Developer Ys Net revealed today in a Kickstarter update that another member of the original Shenmue development team is returning to work on Shenmue 3.
Keiji Okayasu is the newest member of the Shenmue 3 development team, joining a long list of returning members from the original Shenmue crew, which includes the game’s creator, writer, character designer, composer, and programmer. Okayasu was around during the early stages of development of the original games. “I was right there from the beginning when Shenmue was still Virtua Fighter RPG for the Sega Saturn”, he explains in an interview that accompanies the announcement.
The interview with Okayasu is posted on the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter page as a way to get to know him, as well as a way to understand his role in the original games and what that means for Shenmue 3. Okayasu worked as sub-director for Shenmue 1 & 2, which is the same role he will be credited with again, “Yu Suzuki is of course the main director,” he says about the game’s creator. After working through around 70% of the second game, Okayasu decided to leave so he could get his own company, Studiofake, up and running and that is where he has been since.
The offer to join Shenmue 3′s development team was unexpected, but Okayasu seems pleased to be a part of it. “I have just recently joined the team. I thought I would be another fan waiting excitedly for the release, but as it is, I get to once again be a part of the team,” he says. “Of course I want to help finish the game, and do it so the fans will be satisfied. That means making it interesting for everyone who played I and II, and everyone who will be experiencing Shenmue for the first time.”
Okayasu also talks about Yu Suzuki’s genius in breaking RPG conventions at a time when the genre was very popular, but increasingly predictable. He felt Suzuki wanted Shenmue to evolve the RPG genre. “What came out of that was an epoch making title that became the basis for the open world style that is everywhere today, ” Okayasu explains in the video. He admired Suzuki’s persistence in always trying to see things from the player’s perspective, which includes not only hardcore and casual players, but even those who have never played a game before. “That thinking,” Okayasu claims, “has led him to put out hit after hit.”
Shenmue 3 was a surprise announcement at Sony’s E3 press conference back in 2015 that threw everyone for a loop. The previous game released fourteen years prior and, despite tremendous fan support, no one really thought a sequel would ever be developed. The project was revealed to be funded through Kickstarter and was available for backing that day. Just nine hours later the game’s $2,000,000 funding goal was reached. The Kickstarter was such as success that Suzuki was already discussing Shenmue 4.
Keiji Okayasu joining the development team is just more good news for Shenmue 3. As far as Kickstarters go, this project has a tremendous amount of promise. In most of these crowd-funded situations it is wise to have an air of skepticism — especially considering what disasters Kickstarter games can turn out to be — but Okayasu asks gamers to take a different approach, to stay positive. “I hope you will keep your expectations high,” he says before the interview ends. It is hard not to since there is so little to dash them.