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Shenmue III Review

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Fast Facts

Title: Shenmue III
Developer: YS Net
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
Platform: PS4
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 19/11/19
Price: £54.99 – Rapid Reviews was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.

18 Years Ago.. The Clock Stopped

1999, The year Shenmue graced the Dreamcast as one of the most influential and groundbreaking RPG’s ever created. The game was synonymous with the Dreamcast as a flagship title for what could be achieved in the modern age of gaming. The game was the first step in a trilogy of games following the journey of Ryo Hazuki who drops out of High School to avenge his father’s death. The game was quickly followed up in 2001, and despite it being relatively well-reviewed, the two games could be considered commercial flops. 

As you can imagine this resulted in the third part of the trilogy entering development hell for over a decade, and resulting in the Godfather of Shenmue himself Yu Suzuki leaving SEGA and focusing on his own development studio YS Net. Fast forward to 2015 and YS Net launched a Kickstarter campaign to finally bring Shenmue III from concept to fruition. It became the fastest game ever to achieve the $1 million funding mark eventually raising $6.33 million. 

Passions Never Waver

So now here we are, 2019 and Shenmue 3 has finally arrived on modern consoles. Is this the modern-day reimagining of Shenmue that it’s fans have been waiting 18 years for? Well no, and that’s a good thing. You see, these games are laden with the nostalgia and passion that comes with milestone games and the fan base for Shenmue is massive. What this presents to the developer is a responsibility to deliver a game that appeals to existing fans and does the existing narrative justice. It’s hard as an 18-year-old RPG will inevitably feel a little dated and have its flaws in translation to modern gaming, and Shenmue III is no exception, it’s full of them.  

I suppose before I get into that, let me set the scene. Actually the devs do a great job of recapping the story so far. The opening menu sequence gives the player the opportunity to watch an approx 5-minute recap video that summarises the first two games so far. As a reader you can’t see this unfortunately so to briefly summarise, Ryo is chasing after Lan Di, who he previously witnessed murdering his father. Lan Di also stole the Dragon Mirror, one of a pair that have the power to form a key that will unlock a treasure with the power to revive the Qing Dynasty. 

The game takes place in mountainous Guilin in Southern China, where your newly found partner Shenhua is also investigating a mystery of her own, the disappearance of her father. As you begin to explore a local village the game slowly unfolds before you. The player is rewarded with story progression by interacting with every single NPC in the lush landscapes of rural China. One thing that has certainly advanced since 1999, graphically this game is stunning. There are wonderfully scenic mountains around the space, authentic character designs and comically detailed facial expressions and reactions in every character model. 

What is truly authentic to the Shenmue way? The cringe-worthy dialogue is stilted, repetitive and at times weird and poorly localised. It doesn’t exactly detract from the experience though, as the first two games were just the same. Chalk one up for authenticity. 

The mechanics of movement, unfortunately, feel really dated, with Ryo often snagging on the edges of tables, and having to reverse like a garbage truck to tackle the doorway all over again. Despite the lush open worlds described already, there are so many invisible walls of areas you are unable to traverse. In fact, if you try to access a new area and the story hasn’t progressed far enough it will kick you back to explore more, or ask a few more questions; a complete on-rails experience, unfortunately. Despite the movement mechanics differing from the actual style of play, the best comparison I can offer you. Imagine the Resident Evil 2 remake still having tank controls? Beautiful redesign, pure 90’s hang-ups.

For The Fans

Along your travels in Shenmue 3 as a Kung Fu master Ryo will frequently enter voluntarily or involuntary battles, and these certainly differ in style to the first two games. Trading in lots of quick-time events for a more fluid fighting style is a much-improved way to refresh the genre, however, there are some weird glitching moments in fights that see Ryo execute a devastating combo that doesn’t land the second hit due to your opponent still recovering from the first. Practising on the training dummies are a timely escape from the reality of your mission, and investing the time to do so, can help Ryo turn full hulk mode and become overpowered for the rest of the game. This also helps if you’re not necessarily proficient at beat-em-ups. Oh and for those of you worried about QTE’s, don’t worry there are still plenty to be found. 

Talking of escapes from reality the journey is full of side games that can soak up a ton of time in this roughly 35-40 hour quest. Whether you are chopping wood, collecting capsule toys or catching ducks its a mostly fun deviation from the realities of what is a very thin narrative that doesn’t really advance the story as much as you would hope, with such an investment of time. The narrative and progression aren’t necessarily what this game is about for me. Just like its predecessors Shenmue 3 is about escapism, it’s about cultural discovery and feeling like you are part of a greater journey that’s only just beginning. 

A Moment In Motion

It may not have much to offer anyone new to the story. In fact, it will likely alienate those wondering why a game in 2019 feels and plays like this. For those that have come this far since 1999, like me, it’s a fitting end to the trilogy and certainly does justice to all of those that placed their faith in Yu Suzuki to finally bring his vision to market.

Rapid Review Rating

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