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Update: Fact-checking the Shenmue III bedlam

(The following article has been written by James Hamill)

You may have noticed Shenmue III becoming the subject of much coverage on gaming sites and social media over the past few weeks. Some of it fair and accurate, some of it less so.

What follows is an effort borne of studying this game closely for years to fill in the gaps, with a sober, fully-sourced breakdown of each topic that’s been overshadowing more enjoyable Shenmue III news lately.

If you’re skeptical of anything you read here, because it contradicts a narrative you’ve heard or read from people less inclined to research the topic, then you are encouraged to take all the time you need to examine the evidence linked throughout, until you’re 100% satisfied that what has been provided on this page is the unvarnished truth. With the facts then established as facts, how you personally feel about them is up to you. You might find your perceptions shifting based on new information, or you might not. The purpose of this article is only to ensure that whatever opinions you emerge with are based on reality, for better or worse.

Epic Games Store exclusivity

During E3 it was announced that the PC version of Shenmue III will be exclusive for twelve months to the Epic Games Store. An agreement to offer crowdfunding backers Steam keys as an alternative at launch could not be established under these conditions, and so after some to-ing and fro-ing between backers and the companies involved, it was decided that backers of this version will soon be given the choice between an Epic key at launch, an Epic key at launch plus a free Steam key a year later, a PlayStation 4 copy instead, or a refund (if their previously chosen rewards haven’t yet been implemented – eg, personalised in-game content). Refunds will be covered by Epic so as not to hurt Ys Net’s development budget.

On his 61st birthday, Ys Net director Yu Suzuki was on stage at E3’s PC Gaming Show as a new Shenmue III trailer ended with the PlayStation 4 and Epic Games Store logos – the first indication of this exclusivity arrangement prior to its formal announcement shortly afterwards. After the show, Suzuki was overheard saying to himself, “Everyone’s going to be upset…” Despite diplomatic wording in backer updates, it is known that this was not Suzuki’s decision. Nonetheless, a cascade of anger followed, including at least one death threat sent to Suzuki.

Those who object to using Epic Games Store cite reasons ranging from its relative lack of features compared to Steam (things such as mod support, achievements, and cloud saves are on Epic’s to-do list), the necessity to divide collections across multiple launchers (Shenmue I & II can be launched via Steam but not Epic, for example), and claims that it contains spyware for the Chinese government (a theory contested by various sources from PC Gamer and other journalists to professional hacking experts).

Of note is that zero mention of Steam was made during the Kickstarter campaign or the vast majority of the subsequent Slacker Backer campaign, the collective period when almost all crowdfunding donations were made. Only “PC Windows” was referenced. The first reference to Steam came in a late June 2018 update announcing the start of a backer survey, listing the Steam client among PC system requirements that were explicitly subject to change during development. In this survey, existing backers could change or confirm their choice of PC (now referencing Steam) or PS4 as the platform for their rewards. At the same time, they also had an opportunity to make further donations, in order to upgrade from digital to physical or add extra copies to their haul.

It is only through these routes – swapping a PS4 copy for a PC one, upgrading to a reward tier that included a PC copy, or adding PC copies to an existing set of rewards – or through joining the Slacker Backer for a PC copy during the final two of its 36 months, that PC copies could ever be chosen based on any mention of Steam from the developers. In fact prior to the survey, some backers rued the lack of information as to whether the game would be on Steam, Windows Store, or somewhere else.

Responding to a backer, Kickstarter has confirmed that none of its rules or guidelines have been violated.

The Shenmue III product page on Steam appeared in October, once the Slacker Backer campaign and backer survey had closed and swapping/upgrading/adding rewards was no longer possible. Pre-orders on Steam have never opened.

Possibly connected with this exclusivity deal, insomuch that the procedure differs from information supplied when Steam was still a planned method of distribution at launch, is the news that physical editions of the PC version will come in the form of a DVD containing an Epic Games Store installer for downloading the game. In July 2018, prior to the Epic deal and while the backer survey and Slacker Backer campaign were ongoing, the announced plan was for the game data to be on the disc despite an emerging trend among PC games to manufacture only a code in a box.

Pre-order bonuses and season passes

When Shenmue III pre-orders went live on the PlayStation Store and Epic Games Store during E3, a more expensive “Deluxe Edition” was revealed, defined by the following extras:

– “Burning Sandstorm” Advanced Technique Scroll
– Flight Jacket outfit
– DLC Pass (complete post-launch DLC content)

At the same time, a list of pre-order bonuses became available for both the Deluxe and Standard Editions:

– “Blazing Kick” Advanced Technique Scroll
– Kenpogi Training outfit
– Peking Power Starter Pack
– PS4: Character Concept Theme & 3 Avatars (Ryo, Shenhua, Shenmue III logo)

Next to nothing is known about the content listed above. The technique scrolls will immediately equip Ryo with combat moves of unknown utility, which may or may not be obtainable by all players later in the game. The outfits have not been seen, nor described in any more detail than their listed titles. Specifics of post-launch DLC have yet to be explained, and the contents of the “Peking Power Starter Pack” are a complete mystery.
The PlayStation Store exclusive PS4 theme can be previewed on YouTube, enabling comparison with the freely available Shenmue I & II theme released by SEGA last year.

As with the physical Collector’s Edition and everything else related to retail distribution and marketing, these editions and their associated bonuses have been arranged by Deep Silver, who got on board with Shenmue III as publisher two years after the Kickstarter campaign.

