Title: Shenmue III
Available on: PlayStation 4 and Windows PC
Developer: YS Net
Publisher: Deep Silver
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Official Site: https://shenmue3.deepsilver.com/us.html
Release Date: November 19, 2019
I was both excited and extremely apprehensive to play Shenmue III. The series is important to me. I put a ton of hours into the first game on my Sega Dreamcast. This was at a time when I was really into anything Japanese. And Shenmue scratched that itch amazingly well. For a poor kid living in a trailer in West Texas, getting to wander the virtual streets of Yokosuka, Japan was something special.
My friends and family didn’t understand. They watched me play the game with a mix of confusion and dismissal. This was mostly summed up with the phrase, “I don’t get it.” But I ignored them. Shenmue was tremendous, and I loved it. Fast-forward to 2015 and the announcement of Shenmue III. I reacted with guarded enthusiasm. I had been burned by crowdfunded games before. I’m looking at you Mighty No. 9, and probably Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians.
I have now spent a few dozen hours with Shenmue III. It seems like enough time to have an opinion. So, what did I think? Well, first and foremost, it has reminded me that nostalgia can be a funny thing. It doesn’t always account for your change in tastes as you mature. You can feel love and adoration for something that you would hate if you were only now experiencing it for the first time. Reading that, you’d probably assume I didn’t enjoy Shenmue III. But that’s not true. My feelings about the game are complicated. Which is excellent, since explaining how I feel about the game will fulfill my word count for this review.
From the moment I started Shenmue III, I shuttered at the presentation. It’s a massive improvement over the first two games. But still, feel several years behind current releases. The camera direction during some cutscenes can feel weird and unnatural. The voice acting is terrible. Consistently. The characters deliver lines with strange pauses, an odd cadence. It may be in line with the previous titles. But it is still noticeable bad. The control scheme is also jarring at times. I never quite got used to using R1 to open the menu, for example. It’s just part of the long list of unusual choices in the design of Shenmue III.
That said, the environment is quite charming. The opening area of Bailu Village is beautiful and interesting. And that remains mostly consistent throughout the game. There were times during the morning, or after the sun had gone down that, I just found myself staring at the landscape. Shenmue III does have some style hidden under its obsolescence. The character models don’t share this quality. Some are fine. They look realistic and work well. Other characters look cartoonish or downright disturbing. It’s an odd inconsistency.
From the sound design side, Shenmue III does a good job. Outside of the voice, as mentioned above, acting, that is. I liked the soundtrack. Although some tracks played entirely too often. I got so sick of the theme of Bailu Village that I turned down the BGM. A very rare move for me. But it’s overall quality is excellent. And certain tracks tickle the nostalgia I have from the first two games. And the sound effects do their job without being a noticeable bad.
Now let’s talk about how the Shenmue III plays. The fighting system, which has been tweaked quite a bit from the first two games, is kind of… meh. It is hard in a challenging way. But that challenge is rarely rewarding. It can be fun to engage in sparring sessions with various characters to level up your skills. But it gets repetitive very quickly. It just isn’t all that fun. In typical Shenmue-style, there are a ton of minigames and side activities you can engage in. But I found most of them to lose there appeal pretty fast.
Of course, most people that pick up Shenmue III are going to be doing so for the story. Which, like the rest of the game, isn’t as good as I would have hoped. It does okay for most of the experience. But as it reaches its climax, it takes a disappointing turn that keeps it from being the conclusion that I was expecting from this game. I had a good time learning about the lives of the various characters. And a lot of the story was worth seeing. It just left me feeling unsatisfied.
Verdict: Shenmue III is a game that I could only recommend to fans of the first two games. And despite its apparent flaws, for those people, it’s a must-play. It asks for a lot of patience from its players. But if they can get past their problems, then I believe that there is a worthwhile experience to be had. For those with no experience with Shenmue. I wouldn’t recommend Shenmue III as a starting point. I’d say either pick up the HD collection of the first two games or play Yakuza.
- Beautiful World
- Full of nostalgia for fans of the series
- A continuance of the Shenmue story
- Bad voice acting
- Repetitive and boring gameplay
- The story doesn't conclude ina satisfying way