19 November 2019 (released)
29 November 2019
Fans of the legendary series have waited very patiently for this long awaited sequel after what has felt like an eternity. To be fair we’ve had three generations of consoles passing us by with such advancements and game chargers coming and going. None the less fans should be absolutely thrilled that the third game is even out. Considering Shenmue I and II were the most expensive games at the time and to be also consider bombs, it’s amazing that we have a third game. The fans have supported Shenmue for the last 20 years and their loyalty has paid off. But 20 years on, does Shenmue 3 live up to the hype? Was it worth the wait and will it remain faithful to what fans loved about the originals?
Shenmue 3 is story driven hybrid of action and RPG gameplay. You play as Ryo, a young man looking for the people behind his father’s murder while trying to stop a conspiracy that could very well end the world. Ryo’s journey had been a rather exciting one, filled with asking odd questions to dozens of people (like where do sailors hang out), playing Pachinko machines, eating a variation of super foods, playing arcade games and kung fu fighting in hilarious fashion. Oh yeah and Forklifting stuff to earn some extra cash. And this continues with Shenmue 3. Yes there are forklift trunks here too!
Before I continue I will say that fans will love Shenmue 3 no matter what. It is an upmost faithful sequel that changes very little from the original formula. This feels like a true sequel that could’ve been released a couple years after the original and not the 18 we waited for. Everything will feel as it did with the original games and the developers have done a great job at recreating the look and feel of the previous games but with updated visuals.
That said, does bringing us mechanics and elements that are nearly two decades old work?
Continuing the story right where Shenmue 2 left off, Ryo must go out and find the father of his new found friend Shenhua. Her father is an important part to solving the mystery at hand and it will take all of Ryo’s very polite and odd mannerisms to find the truth. I will admit, back in the day Shenmue had a pretty solid story that flowed nicely if not a little slowly. Here we still get a solid story but one that’s painfully slow at times. For massive chunks of the game, you’ll be asking the same types of questions to the same couple dozen people and be going back and forth, piecing small bits of info until you can move onto the next note of the plot.
The story moves very slowly as you’ll often have to complete numerous fetch quests and talk to different characters repeatedly in order to learn some new information. It seems to be the case that many of these characters won’t reveal anything unless you complete a mini game of their choosing or beat the living crap out of them!
Shenmue 3’s plot is still pretty entertaining and has plenty of moments which fans will love. But the pacing is very slow and how it progresses can be quite repetitive. Plus, it seems as though this is not the concluding chapter. I won’t spoil anything but it’s clear that another part of the story is to be told.
I think the biggest thing that could put some people off is the weird delivery, odd voice acting and thin dialogue. I don’t mind the odd voice acting at all. I understand it’s in keeping with the tone of the first two games and I think that’s great in many ways. But in others it shows with characters in the same village pronouncing certain words differently, a script that is not as sharp as it could be, with many stutters and plenty of “what” and “huh” responses when they’re not needed. It’s like the writer couldn’t think of a good response and just ended it there. Shame as the script (from what I’ve read) has not been touched in the time between and that’s something bad.
In regards to gameplay, again very little is changed and what you’ll see here is pretty much on Par with the original games. You’ll basically be exploring the beautiful world before you and interacting with a long line of characters while completing certain tasks. There’s things such as questioning people, fighting people, training to improve your skills, gambling, doing jobs (which act as mini games… hell most of these events are mini games!) to earn money, buying goods, selling goods, finding goods to sell, playing Pachinko machines so you can collect sets of figures then sell them for cash …. It goes on. But, this pattern Shenmue has it very engaging. I felt so at ease doing all these tasks that I kind of wished I could be there.
Although the controls handle like a broken shopping cart at times, everything feels fine and I never came across any patches or technical glitches that drew me away from the experience. Sure it’s painful to do a 90 degree turn or manoeuvre through cramped spaces and this could’ve been better refined. But again it’s part of this games strange charm.
Gambling is often rigged but when you win, it’s glorious and winning at games like turtle racing and lucky hit (with a stand in the village square having a guy who looks like John Carpenter) which are absolutely gripping! Chopping wood became my most favourite thing until I drove a forklift truck and even Shenmue can make chopping wood epic! Training takes a lot of patience but it’s rewarding. Fighting boils down to mashing random buttons and I think it’s great. While fighting aren’t’ everyone’s cup of tea, the developers have made a system that works for pros and those more into the story.
Everything all connects wonderfully and you can be lost for hours just working your day to day routine. I can see the appeal of Shenmue 3 as its looping gameplay of exploring, earning money, taking part in events such as gambling and fighting fits together perfectly. It does capture the magic of these old Japanese games such as Way of the Samurai (one of my favourites as a teen) and presents in faithfully for this generation of consoles.
Is Shenmue 3 for everyone? No it’s not but it’s a game for the fans and the fans will surely love it. Even someone like me who is not a fan but does like games which are similar can warm up to it very easily. It’s clunky, the delivery of dialogue is odd, the story slow and some gameplay elements feeling very old school but at the end of the day it’s a perfect representation of early 2000’s gaming. A time where risks were taken and new things were tried. It’s oddly unique in many ways and I appreciate that. Is it for everyone? No, but I admire it for not being just a generic slab of gaming.
Plus I had more fun with this than Death Stranding!
++ A faithful sequel that feels in line with the previous titles
+ Charming, engaging gameplay
-- Some outdated and clunky elements
A PS4 review copy of Shenmue 3 was provided for the purpose of this review.