It’s been 18 years since Shenmue was first given to us gamers, it has been that long since we’ve walked the streets of Yokosuba, Kowloon and Guilin in the shoes of the martial artist Ryo Hazuki. Following the trail of the man who killed his father, the series saw a similar fate back in 2001 where Shenmue 2 gave us a would-be final look at the poorly voiced man. Whilst it found plenty of fame amongst its fanbase, the series didn’t do well enough to garner an ending nor a continuation of the story, leaving it to the wayside until it came to Kickstarter in 2015. Raising over 6 million dollars, Shenmue 3 was set to hit our consoles to continue the story that started almost 2 decades ago.
Continuing on from the 2nd game, Shenmue 3 fills us in with a half-empty recap video and introduction into the story. Both Ryo and Shenhua stand within a cavern, finding large replicas of the Dragon and Phoenix Mirrors, the only ties that Ryo has to the villainous Lan Di who killed his father for the Dragon Mirror. Pulling at strings, Ryo makes it his duty to find the father of Shenhua, the man who made the mirrors, in hopes it brings him closer to his father’s killer.
Moving throughout the local village of Bailu, Ryo will ask many people if they know about stonemasons, where to make money, where he could find some thugs or how to find X thing. Paying a painful homage to the first 2 entries, Ryo spends most of his time saying the same lines over and over until he eventually happens upon what he was searching for. Finding stonemasons, thugs and the like, Ryo eventually uncovers more of the conspiracies behind the mirrors, the creators of such and what they might mean.
Finishing up in Bailu, Ryo then heads to Niaowu, the 2nd and last location in the game, to find Shenhua’s father. Though first, he has to ask everyone about X item or Y location and to make money again and again. Though, this entry still won’t complete the saga, with plenty of places citing 1 or 2 more games needing to be made for that to finally occur.
Without doing too many side-quests or training, you can complete the story of Shenmue 3 in around 20 or so hours, with around 10 more if you plan to max out your stats. There is plenty to do aside from the story though, with side-quests being scattered around, almost all of them being miss-able. Just like the first 2 entries, S3 contains countless collectables in the form of capsule toys, herbs, martial arts moves, hidden dolls and more.
Shenmue 3 plays like a slightly updated version of the first 2, part Virtua fighter, part investigation and part simulator. While plenty of promotional material will show off fighting, you’ll just barely hit the 10 fight mark. Fighting is comparable to very old fighting games, like Virtua Fighter, though if you’ve not played another of those it may feel more similar to a grounded Yakuza without flashy combos and finishers.
Ryo can attack with all the face buttons, combining them to use specific techniques for more damage, some moves coming from the previous games and plenty more to be learnt in this instalment. You can also assign several quick moves, to use with a quick R2 press. Blocking is done by holding L2 with health drinks on the directional pad.
As an addition to the series, S3 allows the player to train on dummies or with sparring partners to increase their attack and health statistics. Moving your 1200hp to 2000hp, though there are no damage numbers so it is hard to say how much your attack stat helps. Grinding these stats takes several hours, even more, when you have to buy the techniques. Adding in a bit more RPG flavour to a classic isn’t a bad thing, though could have been introduced with more information or less mindless grinding.
Aside from combat, Ryo’s main job throughout the game is to ask people for information, regardless if they would know about it or not. Walking from person to person, using the same poorly voice acted and written dialogue. Thankfully the NPCs will point you in the right direction physically, as to not anger us with poor verbal directions. After finding the locations you’re often also tasked with investigating them, by opening drawers and picking up almost everything L.A Noire style.
Sadly a lot of your time will be taken up by the tried and true gameplay of Shenmue, earning money. Throughout the game, you will need to earn upwards of 7000 Yuan, either through driving forklifts, fishing or selling anything you can get your hands on. You can also gamble, and with the save anywhere function, you can really abuse that. Money is a major roadblock for Ryo, both in the fact he now needs to continuously eat food to sprint around, as his health now lowers overtime, pay for healing drinks and eventually a hotel room. Not to mention the skill books you will need to purchase to gain more power or obtain through collecting herbs, capsule toys and other collectables. If you’re used to the Shenmue loop, S3 cranks it up a few notches.
The music of Shenmue 3 continues to fit the cultural locations found within, with string instruments used within almost all of the slow moments of the game. Action scenes get a bit more energetic, though the overall soundtrack does feel somewhat lacklustre, both in duration and impact. Plenty of tracks just sound like 30-second loops, which isn’t good especially when those tracks often accompany long activities like fishing, forklift driving and investigation.
Looking like it was made for the last generation, S3 has a lot of issues with optimisation when it comes to the console release. Moving the camera causes a lot of the world to blur out, have duplicates follow models around and generally show off bad antialiasing. Plenty of times where not much was going on I would experience frame drops and pop-in of both models and textures. Just running through the village would see me pass by invisible characters who still had collision, only to appear 10 seconds after I had stopped moving.
Combined with the poor optimisation, the game also has several bad-looking character models, looking at some of the older NPCs for that. Mouths and cheeks will stretch too far, or not move at all when talking. A lot of the faces also looks incredibly dated, lacking a lot of detail normally found on modern games. Plenty of models also lack moisture, creating a weird sand effect on most character’s skin.
Shenmue has always had a steep learning curve and difficulty to it, both in the form of QTEs and fights. With most combat ending in your defeat, for the story to force you to learn new moves or to retry later. S3 continues this even more, with 5+ auto-lose fights that you cannot win even with max stats, you’re just kicked into a cutscene to tell you “your kung fu is lacking”. It doesn’t help when the game doesn’t even seem to care to teach you, with the tutorial saying “Just hit the circle, triangle, square and X buttons” and “try pressing the R2 button” for combat. With mixed signals thrown around, it doesn’t seem like the game even wants you to win most of the time.
After receiving 6 million dollars, which is a world record for games on Kickstarter, the final product leaves much to be desired. From horrible optimisation, horrendous voice acting and dialogue to plenty of padding in the story or pushback against better gamers. S3 has been a major disappointment to me, after waiting 18 years the franchise saw a chance to finish off the story, but with low sales outside of the promised backer rewards, it looks like we might not even get a continuation, even though it does say there will be an S4 in the credits. S3 feels like a game that should have come out 15 years ago, it does not stand side-by-side with modern releases and pays homage to the originals too strongly that it becomes a detriment unless you’re a massive fan and can let the nostalgia carry you through.
Overall, Shenmue 3 gets a 6/10, it contains plenty of fun moments and overcoming of obstacles but is too bogged down with mundane repetitiveness and lacking polish. The voice acting and dialogue continues to be terrible, to the point of laughable, which is just like the first 2 games but loses its allure pretty quick. The optimisation is almost non-existent for a game that only really looks goods when you view its vistas. The story only moves an inch closer with the antagonist showing up for 5 minutes and having hardly any impact on your journey. S3 feels like a demo for the series to come rather than a full instalment. I would suggest it only on offer, or if you’re a diehard fan who can still enjoy the originals to this day.
Shenmue 3 was reviewed on PS4, the game is also available on PC
- Developers: YS Net, Yu Suzuki, Neilo, YSNET inc.
- Publishers: Deep Silver, Shibuya Productions, Koch Media
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Shenmue changed the face of video games. The series, considered to be the father of free-roaming, open-world RPGs, returns to the fore this year with the release of Shenmue III.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 44.99