Welcome to this week’s, “Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?”Â Each week we’re going to look at a dormant franchise that was once pretty popular, but for some reason has disappeared into the sands of time. Diehard GameFAN staffers will have four options for what they want to have happen to the series and you can see them in the title of this piece. For a little more detailed description see below:
Sequel – A direct sequel to the franchise. This means if it used sprites and was in 2-D, that’s how you want the next game to be as well. This might involve putting the game on a handheld system instead of a console, but it keeps the nostalgia and classic feel alive.
Spin Off – This is where you take the characters or a specific character is a totally different direction from the established franchise. Examples include Luigi’s Mansion, Hey You, Pikachu!, Shadow Hearts (From Koudelka), and so on.
Start Over – This is a reimagining of the series from the ground up. Perhaps it’s time to bring the series into 3-D. Perhaps you want a totally different control scheme or to throw away the old continuity. In a nutshell, this is taking the brand name from the old series and that’s about it. Everything else is new and re-envisioned.
Stay Dead – This is pretty obvious. This is a toxic franchise that you don’t want to see return in any way shape or form. Let the dead rest.
The name Yu Suzuki might not mean a lot to people who aren’t fans of Sega, but for those who are, the man is held in the same regard as Nintendo fans hold Shigeru Miyamoto, for pretty much the same reason: many of Sega’s most notable franchises were born from the efforts of this man. He’s attributed to the creation of, among other franchises, After Burner, Space Harrier, Outrun, Virtua Fighter, and Virtua Cop, and he’s been a big part of Sega’s arcade and home console success for his entire career with the company, which spans nearly three decades. In the late nineties, Sega was attempting to rebuild the audience they had lost during the 32-bit/fifth generation console wars to Sony with the Sega Dreamcast, and Suzuki seemed to have the big idea that would turn the tide in their favor. His idea was to create a game world featuring cinematic storyline progression, free-roaming navigation and a semi-realistic world complete with day and night cycles and weather patterns, thus allowing the player the ability to do whatever they wanted within the game world, be it advancing the plot or otherwise. This concept was incredibly ambitious at the time (for reference, Grand Theft Auto III didn’t come out until 2001), as was Suzuki’s ending goal of making the game into a multi-part series, and the expectations going in were high, to say the least.
The end result was Shenmue, a game that put the player in the role of Ryo Hazuki as he searched for his father’s killer in a game that felt like a combination of so many genres at once that it was confusing at times. The game introduced Active Time Events, then called Quick Time Events, to the gaming world (though not in anywhere near as irritating a format as later games would use them) and helped pioneer the free-roaming game world concept so many games use today. On the other hand, the experience felt directionless and windy to many players, and the game ended up being a bit TOO ambitious for its own good, leaving many players feeling like there was a good game somewhere within the product, but it was difficult to find and appreciate amongst the fluff and cumbersome design elements of the whole product. The sequel, Shenmue II, ultimately never saw release on the US Dreamcast, instead being ported to the Xbox over a year after its Japanese release, and shortly thereafter, the franchise was basically shelved, while its creator redirected his attention to other things. The series has basically sat dormant for the past eight years now, having ended on a cliffhanger that shows no signs of being resolved any time soon, and while there is a small but loyal fanbase clamoring for a finale, Sega doesn’t seem too interested in reviving the series at this time. Let’s take a look at whether the staff thinks the series deserves one more shot or if it deserves to rest in obscurity with no resolution.
Michael O’Reilly – Sequel
I think the first two games were a waste of time. I think the first one probably killed whatever hope the Dreamcast had of succeeding, that’s how big a waste of time it was. So why would I want a sequel, you ask? Well, simply put, it’s so they can finish the story and I can stop listening to people bitch about wanting the sequel. Wrap up every loose end, kill the baddie and ask for sailors, bankrupt Sega AGAIN and then move on.
Chris Bowen – Sequel
It’s funny. I remember when Shenmue came out, and how it was criticized so heavily in the press. “It’s just a visual novel!” “It’s nothing more than quick time events!” “Booooring!” “Graphics don’t make the game!”
Then Heavy Rain and Alan Wake happened. They’re all almost universally loved. I don’t quite get it.
I don’t know what happened between “I hate Shenmue! >:[” and “I love Heavy Rain! <3". Was it the technology? The era? Was Shenmue ahead of its time? Was it because it was so badly abridged? I don’t know, but what I do know is this: Heavy Rain, to me, wasn’t that much of a better game than Shenmue – in a lot of ways, it was worse – and I firmly believe if they tried Shenmue in 2010, with the right people developing it, that it would turn out OK.
Of course, that’s expecting Sega to get something right. That’s enough to give anyone a hearty gut laugh, but considering most of the work was already done, all Sega has to do is find a developer. Hell, if anything screams “EPISODIC GAME VIA DLC”, a nine part story is it.
A lot would have to go right, but I’m going to give this one a timid thumbs up and pray that Sega, should they have an epiphany, keep whoever’s been screwing up the Shining series as far away from this as possible.
Alex Lucard – Spin-Off
Look, I wasn’t a big fan of Shenmue I or II. If I really wanted to spend hours driving a forklift or playing at an arcade I would go out and DO THOSE THINGS. It’s akin to why I never understood the popularity of The Sims or Second Life. Why why a virtual life when you can have a REAL ONE?
That being said, I was actually a fan of the concept of Shenmue before it came out. I just think the game failed to meet the hype or deliver its promises in the same way the first Fable did. The story was interesting and I can see why people want the series finished because its the same reason I want a third Dark Alliance -the game ended with so much left unsolves or unexplained and the ending promised another entry into the series.
I think Shenmue would be better off if it was turned into a anime/cgi series rather than another game though. The games left a lot to be desired, and I don’t trust Sega to publish quality games anymore, but fans deserve to have the story concluded and this seems the safest route to go.
Mark B. – Spin-Off
Well, let’s get this out of the way up-front: technically, Yakuza already kind of is a spin-off of Shenmue, in a mechanical sense. They took all of the things that worked about Shenmue, such as the combat and the ability to roam around doing whatever, and removed most of the things that didn’t, such as the tedious need to spend a million years doing anything besides that, and in the end, made a far better experience all around. Much like Yakuza, Shenmue was generally critically acclaimed, generally very ambitious, and generally sold like shit, so the idea of releasing a new entry in the series seems somewhat inane when you start to think about it. After all, we’re talking about what was essentially a prototype for a current Sega franchise, so making a new entry in said series seems inane, because at worst you’re going to be re-releasing a less friendly version of a game you’re already making, at best you’re going to release the same game you’re already making with a new main character, and either way it’s going to sell terribly.
But I have this idea that popped into my head about the time I played Yakuza 3 that I think would be absolutely fantastic, and since it fits in with the concept of this column, I’m going to share it with you now. Here you go: why not make a Shenmue/Yakuza crossover? Both games presumably exist in the same world, both characters are good martial artists with kind hearts, and you could potentially make something really special and interesting by doing this that could also completely wrap up the Shenmue storyline without actually having to make a third game. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you could even make the game two player, online or off, and let Kazuma and Ryo team up to run rampant over various mobsters and hoodlums.
I mean, either way the game is going to sell terribly and the fanbase is going to complain, so why not take the chance, right?
Stay Dead – 0
Sequel – 2
Start Over – 0
Spin-Off – 2
We’ve got a tie this week, as the staff either wants to see the game go out as intended (though for wildly different reasons) or be revived in some other form, so the overall verdict seems to be to wrap the story up one way or the other. Hopefully Sega will see fit to bring the series back in some form or fashion to finish up the storyline and put the series to rest, but only time will tell on that one.