After years of enthusiastic fan campaigns, raised hopes and dashed dreams, Shenmue III has finally been funded.
The third title in the influential action adventure series, originally developed for the Sega Dreamcast console, finished its Kickstarter campaign at the weekend, attracting just over $6.3m from almost 70,000 investors.
Envisioned and overseen by legendary designer Yu Suzuki, the long-awaited sequel is now the most highly funded video game on the Kickstarter platform, beating previous record-holder Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night by almost a million dollars. Shenmue III was also the fastest title to shoot through the one million dollar funding mark, reaching the figure less than two hours after the Kickstarter launch. The game went on to earn its $2m target within nine hours.
But there are still a few questions hanging over the project. Here’s what we know.
Who’s developing Shenmue III?
While Yu Suzuki is creative director on the project, the game is being developed by Shinjuku-based studio Neilo, previously responsible for the offbeat PlayStation rhythm action-based role-playing game Orgarhythm. It’s not a huge legacy, but then, the chief executive is Takeshi Hirai, one of the lead coders on the original Shenmue back in 1999.
The company has been busy building the development team over the last few months, recruiting several more Shenmue veterans, including original character designer Kenji Miyawaki and voice actors Corey Marshall and Masaya Matsukaze who voiced lead character Ryo in the previous two instalments.
Is the game being made for $6m?
Released back in 1999, the original Shenmue was one of the most expensive games ever made, with a reported development budget of around $50m. The title was hugely ambitious, allowing players extraordinary freedom within its 1980s-themed urban environment; it is considered an important forerunner of the open-world genre.
So is this second sequel going to be made for a fraction of that cost? No. Sony announced at E3 that it will be helping to fund at least the PlayStation 4 portion of the game’s development; the project also has another corporate backer, Shibuya Productions. It is not clear yet how much these two, or any further third-party investors, will add to the pool. Suzuki took to the Kickstarter site in June to clarify that none of these companies will receive money from the Kickstarter funds, but the details remain ambiguous. It could be that the corporate investment will be scaled to match the crowdfunded total – it is certainly not unusual for a developer to launch a Kickstarter that acts as a test for public interest and a signpost to potential investors.
Will Shenmue III be an open world game?
While the first two titles allowed players a lot of explorative freedom, they weren’t strictly open-world in the modern sense – you couldn’t visit any area of the map at any time as you can in, say, the Grand Theft Auto titles.
Suzuki has previously stated that, if the game funding reached $10m, the development team would be able to create a truly open world environment, which caused excitement in the Shenmue community. However, the final figure falls $4m short of that. So does that mean the open-world dream is dead? Not necessarily. If further financial investment is later confirmed, it’s possible that this will be funnelled into world development.
There’s disagreement among the Shenmue community whether this would be a good idea, however. A highly detailed, handmade environment may well prove more in keeping with the Shenmue experience – indeed Suzuki himself has stated: “For the next game, I’m going to go much deeper.” It’s possible the aim is a more detailed world with richer characterisation and not necessarily a larger one.
Is this the final part in the Shenmue story?
Yet more ambiguity here. During an AMA session on Reddit, Suzuki claimed: “There are a total of 11 chapters that make up the whole story. Over the past 14 years I originally planned for there to be four or five games to the series. If at all possible, I would still like to realise the full story of 11 chapters.”
So where does Shenmue fit in with the other two games?
Chapters 1-5 are covered by the original Shenmue and Shenmue II, as well as a manga series, Shenmue: Side Story, which means Shenmue III begins at chapter six. It is a direct sequel to Shenmue III, following on from the end of the game with Ryo travelling to the town of Guilin in China to track down his father’s killer. There he meets the mysterious Ling Shenhua, a girl he has dreamed about in the past.
It’s not clear though, at which point in the over-arching story that Shenmue III will end, and whether further manga will be commissioned to fill in any gaps. Whatever the case, it seems unlikely that Suzuki wants this to be the close of the series. Whether or not it is will no doubt depend on how well the game performs.
Will a physical copy of Shenmue III be sold in shops?
This is not confirmed yet. Although backers will receive a physical copy of the game on PC or PlayStation 4, gaming news site VG247 was informed by Suzuki’s company Ys Net that a full retail release is not yet certain.
What about Sega?
Sega was the original publisher and developer of the first two Shenmue titles. According to Yu Suzuki, the company still owns the intellectual property rights on the Shenmue name but has licensed them to Ys Net. Sega has also provided assets from the first two titles which will be used in the third title. It looks like the company is content to sit in the background, with no direct involvement.
When is Shenmue coming out?
The current aim is December 2017, with versions on PC and PS4. Of course, with such a small team and such an ambitious project that could slip – we’ve certainly seen that happening with some high-profile Kickstarters, including Pillars of Eternity, the role-playing game from Obsidian that attracted almost $4m in funding in 2012. That game was delayed several months, but emerged this year to wide critical acclaim.
With Sony Computer Entertainment on hand, however, Shenmue III should have access to considerable development and production support if things start to slip. After the huge publicity around that E3 expo announcement, no one wants this to become another resident in development hell.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010