Developer: YS Net, Neilo, YSNET inc. Publisher: Deep Silver , Shibuya Productions Platform: PS4, PC Price: $59,99 USD Release Date: November 19th, 2019
18 years ago I was 13 years old and experienced a game called Shenmue II on the Sega Dreamcast of which I had to import the PAL version of the game as it was never released in the US except for exclusively on Xbox 2 years later to incredibly lukewarm reception. When I beat Shenmue II the game, as famously known, ended on a supernatural ending that was a sharp contrast to the realistic overall setting and tone that the game had been portraying itself as yet this ending opened the series up to more mysteries and myself along with millions of gamers the world over were left with more questions than we ever had answers to and those questions built a lot of intrigue as to what direction the series is going and yet unfortunately that ending is all we were left with for literally baring the failed and cancelled Shenmue Online a few years later. On June 15th, 2015 at E3 the world was shocked at the return of gaming industry icon Yu Suzuki with an announcement that made the world stand still: Shenmue III was announced. Imagine the surprise, elation, and for many the confusion of this announcement as many thought the dream of a new entry would never happen ever and on November 19th 2019 we finally have that dream made real with Shenmue III. Does it live up to the hype and does it exceed or fall flat on it’s face? Let’s find out
The story of Shenmue III picks up right where Shenmue II left off in Guilin cave where series protagonists Ryo Hazuki and Shenhua Ling see not only the replica Phoenix and Dragon Mirrors that had been worked on by Shenhua’s father but also where the introduction of the supernatural elements in the series which then abruptly ended with an image of Shenhua and Ryo with the floating sword behind them and then the words “The Story Goes on…” and that was all we’ve had to go off of since 2001 and while there have been attempts at spinoffs, which ultimately didn’t flourish into anything more, we ultimately didn’t have any resolution or continuation in 18 years and finally we get to see the next chapter in this saga.
We then are walking to Guilin Village with Shenhua and in that journey to the village we are effectively continuing what we were doing in the last half of Shenmue II by having conversations with Shenhua and deepening our relationship with her and learning more about not only her but the Village of Guilin and its people. We end up in the village and are beset on a quest to gather information in order to progress onwards to find more clues as to where Lan Di is, the Chi You Men criminal syndicate, and ultimately what the fabled mirrors are and their intended purpose. In the opening prologue hours, which in the vein of Shenmue I, is effectively a slow burn of about 5-7 hours, we get to acclimate to Guilin Village and its villagers who all have their own unique personalities and schedules: we eventually find out that there have been some bandits that have attacked some of the villagers particularly the stonemasons of the village and are effectively looking for the Phoenix Mirror as if you remember in Shenmue I, Lan Di obtained this mirror by killing Iwao Hazuki.
Without spoiling too much just know that the story goes on a much grander journey than either Shenmue I or II individually or combined and goes on to have you explore more of China in your search for Lan Di leading to finally a confrontation with him BUT………..not a conclusion to the story so fingers crossed for Shenmue IV! If you aren’t familiar with the previous games, then there is a story recap/movie which is about 10 or so minutes recapping the important plot points of the story to get you prepared for III. As I have said many times before, Shenmue is a series that is an EXPERIENCE that begs for you to indulge in and engross yourself in the world and in the shoes of Ryo Hazuki.
When it comes to the gameplay of Shenmue III it is a more or less the same as previous entries when it comes to the controls that were improved in the HD Remasters allowing analog input support over the previous Resident Evil style DPad tank controls which gave the game a more semi-fluid experience although Shenmue I & II were built from the ground up for a DPad as in the era they came out Analog wasn’t the gaming norm. Everything from mini games such as Lucky Hit, the boxing game from Shenmue I and more all play the same as they did in I & II, HOWEVER, there are some minor and major stark departures from the previous entries such as needing to make sure Ryo eats food in order to maintain his health gauge as the flow of time and actions such as walking and running ultimately end up lowering his health which by proxy affects his ability to train and spar to level up techniques and his Kung Fu level.
There’s also the complete overhaul from the ground up in its combat engine which no longer utilizes the Virtua Fighter engine of the first 2 titles of which I’m not sure if YS Net didn’t have the rights from Sega to use the source code for Virtua Fighter or if potentially the reason was that the Virtua Fighter engine in today’s gaming landscape save for the Dead or Alive series would be completely foreign to modern day gamers as there hasn’t been a new entry in the Virtua Fighter entry since 2007 with Virtua Fighter 5 and then later in 2012 with its final upgrade in Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown and last seen in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. The new combat system has a familiar button layout to Bandai Namco’s Tekken series with each of your face buttons assigned to a particular limb with Triangle and Circle being assigned to left and right punch respectively with Square and Cross (X) being for left and right kick and with L2 you are able to block attacks. You can double tap in any direction with the left analog stick to dodge in or away from enemies and also to evade attacks thrown at you by dodging left or right. Targeting enemies is so much easier now compared to previous entries as in I & II the game automatically selected your enemy based on proximity and forced you to stay locked onto that enemy even as other enemies assaulted you so in Shenmue III you can lock onto an enemy and at the flick of the right analog stick you’re able to cycle through enemies effortlessly.
