Yu Suzuki Discusses Shenmue III And How His Dream Project Became A Reality
The gripping tale of Ryo Hazuki’s quest for vengeance captivated Dreamcast audiences when it released to widespread critical acclaim in 2000. Though Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece was beloved by fans, the astounding cost of its first two entries and poor sales of Shenmue II drove Sega to cancel the third game, leaving Suzuki’s saga without resolution.
Though the series was abandoned by Sega and written off as an impossibility for over a decade, the fan base has been unrelenting in its requests for the series to continue. Both Suzuki and Sega have been inundated by fan requests for Shenmue III, with online campaigns comprised of the most die-hard fans continuing to push forward through petitions and social media accounts.
Those fans were vindicated this week, when Shenmue III’s Kickstarter campaign not only grabbed valuable stage time on Sony’s E3 press conference for its reveal, but also went on to attract so much traffic that Kickstarter’s site crashed. With the Kickstarter campaign reaching its goal of $2 million in record time and Sony providing further funding, Shenmue III is finally a reality.
The reserved nature of Yu Suzuki did little to hide his passion and excitement for this project. With each question I asked, the legendary developer spoke quickly, smiled often, and held the composure of a man whose dream was finally coming true. During our conversation, we covered a variety of topics ranging from Sega’s role in Shenmue III to how the franchise remains relevant so long after it was thought lost forever.
Game Informer: It’s been 14 years since the last game. Why is now the right time for Shenmue to return?
Yu Suzuki: To make a game like Shenmue, obviously the question is how to get the funding to make a game like that and you know, it’s been really hard – I just couldn’t find a way to get it together. But three years ago, I learned of Kickstarter and I met some people who have done Kickstarter before and with all their help, we decided to put this Kickstarter together. With what we managed to fund on that site, as well as with the other funding sources my company, Ys Net, has procured, I believe now is the time that we can make Shenmue III.
Is it frustrating to have to wait so long to finally realize this project?
Pretty much everywhere I go, it’s always “Make Shenmue III! Make Shenmue III!” The reaction is so strong from the fans that I’ve always been looking at how I can make Shenmue III. These past years, it was very stressful, because I couldn’t make it. More than that, I couldn’t give the fans what they wanted. That was probably the worst part: I couldn’t answer their calls that they were sending out for me. Now that the project has started – lots of relief there.
Now that the announcement of the game is out there, was there one moment that was the biggest relief of all?
It was probably at the Sony press conference when I was waiting in line for Shenmue III to be announced. Adam [Boyes, VP of publisher and developer relations at PlayStation] was up on stage talking about something, then I saw that the Shenmue III promotion video was on and then all of a sudden there was this big well from the audience and this big noise that came from them. That was the time that I felt most relieved. Before that, it was really big titles like Destiny – everything before that was a big title – and I was kind of worried about how Shenmue III would shape up to these guys, but once the song came on, the rouse came from the audience. I knew it was then.
Were you surprised by how fast the Kickstarter goal was reached?
The thing that really surprised me first about the Kickstarter was the crash that happened. Kickstarter broke – that was a big surprise. I couldn’t believe that! The second one was how fast it went to $1 million. Apparently, it is the fastest game or entertainment project on Kickstarter to reach that number.
The first two Shenmue games were published by Sega. Does Sega have any involvement with Shenmue III?
So, YS Net received the licensing rights from Sega. Of course, the original properties are still licensed with Sega. This time, they’re allowing us to use it and allowing us to use the licensing rights. They also gave us a lot of resources from [Shenmue] I and II to help us with this project. They’ve been very happy to see Shenmue III being made and we have a very good relationship.
A big part of the original Shenmue games were the Sega Easter eggs, such as the capsule toys and playing Sega games in the arcades. Is there any possibility that those will appear in this game even though those licenses belong to Sega?
There are some things I can use and there are some things I can’t use. It’s kind of depending on further talks with Sega. I think there’s going to be a lot of small details that we’re going to have to speak with them on as we go along.
The challenging part, at least in the United States, is that Shenmue came out on Sega Dreamcast, Shenmue II came out on Xbox, and Shenmue III is coming to PlayStation 4 and PC, making it difficult for many fans to experience the first two games since they’re on separate platforms. Are there any plans to bring Shenmue I and Shenmue II to modern platforms?
If you have that question, it’s better that you ask Sega because they hold the rights to those. Those are their properties and I'm not in a position to talk about that, but I’m thinking about asking them!
Shenmue was a very revolutionary and influential game when it was released on Dreamcast. A lot has changed in the games industry since then. How does the team work to make a game just as revolutionary so long after the original?
It’s all about the new challenges with me, and I definitely want to try these new things. Of course, it’s going to come down to the funding and how much we’re going to be able to spend on Shenmue III, but if we get to that point, I believe it will be just as revolutionary as the ones before.
As we emerged from the small room where our conversation took place, a handful of Shenmue fans eagerly greeted Suzuki. Despite spending the majority of his day in that room, fielding questions from members of the media, Suzuki stopped to greet those fans, take pictures, and sign autographs. As we left, I heard the unmistakable sound of pure joy that follows a monumental moment such as what that encounter meant to those fans. It may have been 14 years since Shenmue II launched on the Dreamcast in Japan, and 13 since its release on the Xbox in the U.S., but through the hurdles, struggles, and disappointments taking place over the past decade and a half, the enduring passion of the Shenmue fan base has kept Suzuki’s dream alive.
This interview was originally published on June 19, 2015.