Hands down, one of the most memorable E3 shows was the one Sony produced on 2015. Sony was killing it as this was the keynote that revealed the Final Fantasy VII Remake. That may be the biggest announcement of that year’s E3. But there was also another game that got an equally huge reaction in terms of excitement: Shenmue III.
I am not ashamed to say that I also screamed like a little girl when I saw Yu Suzuki say that we can get the third installment for Shenmue if we helped him fund it with his Kickstarter project. In fact, this was the first ever thing I every gave money to a Kickstarter project. I loved the first two Shenmue games and I desperately wanted to see the entire saga completed. But SEGA called it quits and they never made it… until now.
Well, it’s been a long time and Shenmue III is finally here. I got my download code and entered it into my PlayStation 4. I have been playing the game for some time and, although I have been going through the game at a rapid pace, I’m pretty sure that I’ve hardly made any real progress in the story yet.
Was is worth the money to fund it on Kickstarter? Was it really worth the 19 year wait to finally get this game? But the biggest questions would be is if the game is any fun, especially with all the improvements games have had over the time its been away from the public consciousness? I’ve only been playing this game for around a day or two so I can’t really say if it’ll be all worth it when I do finish the game. But what I can do right now is give you my honest opinion about my experience with Shenmue III and my thoughts on who might actually want to play it.
Two whole decades may have passed since the first Shenmue but, for protagonist Ryo Hazuki, it’s only been a few months. The game starts pretty much where the last game left off, with Ryo and his new partner Shenhua, investigate the quarry where the Dragon and Phoenix mirrors were crafted. With Shenhua’s father missing, Ryo realizes that he might be the key to revealing the secret of the mirrors. If all of this sounds like gobbledygook to you, that’s because I’m trying to summarize two whole games worth of story into a single paragraph. Even the in-game intro movie doesn’t do a good job in explaining things that well! And they have five whole minutes with pictures to do so!
I will be honest when I say that actual game itself is an acquired taste. The Shenmue series was kind of the precursor to most open-world games. As such, while it was a landmark in gaming when it first came out, things have definitely improved. User interfaces have become more streamlined and efficient. Dialog and cutscenes are more dynamic and movie-like now. I’m saying all of this as Shenmue III feels and controls like the previous entries of the series. While it was really innovative at the time, the control scheme it uses feels clunky and archaic. Even as someone who loves the games, it comes off as really slow and inefficient at times.
For example, in most modern open word games, there’s usually a shortcut you can use to open up the map screen. It doesn’t work that way in Shenmue III; you have to open up Ryo’s journal and then go to the map page. Things like opening cabinets can feel really tedious as you have to switch to a first person view, aim at the cabinet door and then select it, wait for the hand icon to pop up and then you can open the cabinet! Seems overly complicated, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is! And that’s what Shenmue players have been doing for the first two games.
I also have to mention the rather pedestrian dialog that’s spoken in the game. It’s basically something that Shenmue fans have had to live with. It makes Ryo and, well, practically every other character sound like dimwits! Most of the time, everyone sounds very dull and devoid of any personality. It’s both painful and hilarious to experience by today’s standards.
Another significant part of the game that feels rather lazily put together is the fighting segments. It’s hard to describe why it feels rather weak. The best way would be to say that I never felt the impact of the moves. That goes when I’m being hit or when I’m hitting the opponent. There just isn’t a whole lot of weight to them. I can hear the attacks connecting but I just couldn’t feel the attacks connecting. This goes for when you’re sparring or in an actual fight.
It sounds like I’m ragging on Shenmue III and, yes, I kind of am. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t have it any other way as it is all part of the entire Shenmue experience. Yes, the controls feel like they do get in the way of the actual gameplay experience at times. The delivery of the incredibly boring lines of dialog are bland. The fighting feels undercooked. Yet I think it wouldn’t feel like a Shenmue game if Yu Suzuki decided to get with the times and modernize things. It’s basically almost like I was playing it on my SEGA Dreamcast because it does feel slow and homey!
But all of those things are just a small portion of the entire Shenmue III experience anyway. If you ever wondered why there’s so much to do in most open world games, that’s because Shenmue paved the way for that. You can explore the world and collect various herbs to sell. Play some games of chance and skill in the amusement center. Start collecting those cute capsule toys. Get a few side jobs to earn some cash to but those cute capsule toys. So far, my favorite activities deal with improving Ryo’s endurance by practicing his horse stance and his one-inch punch because those minigames are very interactive and require some good eye-hand coordination. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Ryo’s stats improve the more you do them.
There is one thing that does irk me in Shenmue III and that’s the vicious cycle of training, working and eating. Each and every day that I’ve been playing, Ryo would start at full health. His health would slowly deplete throughout the day and strenuous activities training and even just running to a new location will deplete it even faster. In order to replenish his health, you have to eat stuff. Right now, in my time playing anyway, there aren’t a lot of food items that give Ryo a significant health boost. So I wind up buying a lot of food just to train and increase my stats.
This means that I have to find a way to make money, like chopping wood or selling herbs. It has become a repetitive pattern that can both be enjoyable and monotonous. Then again, I’m just doing this now so I can breeze through the story and quests later on. It’s kind of like intentionally getting into random encounters in your typical RPG. It’s just something that part of the game.
I will say that the game is gorgeous. At least the backgrounds are anyway. The scenic view of the town Ryo’s in is league’s better than the almost blocky nature of the previous two games. However, the character models move like they came from something like a PlayStation 2. They look okay but everything is so stiff. It’s really obvious especially with Ryo’s running animation where he looks like he’s wearing clothes that are too tight. This is one instance where I do wish they spruced up something that was a part of the Shenmue experience.
Of course, the big question is: will you like Shenmue III? Well, that pretty much depends on how much you liked playing the other games in the series. It’s hard for me to recommend Shenmue III to newer gamers who haven’t experience this kind of gameplay. Like I said, it feels clunky and outdated. However, fans who want a nostalgic experience of what gaming was like just a couple of decades ago feels like will feel right at home. I may be enjoying the game right now but I can’t say that if you been weaned on newer games.
Have you played Shenmue III? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!