Shenmue (1999)

by Ji-yeong
6 minutes read


Shenmue is an adventure game that follows Ryo Hazuki’s quest for revenge in a meticulously detailed Yokosuka, Japan. With its blend of exploration, combat, and narrative depth, it stands as a testament to the potential of video games as a storytelling medium.


Shenmue is a groundbreaking adventure game that set new standards for storytelling and open-world design in video games. It follows the journey of Ryo Hazuki as he navigates the complexities of seeking revenge while uncovering a deeper conspiracy.


“Shenmue”, released in 1999, is an action-adventure game developed and published by Sega for the Dreamcast. The game is set in the 1980s in Yokosuka, Japan. It follows the journey of a teenage martial artist named Ryo Hazuki.

The story begins in 1986 when Ryo Hazuki returns to his father’s dojo, only to witness his father’s murder by a Chinese man, Lan Di. Lan Di steals a mysterious artifact known as the Dragon Mirror. Devastated by his father’s death, Ryo vows to avenge his father and sets out tracing Lan Di’s path.

The player, as Ryo, explores an open world, fighting opponents in brawler battles and encountering quick time events. The game is known for its unprecedented environmental detail, with numerous interactive objects, a day-and-night system, variable weather effects, non-player characters with daily schedules, and various mini-games.

The game’s 3D fighting system is 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.

“Shenmue” was conceived as a multi-part epic by Yu Suzuki, who had previously developed several successful Sega arcade games. The game was initially set in the Virtua Fighter world, but the connection was dropped during development. “Shenmue” became the most expensive video game ever developed at the time, with an estimated production and marketing cost of $47–70 million.

Despite sales of 1.2 million, “Shenmue” did not recoup its development cost and was a commercial failure. However, it received positive reviews for its graphics, soundtrack, and ambition. The game’s slow pace and emphasis on mundane detail divided players. It attracted a cult following and appeared in several lists of the greatest video games of all time.

“Shenmue” is credited for pioneering game mechanics such as quick time events and open worlds. Later appraisal has been mixed, with criticism for its controls, pace, and voice acting. Despite the commercial failure, the game’s influence on the industry is undeniable.

In 2018, Sega released high-definition ports of “Shenmue” and “Shenmue II” for multiple formats. Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, Suzuki developed “Shenmue III” independently; it was released for the PlayStation 4 and Windows in 2019.

“Shenmue” is a game that pushed the boundaries of what was possible in video games at the time of its release. Its legacy continues to influence the industry, and its story of revenge resonates with players even today.


Ryo Hazuki (protagonist), Lan Di (antagonist and father’s killer), Nozomi Harasaki (friend and love interest), among others.


Shenmue combines exploration, quick-time events, and combat. Players can interact with hundreds of characters, engage in martial arts battles, and participate in various mini-games and activities. The game also introduces the innovative ‘free’ system, allowing for a dynamic day-night cycle, weather changes, and character schedules.


Shenmue is a landmark title in the history of video games, known for its pioneering open-world design and immersive storytelling. While not without its flaws, it remains an essential experience for fans of adventure games and Japanese culture.

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