When it comes to the minigames they all play primarily as the previous entries so expect the return of numerous QTE or Quick Time Events to occur. There are some exceptions such as the instance where you can go to a Kung Fu temple and train with the warriors there by either sparing with them to increase your techniques and level up your Kung Fu or fight them to raise your rank by defeating the various combatants. You are also able to increase your Kung Fu levels and other attributes by doing things such as doing one inch punch training and maintaining your horse stance for one minute and improve yourself as a martial artists which is something that is the strongest core component of Shenmue III being your journey as a martial artists to walk the way of Wude which are the four tenants of martial arts virtue being Gon, Dan, Jie, and Yi.
You still are able to take on jobs to earn money from wood-chopping and more as well as gambling with Lucky Hit, Turtle racing, and more and you can even do stuff such as fishing which is pretty awesome! Yu Suzuki is the father of many Sega Classics so there’s never a shortage of content in this game at all.
Last point I want to touch on is how the inventory/menu has been completely overhauled in Shenmue III where you can now buy items like garlic, fruits, vegetables, drinks and more to recover your health and also change your clothes which is a series first as Ryo has FOREVER been stuck in the same clothes for half a year now in the game lol. There are new aspects of finding different herbs and items and allows you to sell them off for making health restorative items. You can also look into the various moves you’ve learned over the games and also check out many of the items that have carried over from the previous 2 entries.
It’s safe to say that Shenmue has easily stepped into the modern era of gaming without a hitch.
Graphically this game is absolutely jaw dropping. Do this once in the game when you are in Guilin and further on in the game in other areas in China; just take a moment and hold down R2 and look around at the world that you’re in and take it all in. It’s a game that truly shines and looks amazing in the Unreal 4 Engine from the mountains, buildings, day and night time bloom effects and more. The character models for Ryo and Shenhua look very very good and to me look just as good as characters in the Yakuza series and even the characters from the Dead or Alive series with hints of the Dreamcast era vibe to them. I found the NPC’s to look incredibly good and very expressive and detailed and the animations to be smooth and seamless and vibrant.
The game runs at a smooth 60FPS with occasional dips in framerate to what seems to be 30FPS. There aren’t any graphical glitches that I ran into other than occasionally some odd transitions to night time where it seemed like the Sun would rush down and the Moon would rush up to give the night time vibe but this is occasional. There isn’t any lip-syncing to the voice acting which to me doesn’t bother me at all as it fits with the aesthetic to Shenmue but for many they may feel like it takes them out of the experience given that this is a game released in 2019 when that’s become something that’s not been an issue for the last 2 gaming generations but then again this adds to the Shenmue experience overall.
If you were to compare the graphics in this game to something akin to Death Stranding, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, or even Detroit: Become Human then yeah this isn’t going to be a stunner to look at if you want hyper realistic style games, however, if you enjoy games such as Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, Yakuza, or even the Xeno and Trails titles then you will love this game and appreciate its aesthetics and what it’s doing.
The audio in the game is really really good with one of my favorite themes being Lake of the Lantern of Bugs theme being so atmospheric and evoking solemn emotions from its wind instruments and honestly that’s what you will hear often throughout the game. There’s one theme you’ll hear if you take on the wood chopping job in Guilin where the better you do the more upbeat and 80’s the music gets and it’s pretty awesome! I mentioned earlier that the voice acting is no in sync with the lip-syncing and honestly people may be put off by that and also people may be jarred by the stilted voice acting and cut scenes as they aren’t made in the style of current generation games but in the style of classic Shenmue and games of the late 90’s and early 00’s and effectively maintain the aesthetics of if the game was made on the 6th generation of consoles.
My friend Corey Marshall, oh whom I interviewed on The Kasanova Podcast, returns to voice Ryo Hazuki and while his lines of dialogue to those not familiar with the franchise can be perceived as somewhat stilted intentionally, it is noticeably a massive step up from what we had in the first 2 entries from the aspects of the audio quality and how the lines are delivered. Everyone from Greg Chun, Brianna Knickerbocker, Bill Butts, Johnny Yong Bosch, Richard Epcar, Dorothy Fahn, Griffin Burns, and so many more did a truly PHENOMENAL job with this game with their performances. I’ll say this, for purists of Shenmue we will absolutely love it but for those who judge games purely by modern standards and modern cinema then you probably won’t like it.
Sidebar: GIVE ME A NEW VERSION OF EARTH AND SEA!!! End rant.
So what are the negatives of Shenmue III? Honestly it really comes down to a matter of perspective as if you are looking at the game through Shenmue tinted glasses then this is utter perfection, If you are looking at the game as someone who only plays mainstream AAA titles and or are a “bro gamer” that only plays either shooters, looters, Battle Royales, or sports titles then you won’t at all like this game let alone make it through the first few hours let alone even make it through the first hour, but if you are a person who can objectively look at the game in the context of its series and can appreciate the vision of Yu Suzuki and what he’s trying to do and also enjoys gaming that has you learn as you go and immerse you in the games then you will find a lot to like and even more to enjoy and love.
Wrapping everything up and putting a bow on top and presenting it to you: is Shenmue III a game worth owning and playing in 2019 or is it a game better off never existing? Shenmue III is a game YOU NEED if you are someone who genuinely enjoy video games and strong narratives because Shenmue III and the series as a whole take you on such a majestic journey that you will be with you for generations to come and will leave you wanting more when you finish the game and wanting Shenmue IV to happen soon! Shenmue III is an absolute masterpiece in game design, storytelling, and thematics and I cannot recommend them enough to you. Yu Suzuki-san, Thank you for creating this series and thank you and all the fans for #ShenmueSaved!