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Yokosuka street hosts players of video game

Yokosuka’s Dobuita Street, known informally as the “Honch,” is the richly detailed first chapter location in Sega’s “Shenmue” video game. The game allows players to roam a square-mile area in Yokosuka and interact with 300 characters going about their day.

ALLISON BATDORFF / S&S

By ALLISON BATDORFF | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 21, 2006

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — You are Ryo Hazuki, an 18-year-old Yokosuka man who witnesses your father’s death at the hands of thugs in your home.

You fight your way through the streets of Yokosuka — including the famous Dobuita Dori — to avenge your dad’s death and unravel the mystery surrounding it.

That’s how it begins for those seduced by “Shenmue,” a Sega video game set in 1986 Yokosuka.

To those who stroll it every day, Dobuita — the clutter of bars and shops called the “Honch” across from Yokosuka Naval Base — is no big deal. But to Sega’s Shenmue gamers, it’s a Dreamcast come true.

“I envy you for getting to walk down Dobuita every day,” Drew Onia, a 19-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, said recently in response to a query on a Shenmue fan Web site. Onia, who’s played Shenmue since it first appeared six years ago, is one of several fans who have visited Yokosuka to see how the real city stacks up next to the virtual version.

“Visiting the real location was quite inspiring,” Onia said of his visit last winter. “Though the street in the game is set in the ’80s, the street … still has the same character. It really felt like walking down the street in the game.”

Creator Yu Suzuki labored intensely for that effect. Shenmue’s U.S. 2000 release for the Sega Dreamcast game console, broke new ground by introducing FREE (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment), which meant players could interact with every character, read every book and open every drawer in the game.

The game protagonist, Ryo, has free rein over an entire square mile of the city and can talk to up to 300 people going about their daily routines, from the local yazuka boss to sailor Bob Dickson.

It took five years and $20 million to make Shenmue, earning it Guinness Book of Records notoriety as the “most expensive game ever developed” at the time.

According to Kumiko Sakamoto, a Yokosuka city tourism official, no actual on-location “shooting” was done in Yokosuka for the game.

“We know that the video game was produced in 1999 with Dobuita Street as the location in the game’s Chapter I,” Sakamoto said.

More than 230 movies and TV dramas have been filmed in Yokosuka in the last four years, she said. Dobuita is a favorite location, as proximity to the U.S. naval base lends an “exotic” touch, she said.

But Yokosuka was only the first chapter for Shenmue.

Shenmue II, an Xbox version, continues the story in Hong Kong, and Suzuki said in a 2005 interview that an interactive online version is in the works and will be set in Hong Kong and China.

But that won’t stop true Shenmue fans from following Ryo’s virtual footsteps, starting in Yokosuka’s alleys and backstreets.

Felipe Melvin of Germany calls it the “Shenmue memorial trip.” He did it in April 2004.

“I remember being in Dobuita. I even wrote a travel diary where all my experiences from Dobuita have been recorded,” Melvin said on the fan site.

“I loved the breathtaking atmosphere of the game. It has an incredibly entertaining and moving story and it is told in a great medium,” Onia said. “I decided to take the trip to the real locations because the game has meant a lot to me.”


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