tutorial' right after getting hired), which keeps the story from progressing and lets you keep on redoing that day of work.
  • The Movie: Shenmue: The Movie was a theatrical film that was shown in select Japanese theaters using in-game graphics to tell the story of the first game, including battles performed by expert players. Both dubs benefit from clear and uncompressed audio and some music is taken from the original soundtrack album. The Japanese DVD includes a live-action comedy segment featuring Masaya Matsukaze and Takumi Hagiwara (dressed as their characters Ryo and Ren respectively) attempting to film a commercial in Shanghai for the then-upcoming Shenmue II. The movie was released outside Japan as a bonus disk for the Xbox version of Shenmue II but without the bonus features featured in the Japanese DVD.
  • Mystical Jade: The series revolves around two legendary jade mirrors called the Phoenix Mirror and the Dragon Mirror. Despite being a mundane world, they seem to have some vaguely defined mystical powers and the Big Bad will stop at nothing to get them both. The murder of protagonist Ryo Hazuki's father to get the Dragon Mirror is what sets off the plot.
  • Mythology Gag: In the alleyway that leads towards the Heartbeats Bar, the word "Berkley" is written in graffiti on the wall, which was one of the code names used for Shenmue during development.
  • Narrative Filigree: All over the place. There are loads of shops you can enter, areas you can explore, and unique individuals you can meet that don't contribute to Ryo's quest in any significant way. They're there for verisimilitude; to remind that it's a big ol' world that keeps on a-spinning, and Ryo's personal quest is just one little part of it.
  • Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters: One of the places Ryo can visit in Dobuita is Nagai Industries, where Akira Nagai, an old-fashioned yakuza operates. Ryo can visit and most of the gangsters inside are friendly and can help provide him with information, with the exception of one particular Jerkass who later gets what's coming to him.
  • 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 game is via the Non-Standard Game Over mentioned below.
  • Nonstandard 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..
  • No Fair Cheating: There's an obvious shortcut path in the forklift races, but it doesn't count towards a lap, so you'll be stuck in fifth if you try taking it.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The first thing you are taught when learning to drive a forklift is to NEVER travel with a heavy, elevated load as it raises the centre of gravity and thus makes it easier to tip the entire vehicle as well as heavily obscuring your forward vision. The correct method is to travel with the forks lowered, stop with the brakes on, and then raise the forks to the required height. You may also have to travel to your destination in reverse depending on factors such as inclines and the size of the load. But that of course is small potatoes compared to the high speed forklift race around tight, blind corners that are frequented by pedestrians and other vehicles (which Ryo always miraculously brakes in time to avoid hitting). This whole dock is a clock ticking towards a fatal accident. Then there's the literal forklift races held every morning before the shift, which are conducted and clearly sanctioned by Mark, who is your foreman.
  • Not Completely Useless: All those collectible miniatures you've been gathering might seem like little more than a time and money sink, and they sort of are... Until you play the sequel and Ryo is robbed of all his cash near the beginning, because then they can be sold off to recover some of your losses.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • At first, Guizhang dismisses Ryo's quest for vengeance as an admirable but foolish waste, until he realizes he'd do the same thing if anything happened to his father. He's also just as stubborn and proud as Ryo is.
    • Used by Ryo towards Lishao at the end of the game. Because her parents were also killed, he tells her that she also knows what it's like to want revenge, and she has no words in response.
  • 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.
  • Old Master: Ryo can learn moves from elderly folks who, to his surprise, know a great deal of martial arts.
  • Paper Tiger: "Jimmy" at the Asia Travel Co. His threatening tough-guy act lasts only as long as it takes for Ryo to take out his two thugs, and he spends the rest of his screentime thereafter as a sniveling weenie.
  • Permanently Missable Content:
    • There are several scenes and events that can only be triggered at certain points in the game. These can be easily missed and can't be obtained once Ryo advances too far in his quest.
    • Several trophies/achievements in the HD release are missable as well, some (but not all) of them tied to some of the aforementioned scenes and events.
    • Surprisingly averted for most if not all of the optional collectibles needed for 100% Completion; once Ryo gets a job at the harbor the game hits a Point of No Return where the player is mostly restricted from accessing the shops in Sakuragaoka and Dobuita, since he automatically heads to work at the start of each day and isn't able to return to those areas until late at night when most of the shops are closed. However, the antique shop which is the only place some of the move scrolls can be found closes at 10 PM, meaning Ryo has a small window of time to get there after taking the bus, the Arcade and Tomato Mart shops where you can collect some unique figurines are open late at night, and the gacha capsule toy dispensers are placed outside their respective shops, meaning they are not time sensitive (save for the ones in the Harbor Lounge, which is open 24 hours).
