Sunday, May 26, 2019

When Was the By-Chapter Release Approach Announced for Shenmue? | Translation

During the early period of Shenmue promotion, the upcoming game was presented to the public simply with the title of "Shenmue", and distinction was not made between content from Shenmue I and Shenmue II.

However by the time of its initial release, it was clear that the game was now divided into chapters. This topic was brought up over at the Shenme Dojo forums, and I thought it would be interesting to dig a little into how and when this decision was announced by Sega back in the day.

It turns out that the concept of Shenmue being released in chapters was formally announced by Sega at the 1999 Tokyo Games Show which was held from 18th~21st March. An announcement was also made at the event regarding a revision to the release time frame (to the 5th August 1999; previously "spring") - although the final release date would end up as 29th December.

Let's look at a couple of the reports in Japan at the time.

Japanese website ASCII reported about it on 19th March, 1999 as follows (my translation):
Sega Enterprises announces "Shenmue: Chapter One ~Yokosuka~", the epic work produced by Yu Suzuki. It was announced today that the title known until now as "Shenmue" has changed to "Shenmue: Chapter One ~Yokosuka~". Due to the vastness of the story, it has been split into chapters, with plans for sequels Chapter Two and Chapter Three at a later date. In addition, the release date was announced, being scheduled for 5th August 1999.

Website PC Watch, on the other hand, included this snippet in their report from TGS '99 where they express some disappointment at the change in release date (my translation):
Regarding Sega's Shenmue, which has drawn attention as a "killer title", the release date that was announced is not spring but summer on August 5th. Furthermore, it won't be possible to play it in its entirety, but only Chapter One. This is a somewhat unfortunate outcome, but with the next-generation PlayStation not having been announced, this game seems to have taken center stage: an outcome that might be fortunate for Sega.
Time-limited hands-on play of Shenmue at the Sega booth at TGS 99 
So, as we have seen, the chapter-based release approach was announced to the public by Sega for the first time on 19 March 1999 at the Tokyo Games Show.

The ASCII news report above refers to further plans for releases of "Chapter Two" and "Chapter Three," indicating a "one chapter per game" approach was planned at this stage. In addition, according to a Sega fan site at the time, Sega also stated at TGS '99 that the total number of chapters planned for Shenmue would be 16.

(In later years, a recent example being in this GAME Watch interview at Gamescom 2017, Yu Suzuki gives the total number of chapters as 11. The exact number and arrangement of chapters making up the Shenmue story has remained a point of discussion among fans throughout the years!).

Sources: news post 19th March, 1999 (Japanese)
PC Watch news post 19th March, 1999 (Japanese)
Shenmue news fan site 19th March, 1999 (Japanese)
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  1. Man, imagine if they had have been super successful and managed to get a 1 chapter per game going! Hong Kong and Kowloon would have been fleshed out like full games on their own I guess, 3 and 4 back in the day? And Guilin (5) would have been combined probably with the start of Shenmue 3.

    1. Yes, it was an ambitious proposal but I would have loved to see it come to fruition. From hearing about the immense number of music tracks that were made but not used the music side at least may have been covered already!