SHENMUE III REVIEW

Bloody hell, it came out didn’t it! When I first began this blog back in the early-2010s I would never have imagined we would once again be jumping into Ryo's quest to avenge his murdered father, but here we are. In fact, jotting down my thoughts for this review was somewhat difficult, as being a Dreamcast fan it's quite hard to remove yourself from the nostalgia that surrounds the whole Shenmue-shebang! Especially as the game (unashamedly) plays for the most part as a relic of a different era, and despite some basic improvements here and there it’s the story arche that still continues to drive you. 

Shenmue III Kickstarter case edition

As such, those who aren’t invested in the story might see it as a remaster of sorts, but then again this title was never for them. It was for us, the guys who were there in Christmas 1999 feeding Megumi’s kitten and walking through snow to get to our job at the docks. It was for the people who continued to support Sega during its calamitous demise by purchasing the follow-up in 2001. We’ve been waiting close to 20 years for a follow up to Ryo’s travels in China and now that Shenmue III is here, I’m happy to say it is everything WE would expect from a Shenmue game – warts and all!

The game sees you finally leave the cave from Shenmue II

Shenmue III picks up exactly where its predecessor left off and doesn’t mess around with refreshing your memory. If you need a refresher, (you undoubtedly don't if you're reading this blog) there is a short-narrated video to get you up to speed from the main menu. Once you get started, it’s pretty easy to fall back into the groove of chatting to everyone around to get information and progress the story. I played through the Japanese version, but the Shenmue series has never been known for its natural-sounding dialogue and loyalists will be pleased to hear the game is still as stilted as ever. Even in Japanese, Ryo still comes off as the most awkward human being ever which gives him a sort of innocent, endearing quality and I’m glad that the series keeps that b-movie vibe. In fact, almost everything about this game is exactly what I thought it would be. I kind of enjoy Ryo’s simple, relatively low stake plot that takes place a world in which all is required is train hard, pay your way, make friends and kick a few bad guys into touch.

Ryo gets away from the bustling towns of the first games

The game, if you didn't already know is set in the sleepy Chinese village of Bailu. Each day after waking Ryo wakes up in Shenhua’s house,  you’re given the freedom to venture out into the village where there’s a variety of engaging side-activities to get into and people to converse with. To be honest though, the new characters lack some of the charm of the older games with only the plump martial artist Hsu and the bigged breasted Niao Sun being of note. New to series are the side quests, some are quirkier than others such as playing matchmaker between a nervous young lad and a martial artist lady and others are mundane collecting herbs. Also, Ryo must now eat or drink to maintain his health bar. Sleeping will fill you back up, but if you fight or spend a lot of time running and adventuring you’ll need to buy food to replenish or Ryo becomes pretty much useless. I found it a little annoying at first as it made traversal tedious and annoying, but in the same way as breaking weapons was a necessary evil in Zelda BOTW, I felt this feature was important in maintaining realism, and the feeling that you needed to support yourself – there are no more handouts from Ine-san!

Shenmue III retains its links to the previous games

There are a few ways in which you earn cash. In Bailu, you can chop wood or rent a fishing rod and try and hook some fish, Sega Bass style or of course you can go the more lucrative route and gamble! Later on in the game, forklift truck work makes a return, but it lacks the excitement of the first game and the routes are all pretty similar and dull. To be honest, I wish they had made the part-time jobs pay a little more as it really does seem pointless when you can get by (and usually do quite well) by gambling instead. I did enjoy the martial arts training school section. While the school offers mini-games to improve Ryo’s endurance, the ability to spar with local martial artists helped me as a player learn moves as well as focus on increasing Ryo’s overall attack power. It felt like a natural progression of the battle system and gave me more incentive to train.

Training is now more important than ever

One aspect of Shenmue III that does take a hit for me is the combat. You get into fights every now and again, but the combat just isn’t as engaging as it was previously. It feels somewhat floaty and dumb downed with attacks being set to shortcuts on the trigger, but more than that it just feels sluggish and unresponsive. It also lacks the throws which were a big part of the original games based on the Virtua Fighter engine. Quick time events also make a return, but the amount of time you must press them is just way too short in the game. I had moments when I repeated a QTE and kept pressing the button and still missed it. Just a few extra milliseconds would have been a nice addition.

The ultimate QTE mini-game

The visuals in Shenmue are superb and I loved examining the details in the lush green fields of Bailu with its beautiful blue rivers and simple, homely houses that provide a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere. Niaowu has similarly impressive visuals with its highly detailed building interiors, slick bustling streets, and colourful pagodas. Despite this being a low-budget production, Shenmue III’s environments are truly stunning at times while still retaining a visual continuity from the first games. In fact, the world itself is the reason I enjoyed Shenmue III as much as I did.

Forklifts make a return as things speed up in the second half

All in all, Shenmue III comes across as unashamed fanservice and once again offers an incredibly enticing escape from the real world. Sure, the story essentially repeats itself and the plot isn’t progressed as much as we’d have wanted, but I enjoyed another trip through its world and if you’re a Shenmue fan, I think you will too. After the action-packed finale, I can’t wait for the next title if it is ever to come out. It seemed an impossible task to come back after almost 20 years and make a game that doesn’t coast entirely on nostalgia, but they did it. Let's hope Suzuki-san has one more masterpiece left in him!

....one final thing, if you do manage to see Shenmue III to end see if you can spot DreamcastGaga in the credits - we're there!

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