A little background...
Shenmue was supposed to be the Dreamcast killer app back in the year 2000. It is Sega's most expensive and riskiest project to date, costing the whopping amount of 70 million dolars (99 million on our present time). The game had a lot of promotion and at the time it was something we never had before. The game was super innovative in a lot of ways and it presented the very first detailed open world experience in any video game. An interesting note to the first Shenmue is that the game was going to be released on Sega Saturn, but Sega then decided to move it to the Dreamcast as the Saturn was beginning to lose the fight against the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64.
Shenmue (Saturn vs Dreamcast)
If the game was so good, then why did it only achieved "moderate to low" success?
Shenmue didn't do as bad as some people may have you believe. The real problem was that the production values were sky high and while many copies were sold, too many people just played it for free (a.k.a illegal copy of the game), which was one of the gravest problems that the Dreamcast had at the time. To give you an insight on how bad this problem was for Shenmue, imagine that Grand Theft Auto V (which costed 265 million dollars to make and promote) was just pirated away and played by a really big percentage of the gaming scene without paying a cent. As awesome as the game is, it would still have problems selling and that's what happened to Shenmue. it sold decently, but not enough to justify the productions costs.
The game's sequel (Shenmue 2) was not even available for North American Dreamcast owners and to make matters worse, Grand Theft Auto III was already there taking up all the attention on the more popular and successful PlayStation 2. In the end, Shenmue 1 and 2 were just victims of bad decisions and bad luck.
So what was the game about?
Shenmue was all about playing on an open world that had little to none generic aspects. You had the main protagonist Ryo Hazuki on his quest for vengeance against an evil Kung Fu master called Lan Di that killed his father and stole their precious family relic, but instead of just running around killing tons of bad guys and/or just playing a lot of fetching quests, you had to basically live the world as close to real life as it was. Not only you had to investigate about the Lan Di by talking to people and gathering clues, but you had to train in order to learn new moves and become stronger as you also had the chance to explore a lot of places as the story progresses.
Talking of exploration, as you go by the different towns and places in the game, Ryo can find all sorts of things to interact with, play mini-games, earn collectibles, fight some foes and find martial arts masters that can teach him new moves. He can also do other things like getting a job, making some bets and meeting lots of people all around town. To summarize it all, Shenmue is a game with a linear main quest, that is set on an open world that lets you advance at your own pace.
Shenmue's fighting style is very similar to this.
The game uses the same fighting system as Virtua Fighter (Ryo is kind of similar to Akira) and fights are almost entirely dependent on the story of the game. If the story puts you in a bad neighborhood you will get into fights, both in Virtua Fighter fashion (on the first Shenmue there is even an endurance fight where Ryo and an Ally have to beat 100 guys in a row) and on quick time event sequences. Keep in mind that this game is not a grind fest (unless you spent hours throwing kicks and punches at the air on training sessions) so enemies are not abundant, but when they appear you are sure to have some fun kicking their asses.
So we have covered it all, background, exploration and action. Now we are ready to begin...
Wrapping things up
In summary, Shenmue is your alternative open world experience. It plays sort of like a sandbox game, but it feels like a mix between a simulation of daily life and an martial arts movie. The game really captures the feeling of that kind of flick and turns it into a game that is full of different feelings and moods. It is a really easy experience to get immersed into by combining a lot of different aspects into one, while giving it a cinematic feeling. Don't be fooled by what cynics can say and give this game a chance, especially with the third one coming up on 2016.
Shenmue 3 Kickstarter Campaign
If you would like to have the best game that Shenmue 3 can be, be sure to back it on Kickstarter. Right now, as I write this article it has reached 3.1 millions dollars and while this is a very good amount, we need to make sure that the game's funding goes full circle so that Yu Suzuki can make the most out of his efforts and with the help of Sony deliver to us the awesome sequel we have been waiting for so long.
If you want to see what this kickstarter campaign is all about, click HERE.