It’s been 18 years…

It is hard to believe it has been 18 years since the last Shenmue game. Fans have been waiting almost two decades to get the next chapter of Ryo’s story. Shenmue III was announced four years ago to a very successful crowd-funded campaign and ever since then people still didn’t believe it was actually coming out. Yet, here we are. In 2019 there is a new Shenmue game and it feels like it never left. For better or worse Shenmue III is exactly what the name implies. It feels like a game that was made almost 20 years ago and somehow just surfaced. For those that can accept that, you have your latest chapter of the series. For those hoping it would somehow evolve the series, you are in for some disappointment.

Let’s back up for a second. Saying Shenmue III is identical to its previous iterations is doing it a disservice. The new game looks a lot better and there are some streamlined pieces, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a modern game. This is a sequel in the grandest sense. It literally begins where the last game left off, so for anyone looking to jump right into the series, this is not the best spot. There is a nice recap video which I highly recommend since it has been 18 years, but this is like chapter three of a book, players cannot simply dive in and expect to understand who these characters are or what is going on.

MSRP: $59.99
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Price I’d Pay: $29.99

The game begins by recreating the final moments of the last game in the new engine. Ryo and Shenhua are uncovering the mysteries behind the mirrors while still trying to track down Lan Di, who murdered Ryo’s father. The game begins in the village of Bailu where Ryo and Shenhua are trying to track down her father and finally uncover the mystery…or not. It is no secret that Shenmue III is a continuation, but not the final chapter. Those hoping this would wrap up the story are in for disappointment as this is just another entry and who knows how long it will be before we see the end of Ryo’s journey.

The first thing that stands out is the dialogue. It is awful. There is no way to sugarcoat that. It is still impressive that I could literally chat with anyone, but the transitions and dialogue are so broken it is comical in most interactions. NPCs act like Ryo is not even there, or talk about things he didn’t even ask about. This is by design according to the developers as they wanted this to feel as much like the original as possible. It stands out like a sore thumb when compared to modern games though. I don’t think fans would have been upset by improving things. It feels like an odd choice and anyone without any reverence for the originals will likely be baffled by the exchanges between characters.

Tedium is the name of the game here. Shenmue is a life simulator. In order to progress players will have to converse with everyone, learn details to piece together, and figure out how to solve these issues. It is a long and arduous process that requires talking to almost everyone and taking notes. There are some reprieves though. The journal feels more user friendly and Ryo can fast travel to locations he has learned in order to investigate more. Everything has a cut scene though, even something as simple as taking off your shoes requires a loading screen and when the journey lasts upwards of 40 hours, it can become extremely monotonous.

Fans of the original expect that though. There is a certain charm to the tedium that Yu Suzuki and his team have created. Being able to slowly pick through every detail is something that Shenmue pioneered. It was a revolution for gaming and something it really paved the way for other games. Shenmue III just feels like it didn’t progress. Titles like the Yakuza series took a lot of what it introduced and improved upon it. Shenmue feels old for the sake of being old and not everyone will enjoy that.

Combat also feels archaic. While they have removed the complex button commands and instead opted for learning the moves and mapping them to hotkeys, it is still just not fun. Regardless of difficulty opponents simply block for what seems like forever. There is little to no strategy to be found. It is challenging, but not in the rewarding sense. I found myself simply mashing buttons until they stopped blocking. There are also survival mechanics in the way of stamina and food consumption. Again neat in theory, but poorly executed. Again Shenmue feels like a game trying to be ahead of the curve, while falling slightly behind it. These ideas would have been revolutionary if the game had launched in 2003, but today they feel like dialed back ideas of better executed mechanics.

Shenmue III feels like a game that would have been revolutionary in 2003. Maybe that is what the fans wanted. This is a game that flopped massively when it released and somehow has garnered a cult following that clearly wants more of what it delivers. Shenmue III delivers just that. A game that feels like it time travelled to 2019 from the Dreamcast era and I think that is just fine with the fans. They got what they wanted and I am thrilled for them, but anyone coming in to see what all the noise is about is likely going to come away confused as to why it took 18 years to create the game in front of them.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • It is definitely Shenmue
  • Updated visuals
  • It is still Shenmue
  • Plodding pace
  • Broken dialogue
  • Voice acting
Written by
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.