Responding to a query as to whether backers will also receive this additional content, Awesome Japan, the campaign support service hired in 2015 by Ys Net, advised:

“Standard and deluxe versions released through retail sales are not affiliated with the crowdfunding campaign, so will not be included with backer pledges, however, they will be available for sale separately. Kickstarter Backers will receive the Kickstarter version, Slacker Backers will receive the Slacker Backer version. Both have unique content respective to their versions not available in the retail versions. A season pass is not included.”

The reply also confirmed that the PC trial version included in some backers’ rewards is still on its way.

On the PlayStation Store, the Deluxe Edition is priced at $74.99 and the Standard at $59.99. On the Epic Games Store, the Deluxe Edition is priced at $64.99 and the Standard at $49.99. The recommended retail price for PS4 physical copies is $59.99, though actual prices vary.

Kickstarter backers were able to select a digital copy of the game by donating $29, or a physical copy for $60. A £39 Kickstarter donation would be rewarded with a digital copy plus exclusive wallpaper and the backer’s name on the game’s official website.

Backers pledging at higher tiers will receive, and in certain cases have already received, exclusive crowdfunding rewards ranging from specific in-game phone calls with previous characters from the series, to their own face on a Lucky Hit board or NPC in the game, to one-of-a-kind physical items and experiences.

UPDATE: All Kickstarter and Slacker Backer copies of the game will include backer-exclusive content, with a recent update from Ys Net offering a look at a backer-only jacket for Ryo and (for physical copies) an exclusive case.

No plans for an Xbox One version

When Deep Silver launched its own subsite for Shenmue III prior to E3 last month, heads were turned by the discovery of unused code and assets in the site’s template which would, if activated by the designers, display Xbox One as a platform option alongside PlayStation 4 and PC. Resulting rumors of a planned Xbox One release were swiftly and repeatedly denied by the publisher.

Prior to Shenmue III‘s announcement four years earlier, Yu Suzuki had spoken with both Sony and Microsoft about bringing the potential new sequel to their consoles. While Sony was keen to act on public demand and assist with bringing the game to PS4, Microsoft was less enthusiastic, according to both Xbox chief Phil Spencer and Shenmue III co-producer Cédric Biscay of Shibuya Productions.

Since the game’s announcement, the only platforms confirmed for release have been PS4 and PC. Whether or not the game is ported to Xbox One in the future remains to be seen, but observers pointing to last year’s re-release of Shenmue I & II on Microsoft’s console as a sign of things to come are likely unaware that this re-release was handled by SEGA, which is not involved in such decisions for Shenmue III.

The Shenmue saga is not a trilogy

Back in the 1990s, the Shenmue saga was originally conceived as 11 chapters (plus 5 bridging scenarios between them, hence the oft-quoted total of 16). That’s not to say eleven whole games would be released, as already by Shenmue II multiple chapters were being included in one game. As development of the series progressed, chapters became compressed and scenarios skipped to optimize the story and avoid the need for more games than strictly necessary.

Yu Suzuki has repeatedly expressed – beforeduring, and after the Kickstarter campaign – that Shenmue III will not provide a conclusion to the story; there is simply too much plot remaining to further cut and squeeze it into one final game in a way that would satisfy the player.

He recently stated that the end of Shenmue III brings the overall story to 40% completion. Therefore the remaining games combined will cover slightly more plot than the sum of the first three, each of which has been restricted in size either by the Dreamcast’s GD-ROM disc format or by a mostly crowdfunded budget.

If it were true that the first three games contained equal shares of that 40%, then each would represent 13.3% of the full story. Based on that crude average, a total of seven or eight games would be required to complete the saga. However, players describe Shenmue II as being much longer than the first game and Suzuki has described Shenmue III as covering more story than either of its predecessors.

The number of games being targeted by Suzuki has mostly hovered between four and five – again beforeduring, and after the Kickstarter campaign – with four being the bare minimum and five the optimistic ideal, depending on the scope of opportunity available. Only as recently as March has he dared hint at the desire for a sixth game, having once downplayed the likelihood even post-Kickstarter. It’s unconfirmed which new developments may have given him the confidence to whimsically allude to more than five games, but it is not yet a formally declared intention for the series.

In terms of the time taken for future games to release, Suzuki (who is described by multiple sources as working weekends and sleeping at the office) has expressed his wish to begin work on Shenmue IV right away, and explained that the significant adjustment time required at the beginning of Shenmue III‘s development (becoming acquainted with new technologies, recruiting the necessary expertise) will not be needed for future games, now that they have the right personnel and experience in place. Co-producer Cédric Biscay echoes this assessment that Shenmue IV‘s development should be shorter and less expensive, due to already having the established team, experience, and assets acquired through development of Shenmue III.

If your regular sources of gaming info have brought to you a perspective on these topics that now, in hindsight, seems to have lacked essential context and background knowledge, you might like to begin following the actively engaged Shenmue fan community, perhaps starting with the outlets linked on Ys Net’s official Shenmue III website:

Shenmue Dojo (Facebook/Twitter), Shenmue 500K (Facebook/Twitter), Team Yu (Facebook/Twitter), Shenmue Master (Facebook/Twitter), and Shenmue.de (Facebook/Twitter).

Other useful sources more recently introduced include Phantom River Stone (Facebook/Twitter) and Shenmue Forever (Facebook/Twitter).

And thank you to Mega Visions for helping to make this information more widely available. If you feel it would benefit other gamers, then please feel free to share this article using the buttons below.

Marcin Gulik

Live and learn everyday. Dreamcast and Shenmue are the epitome of gaming!
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