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Opinion: Shenmue Should Never Return


Shenmue is an amazing, beautiful game. And it should never come back.

Building a retro gaming machine was one of my goals for this year, and it’s most of the way there. There are a million classics at my fingertips, and while I’m not quite at the point I’d envisioned, it has given me the chance to replay one of my favourite Dreamcast titles: Shenmue.

It’s as fantastic a game as it ever was, although that could just be the nostalgia talking. How many other games are so well paced? So relaxing? This is an RPG where the world feels genuinely alive, not just a series of animated sprites. 

But, like a Marx Brothers film, everything feels too familiar. The features that Shenmue propelled to popularity – things like quick time events and timed story – have been done to death, generally by games without the high level of innovation that SEGA’s long missed franchise delivered.

This is where the issue starts: on the Features Timeline, Shenmue doesn’t have to come at the start.

When Harry Potter was at its height, Terry Pratchett spoke about how younger children would ask him why he would steal his ideas from JK Rowling. In their minds, the books had been released in the order that they had read them, because why would it be any different?

I think we all work that way, on some level. Perhaps not to the point where we can’t contextualize the things that we do, but certainly when it comes to familiarity. Why would we enjoy something we’ve done a million times before, even if we’d finally made it to the originator?

In a world post-Heavy Rain, does Shenmue stand up? Dead Rising 3? Final Fantasy X? Does it need to? Unfortunately, yes.

SEGA’s efforts at reviving old games were met with anger and confusion from the press, and from the people who once considered themselves fans. Was Sonic Adventure really as glitchy and poorly acted as that when it was originally released? Crazy Taxi never felt as small as when it was released on the PS3. We can only be glad that we’ll probably never have to deal with a TV full of Seaman.

The original two Shenmue games are just as harsh on the nostalgia as those games. The voice acting is poor and things are slower than they should be. I loved it, so much slower than today’s film-inspired narratives that don’t allow you time to sniff the roses, unless it’s to pick up endless “things” that have been inexplicably strewn around the place.

And that’s why Shenmue should never return. Remasters would destroy any image the franchise had in the minds of gamers, and Shenmue 3 couldn’t bring anything new to the table without alienating people that want more of the same.

It kills me to say it, but some things are better off left to nostalgic Sunday afternoons and happy memories. And given that it’s 2015 and we still haven’t heard a thing about it, I think someone at SEGA probably agrees.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott