These days, “open world” is essentially an expectation. It feels like about half of the AAA titles released in this era have large, sprawling locations to explore with lots to do and plenty of distractions. Whilst Shenmue didn’t invent such a concept, it was the game that really crafted the next level of what seemed to be a living, breathing world.
Not only did Shenmue beat Grand Theft Auto III to the punch of an open world city, it did so much that simply became standard practice in gaming moving forward. Quick time events, NPCs that seemed to have their own lives and endless mini-games and hobbies to partake in just to name a few. The graphics as well were leaps and bounds ahead of anything else at the time.
Trapped on the sinking ship that was the Dreamcast, many postulate that Shenmue’s lack of sales dragged the console down with it. It was the most expensive video game production at the time and it didn’t stand a chance of making back that money with the console’s low install base. The game and the console were intangibly linked to each other’s doom.
Shenmue’s impact is huge and Sega themselves have not completely shied away from what it did right. The Yakuza series and the Persona series, both owned by the company, have a direct throughline to Shenmue’s cutting-edge, open-world RPG style.