Shenmue 3 review – Can Ryo’s return live up to the almost two decade wait?
Much like Half Life 3 and the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Shenmue 3 for a long time seemed like a game that would never be made. The original Dreamcast classic was a milestone release for gaming back when it first launched at the tail end of the last millennium. At the time it was the most expensive video game ever made, with graphics and an open world never before seen helping to generate a huge amount of hype.
But while it was a critical success and developed a devoted fan base, it never managed to hit the sales it needed to to become a commercial success.
So while Shenmue’s creator and legendary Sega designer Yu Suzuki had planned multiple entries in the series that didn’t come to fruition.
A sequel launched in 2001 which ended on a massive cliffhanger but that came right at the end of the Dreamcast’s lifecycle.
Sega then ditched the console business and instead focused on being a publisher and developer.
But while in this new era iconic Sega series such as Sonic and Virtua Fighter received new entries, there was no sign of Shenmue 3 being made.
Instead the open world DNA of the Shenmue series was transplanted to Ryu ga Gotoku’s Yakuza series which landed four years after Shenmue 2’s release.
Years passed with it seeming that Shenmue 3 would never become a reality, until Sony’s stunning E3 2015 conference.
The PlayStation makers made a trio of announcements fans thought would never see the light of day.
These surprise reveals were: the Last Guardian, Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Shenmue 3.
Fan excitement in the auditorium that day was immense, with gamers left stunned and overjoyed these games were finally being made.
Fast forward four years and now, finally, Shenmue 3 is in gamers’ hands after a record breaking Kickstarter campaign.
So, after a wait of almost two decades between Shenmue 2 and Shenmue 3 how does the return of Ryo Hazuki measure up?
Shenmue 3 review – Fans have been waiting almost two decades for Shenmue 3
When you boot up Shenmue 3 it picks up right where the second game left off, with Ryo and Shenhua looking at the discovery they made in the cave.
Following an introductory cutscene, our leather jacket wearing hero steps out of the cave into the open greenery of Bailu Village.
What’s immediately striking is – despite the limited budget and early first trailers – Shenmue 3 is a very pretty game.
The art direction of Shenmue 3 gives locales in Bailu Village an air of natural beauty.
Brightly coloured foliage adorns plenty of spots, as does quaint ramshackle buildings from a bygone era.
It’s full of charm, and means the world of Shenmue 3 is often a relaxing and peaceful place to explore and walk around.
And that’s a good thing as you have to do a lot more walking than before thanks to a newly added energy system.
Taking the life sim aspects of Shenmue to another level, Ryo now has to top up his health bar by eating.
Shenmue 3 review – Shenmue 3 was first revealed during E3 2015
Everything the young Hazuki does extends energy, which reduces your health, with running especially taking big chunks out of the meter.
Different foods offer different levels of HP, and you will only be able to find certain items at specific stores.
It takes a bit of getting use to and manage, but it all adds to those extra life sim touches that Shenmue fans know and love.
While there’s a wide range of food you can buy, there are only specific health items that can be used to top up your hit points during a fight.
These can cost quite a hefty amount, which is where the job system comes in.
You can earn money to help fund Ryo’s quest for vengeance by chopping wood, getting behind the wheel of a forklift or gambling.
The latter is the quickest way to earn a fast buck, with dice games, turtle races and the series’ beloved Lucky Hit game among the gambling options.
Ryo can also while away the hours by practising his martial arts at the local dojo.
Shenmue 3 review – Shenmue 3 feels like you’re playing through a classic kung fu movie
New mini-games based around practising his stance or one inch punch help Ryo build up his stamina and kung fu abilities.
These attributes each have an XP and levelling up system not seen in previous games which is a welcome addition.
Your fighting ability can also be boosted picking up skill books to learn new moves and sparring against fellow martial artists.
Hitting the dojo and practising your one inch punch all adds to the feeling that you’re playing through a classic 80s kung fu film.
Out of all the Shenmue games, this is the closest one in tone and feel to the most iconic martial arts movies that Hong Kong has produced.
One character in particular that Ryo comes across seems like he’s been taken straight out of a classic Jackie Chan film.
The fighting controls in Shenmue 3 also, along with the movement controls in general, are much smoother compared to previous entries in the series.
Long gone are the stilted almost tank like movements Ryo showed in Shenmue and Shenmue 2.
It’s not as refined as the controls seen in the Yazuka series but it definitely makes fights a more skilful and enjoyable affair than before.
Shenmue 3 features plenty of other gameplay elements and mission structures that long-time players will be familiar with.
The template seen in the iconic find the sailors quest in the original Shenmue is seen once again in the latest offering.
You’ll regularly find yourself asking around as you try to look for someone who has crucial information needed for your quest.
And, as expected in Shenmue, often times once you pinpoint the location of this person they will only be hanging around at certain times of the day.
You can wait around till this person becomes available as you’d have done in previous games, maybe killing some time in the arcades.
But thankfully now there’s an option to fast forward the time to the exact point this person of interest will become available at.
It’s a small quality of life change but it adds a big improvement to the overall experience.
Shenmue 3 review – Shenmue 3 has some memorable characters in it
If you’re coming into Shenmue 3 without playing any of the other games in the series you may wonder what all the fuss is about.
It definitely feels like a game designed with the sensibilities of those operating during the Dreamcast era.
It still boasts the stilted dialogue of the original, which seems like it’s come straight out of a badly dubbed kung fu movie.
But this is all part of the charm that fans of the Shenmue series love the games for.
To make huge changes to the tone and feel of Shenmue would be a betrayal to the fans that have waited years for this to come out.
And make no mistake this is a game definitely made for the fans.
Those who have waited almost two decades for Shenmue 3 will find a game that is comfortingly familiar but brings enough welcome changes to the table.
It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or offer the same groundbreaking experience that the original Dreamcast classic did.
Shenmue 3 review – Shenmue 3 is a charming, relaxing and peaceful game
But for those that thought Shenmue 3 would never see the light of day, its mere existence will be something to celebrate.
Thankfully though, Shenmue 3 isn’t just an adequate game that has been pushed out to appease fans.
It’s a game which has been lovingly crafted by those that know what made the original Shenmue games so special to its devoted fanbase.
In many ways it’s a time capsule that brings a modern refresh to an antiquated way of game design.
It’s a charming, relaxing oddity that is completely different to anything the major studios are producing right now.
It retains the same individual spirit that made the original Shenmue games so unique, and wouldn’t change that for anything or anyone.
It is – very much – what you’d expect from a Shenmue game.
And for fans of the series, that will be more than enough.
Published at Sat, 07 Dec 2019 11:01:00 +0000