  • Present-Day Past: The game puts you between the end of 1986 and the start of 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 HD rereleases remove all of these, though.
  • 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 borrows 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.
  • Railroading: Starts to appear once Ryo gets a job. You [obviously] have a work schedule to keep to and Ryo often refuses to take the bus back to Dobuita until you've gathered enough information at the harbor. It's somewhat ironic that once Ryo starts making extra money he suddenly has far less free time to spend it (though when you think about it, that may very well be the most realistic thing in the whole game).
  • 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.
  • Reference Overdosed: The series also serves as a tremendous homage to Sega's history, including countless hardware, game, music and character references. Most people are familiar with the gacha toys, music tapes, and the playable Yu Suzuki classics, but various objects have the names of Sega's consoles written on them as well.
  • Retraux: The Excite QTE 2 minigame plays a chiptuned version of the main theme as its BGM.
  • 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. 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.
  • Shipper on Deck: Mario Grianni of Bob's Pizzeria never hesitates to bring up Nozomi whenever Ryo talks to him. Nozomi's friend Eri Tajima gets on Ryo's case whenever she sees him, urging him to spend more time with her.
  • 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.
    • If you look closely at the screens, you can see that Fantasy Zone is the game on the two non-playable cocktail tables in YOU Arcade.
    • 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 plus Super Sonic and Metal Sonic), Virtua Fighter, Space Harrier, Bonanza Bros., Ristar, Panzer Dragoon, NiGHTS into Dreams…, Fantasy Zone, Virtual-ON and Daytona USA.
    • You can play a few of the other creations of Yu Suzuki himself at the arcades, like Space Harrier and Hang-On. The sequel introduces OutRun and After Burner II.
    • 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.
    • Various objects are named after Sega's previous systems. For instance, the notebooks in Ryo's Room have "Master System" written on it, and "Mark III" on match boxes. And of course there's Ryo's Saturn system as mentioned above.
    • German punk band "Schrottgrenze" wrote the song "Nozomis Lieder" (from the lyrics it's clear Nozomi Harasaki is meant).
  • Slice of Life: Suzuki has claimed that many elements within the game that have no importance to the plot, such as opening drawers and analyzing various items, were intended to add to the game's sense of realism and slice of life elements.
  • 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:
    • It's easy to forget, but 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 (rather strict) time limit to race to the harbor.
  • Trope Codifier: Some now-common gameplay devices owe their current popularity to Shenmue, despite not originating with the game.
  • 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.
  • Unbuilt Trope: For the Wide-Open Sandbox. The game presented its open world with a level of realism and attention to detail that few games have tried to imitate since, but it used that world not to give players as much freedom as they wanted, but conversely, to restrict them and force them to follow Ryo's daily schedule. The fact that it was a invoked Quicksand Box was also quite deliberate, shining a spotlight on Ryo's own feelings of helplessness and lack of purpose.
  • Unwinnable by Design: The game's actual Game Over, which put a limit on how long players could play through Ryo's journey. If you happen to save the game during the final day allowed and fail to complete the game on that day, there's no way to avoid the Game Over sequence on the next day, requiring you to start a new save file.
  • Video Game Caring Potential:
    • Early in the first game, Ryo is introduced to an injured stray kitten whose mother was run over by Lan Di's black car. He can name the kitten for Megumi and care for it by buying and feeding it food from the convenience store or from his house.
    • After certain events involving Nozomi, Ryo can call her and check on her. He can call her after her encounter with Enoki, thank her when she delivers flowers for the altar, and see how she's doing after rescuing her. It doesn't affect anything in the game, but still a nice touch.
  • 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 an optional scene, Jerkass 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.


Video Example(s):


April 16, 1987

While not explicitly stated, Shenmue has a time limit. If players do not finish the game by April 15, Ryo Hazuki will die by Lan Di's hand.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / GameOver

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