"User summary, detailed information from Shen Mue was a gargantuan project of SEGA, and the work of love from creator Yu Suzuki. Originally named "Project Berkley", the project was started soon after the development of Virtua Fighter 3. Shen Mue was first planned for the Sega Saturn, and some material was developed for the Saturn, but as Sega moved towards the new platform Dreamcast, so did the Shen Mue team.
The Shen Mue series tells the story of martial arts student Ryo Hazuki, year 1986, and how he follows the trail of those who killed his father. The games consists much of talking and interacting with the non-player characters, the occasional fighting scene and reaction-type events.
The revolution with Shen Mue was to try to fully simulate a little town, complete with inhabitants, in a way that had never before been done. The idea was that the player should be able to freely roam around and speak with anyone, instead of only following the story. As the player plays, time passes in the game, the inhabitants walk from their homes to their jobs and back. You can see the shop keeper hanging in the bar at night before going home. Each shop has its open hours to keep. The player can stop by the game center to have a go at some arcade games, and so on. Today, we see the same style in games like for example Grand Theft Auto, which however, focuses on committing crimes, whereas Shen Mue was more along the lines of touristing around speaking to people.
As the technology for this kind of game was new to the market, the development costs roared and ended on over 5 billion yen (Sega official figures is over 7 billion yen) for the first game in the series, called "Chapter 1 – Yokosuka". Rumours said that a total of 16 chapters were to form the whole story.
The sales in Japan were poor, "chapter 1" selling only some 600,000 copies, the reasons of which can be many. One of the reasons was a poor ad campaign, where the main line was that the game had been expensive to develop, an argument the customers didn't regard as a pre-requisite for a good game.
Shenmue II, which contained chapter 2–4, each of them arguably shorter than chapter 1, sold even worse, only 150,000 copies, and Shen Mue was thus one of Sega's largest financial losses ever.
In 2004 there was talks about Shen Mue online, an MMORPG, but the idea was subsequently abandoned. Producer Yu Suzuki has expressed that he wished to do a Shenmue III, hoping that he can conclude the story in the third game, and as late as 2009, the Shenmue production application team spoke of it to Sega, who replied to the public that "there is nothing we can say about Shen Mue today, but that we do not want to break our promises to the public.""
Source: Wikipedia, "シェンムー", available under the CC-BY-SA License.