Shenmue is one of those beloved franchises that, as much as they love it, many fans have accepted will never be seen again short of dusting off a Dreamcast. Yet there might be a chance for the series to be revived in some capacity through Sega’s HD classic game re-releases. If Jet Set Radio can get the treatment, why not Shenmue?
Gamereactor (via NeoGAF) spoke with Sega associate brand manager Ben Harborne at GDC about the upcoming HD version of Jet Set Radio, and he briefly touched upon fan requests for other Dreamcast re-releases. He said Shenmue and Skies of Arcadia are among the most frequently asked for, adding with a smile, “I can’t say yes or no, but we may be working on them.”
Following that GamerZines claimed a source has indicated Shenmue and Shenmue II are to receive the HD treatment. Not only that, but Shenmue HD has been “finished for well over a year.” The reason for the delay in releasing it, the source said, is because Sega has been evaluating what it will do with the franchise as a whole, including the fate of Shenmue III.
It’s been nearly ten years since a new Shenmue was released in North America. The original, created with a massive budget (albeit an oft-exaggerated one), was released here in 2000 but was ahead of its time. Sales, which received no help by the game only being available on Dreamcast, were not as strong as the game deserved or needed in light of the investment Sega had made in it. The sequel was released on Dreamcast and Xbox (only the latter version made it to North America, where it came out in 2002) and also disappointed at retail.
An MMO marketed at the Asian market, Shenmue Online, never panned out. Creator Yu Suzuki was able to get a new game made, albeit a mobile/social game for the Yahoo Mobage service in Japan. It was shut down after only about a year.
Suzuki hadn’t lost his interest in a new Shenmue game as recently as last year’s GDC; during a panel he spoke about how Sega would allow him to make Shenmue III but that there was a “budget issue” standing in the way. Since then he has left his job at Sega for an advisory role with the company and become a producer at Premium Agency.
Sega could likely get by with the HD re-releases without his assistance. It’s not as if the ones Sega has done to date have drastically altered the original games — in the case of Jet Set Radio some of the original’s music is gone due to licensing issues, and the right stick (which was not available on Dreamcast) can now be used to control the camera. But if Shenmue III were to happen, one would think Suzuki has to be at the helm.
While the chances of the game happening remain slim, the HD re-releases present as good of a chance as any for fans to convince Sega to back it — petitions are one thing; money is quite another. Strong sales of the original games on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network could send a message, and I have no doubt there would be more than a few fans willing to buy the games on both platforms just to make sure that message is clear. Hell, with Kickstarter being shown as a potential avenue for funding a niche game with an ardent fan base, perhaps Sega could look there for some assistance in coming up with the money to make Shenmue III.
Failing that, they could always ask Notch.