By Justin Guillou / March 10th, 2020
|Release Date||November 19, 2019|
|Platform||PC(EPIC Store), Xbox One, PS4|
|Age Rating||T for Teen|
Author’s Note: I will try my best not to spoil much in this Shenmue III review.
Shenmue III exists and it’s finally out. Like a lot of people, I couldn’t believe I’d actually see the day where I actually held a copy in my hand. My relationship with Shenmue is a bit interesting as it was a game I had always known about, and even played a bit of it but could never get very far. It wouldn’t be until more recent years, but before the HD releases of the first two games, that I decided to give the series another chance and really come to appreciate just what makes Shenmue and Shenmue II special. Needless to say, I was looking forward to playing Shenmue III. Despite the game offering recap movies and going out of its way to reiterate what happened in the first two games, I highly recommend playing those two or at least being more familiar with the story before jumping into this one.
The game takes place mere moments after Shenmue II‘s ending with Ryo and Shenhua in the infamous cave that they’ve been stuck in for well over a decade. Soon after you are introduced to Bailu Village to look for Shenhua’s father. However, he is missing and the duo set out to go look for him in hopes of finding out more in regards to the phoenix and dragon mirrors, the true nature of the secrets and treasure they hide, and finding Lan Di, the mysterious man who killed Ryo’s father at the beginning of the first game. If you were looking for a game that concludes Shenmue‘s story, this game isn’t it, it simply continues it. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the game ends on a rather disappointing note, which I will get to later.
The gameplay feels very “Shenmue” in that Ryo controls almost exactly the way he did in the first two games complete with similar quirks such as right trigger being your run button, the face buttons allowing you to interact with objects and also a first person mode for you to examine the various parts of the game’s two areas. They really did a great job in recreating the way Shenmue III would have felt had it been released back in the early 00s right down to the way the dialogue is paced and written. The problem is, we are no longer in the early 00s. I get that they wanted to maintain what hardcore Shenmue fans will insist is the game’s “charm,” but we really need to ask ourselves if what we are calling “charm” is actually engaging or is it just an excuse to dismiss and hand-wave what would otherwise be considered huge flaws in both design and execution? In other words, we need to realize that having awkward cuts mid-scene, stilted dialogue, or Ryo’s stiff movement, among many other things, simply does not hold up well and feels jarring to see in a modern release such as this one.
The flip-side of this approach is that the simple gameplay loop of spending every day going around town talking to NPCs and gathering clues is still there just as you remember it with a few changes. One of them involves a new stamina meter. Ryo will be constantly losing health as you move around and you will need to eat food in order to replenish your health. Running can deplete this a lot faster than walking around, so you need to be careful in managing your health. This might sound like an interesting element of resource management and decision making on paper, however in practice it makes exploring the game far more frustrating than it should be. Shenmue has always been a game about exploration and letting yourself be lost in the environment. It’s incredibly annoying to be really invested in exploring the areas of Shenmue III only for Ryo to awkwardly pause to tell the player how hungry he is. It’s also very easy to move into the next story segment and be thrown into a fight but be at a severe disadvantage because you didn’t eat enough food along the way. Sure you can prevent this from happening by making sure you have a bunch of food, and be constantly eating them at a consistent pace, but it still feels like an annoyance that really didn’t need to exist in the first place.
There are also some new changes to Shenmue‘s more interactive moments such as the combat. Ryo no longer can grab and throw his opponents. This is a bit disappointing considering the last two games had a rather large set of moves and counters related to grapples and throws. Instead, Ryo can learn various moves and special techniques that involve hitting a series of buttons. To make the combat a bit easier you can map a particular technique to the right trigger allowing you to execute it without using the button combination. This greatly simplifies combat in that you can map your strongest move to that button and simply spam it to win. Returning from Shenmue I is the ability to train and level up your skills. Shenmue III expands on this by allowing you to level up both your attack and endurance which will lead to an overall level for your Kung Fu. Mini games such as learning the “Horse Stance,” practicing your “One-Inch Punch,” or doing “Rooster Steps” will let you increase your overall HP and stamina. This is incredibly useful and I highly recommend spending some time leveling that up unless you want to run into the aforementioned stamina issues.
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