By Justin Guillou / March 10th, 2020
While exploring the areas of the game you will encounter lots of NPCs and many of them have something to say to you, all of which is voiced. You can spend a lot of time talking with them and really getting to learn about the environment you’re in. Culture has always been a big part of the Shenmue experience and Shenmue III delivers on that. There’s all sorts of interesting items for you to collect, food for you to eat, and places for you to discover. There is even an arcade you can walk inside of and play some mini games, though sadly none of them are actual SEGA games despite their logo being present all over. You can also buy capsule toys from various gachapon-like machines throughout the game, but none of them are of actual SEGA characters except for some Shenmue themed sets.
Like the previous games, there will be some parts of the story where you need to earn money. There’s a few ways you can do this including chopping wood, catching fish, trading items to a pawnshop, and eventually getting a job working a forklift. These activities, while amusing the first couple of times, can be a bit boring and grindy especially when you are doing them for the sole purpose of buying food to accommodate the annoying stamina system. On occasion, the story will put you in scenes where you will need to complete some QTEs in order to progress. Unlike Shenmue II they are not dynamic and don’t lead to branching events, however that also means you can’t permanently fail any of them. It might have just been me or input lag from my display, but the QTEs in this game felt a lot more difficult to complete than in the previous games. There were moments where I could swear I hit the correct button in time or in some cases had to hit a button quickly multiple times for the game to actually register the input. This made some of them far more difficult and aggravating than they really should have been. I never had issues with them in the previous games, yet here I was failing them very frequently and they weren’t any more complex than what I was used to in the last two games. Another slight nitpick with the QTEs is that in the previous games, they often corresponded to the moves Ryo was doing in the scene whereas here, the button prompts seem to be a bit more “random” and don’t relate to the actions Ryo is doing, as if they were there just for the sake of being there as opposed to making the player feel like they are pulling off an impressive move.
Visually, Shenmue III is a mixed bag. At its best, the game looks breathtakingly stunning. Environments are rich, filled with detail and color and a really impressive draw distance. However the lighting doesn’t always seem to do the game any favors, and the budget limitations really become apparent on some of the models and animations. The framerate is also not very consistent and often fluctuates making the experience feel a lot choppier than it really should. An element where the game knocks it out of the park however is the music. The music in this game is nothing short of incredible and was used very well to drive home what Ryo may have been feeling at the time. There is something so damn soothing and comforting about the songs that play when Ryo wakes up and also when he is getting ready to go to bed at the end of the day. It’s great stuff, and what’s crazy about it is that some of these tracks were unused themes from the previous games!
Where Shenmue III really drops the ball for me is that the game doesn’t really do a whole lot to develop Ryo. Shenmue I and Shenmue II put you through a wide variety of events and situations that all contributed to the bigger picture both in terms of the story and Ryo’s character development. In the first game, Ryo is stubborn, focused on revenge mostly relying on pure instinct and brute force. However, he was able to get by in Shenmue I because it took place in his neighborhood, where Ryo was more than familiar with the setting and most of the people there. However as the story progressed, he was gradually taught that there is more to life than just vengeance and that he needed to learn to be in control of both his body and mind in order to survive and live a happy life. This especially came into play in the second game because Ryo was adapting to a foreign and unfamiliar environment. Various characters went out of their way to teach Ryo patience and show him how to be a better person. The Four Wude arc in Shenmue II was an incredibly memorable one since you got to see some genuine growth in Ryo by the end of it and there was a great message to be told to the players as well.
In Shenmue III, Ryo is back to being stubborn and neither the characters nor his environment truly teach him anything to the same extent as previous characters other than a technique or two he needed to learn in order to defeat the antagonist of that section of the game. The only moments where we truly get a sense of how this adventure has affected Ryo’s character are in the optional interactions between him and Shenhua. At night you can speak to her and she will ask Ryo all sorts of questions related to his past and his life back in Yokosuka. These are honestly some of the best moments of the game because many of the dialogue choices lead to Ryo revealing a lot about his character, and in some cases him being able to reflect on some of his experiences in a way we have never seen before. This added a lot of depth to his character, but it’s a shame that this is all hidden away behind an optional dialogue scene that can be easily missed unless you deliberately continue to trigger it. This game also likes to tease the player with certain mysteries surrounding characters like Shenhua. She’s always been a character that appears simple on the surface, yet the games have gone out of their way to imply that there is more to her than meets the eye. In fact, it’s been heavily hinted at in various moments throughout the series that she may possess mystical powers. In Shenmue III, Ryo can even question her about this, but she quickly brushes it aside and the game moves on. There are a couple of other scenes that seem to further provide evidence of her “powers” but unfortunately they are very brief, and quickly brushed to the side in favor of the game going back to story’s main focus.
By the time you reach the end of the game, you begin to realize that over the last 20 hours not a whole lot actually happened here in terms of Ryo’s story. Ryo isn’t much closer to figuring out the story behind the mirrors, avenging his father and the revelations surrounding Lan Di were not a whole lot more than what was already revealed about him previously. I’m actually really disappointed in the last hour or so of this game because so much of it was actually revealed in trailers leading up to this game. What should have been a series of really dramatic moments were essentially spoiled to me already just because I watched the trailers. Shenmue III being advertised in this manner goes against the overall sense of mystery and discovery that fans of the series liked in the first place. If you’re going to show off all of the best parts and climaxes in the trailers, then there isn’t much left for us to discover in-game and that leads to an underwhelming experience. We generally link trailers to the game being reviewed towards the end of the article and I also realize the irony of linking a trailer in this review considering what I just said. So watch it at your own risk.
It’s clear that Shenmue III is a game that wants to please the fans and it’s clear a lot of effort was put in ensuring this experience is the one we would have had on the Dreamcast back then. They even bothered to get Corey Marshall to reprise his role as Ryo for the English audio track. However, the game trips over itself in its execution. Shenmue III is so stuck in the past and in its own bad habits that it forgot it needs to move on. Shenmue III is very much “more Shenmue” in that it’s certainly a continuation of the story, but its also not taking many significant steps in moving it or the gameplay forward. Yu Suzuki had a rather grand vision for the future of the series but for fans to have waited this long only to get a small glimpse of that vision and continue to be teased about it is incredibly disappointing. It feels like him and his team are constantly building hype for things we can expect in the future games without ever actually delivering on it. And while it’s true that in the past, he wasn’t entirely at fault due to the fate of the Dreamcast, I have a very hard time excusing it here. For Shenmue III to end on yet another “The story goes on…” just gives off the impression that history is going to repeat itself and we will end up not getting the “more Shenmue” they keep promising. I really hope that if Shenmue IV does get developed, we start to see some more actual progression instead of them continuing to string us all along for plot points that may not end up going anywhere. Shenmue III originally retailed for $60 but was quickly discounted to $30, so chances are the game may still be cheaper than your standard AAA release. There is some replay value to this 20 hour adventure in that there are different difficulty modes and you can replay the game with your money and the move scrolls you’ve collected. So if you want to experience the game again, there is some incentive to do so. Regardless of its flaws, if you’re a Shenmue fan you will still want to play this one because after all, it’s “more Shenmue.”
Review copy provided by publisher.
Pages: 1 2DreamcastKickstarterPlaystationPS4ShenmueShenmue IIISonyYS.NET