It’s been almost 18 years since Shenmue II released on the Dreamcast in Europe, but its long-awaited sequel feels like it’s been preserved in a time (toy?) capsule during that time. This is the greatest compliment that could be paid Shenmue III, of course: look beyond the richly rendered Unreal Engine 4 visuals, and the follow-up clearly subscribes to the very same design blueprint that famed director Yu Suzuki devised in the late 90s. This is Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment in its purest form, and if that awkward acronym means anything to you at all, then you’ll love this game.
It’s worth stressing right from the outset, however, that this is a weird package by 2019 standards. Those who’ve feasted on a banquet of Grand Theft Auto and Yakuza in recent years may be bemused by the glacial pace on offer here; gameplay is made up of a series of different strands, each designed to simulate real-life. This means investigations may devolve into mundane activities such as rifling through drawers and interrogating clueless inhabitants of rural Chinese settlement Bailu Village.
This is the structure that patient fans of the property will have been hoping for, though; the title takes very little time to set out its stall, recreating the famous cave scene from the concluding minutes of its predecessor and picking up the plot thread like two decades haven’t even passed. Plastered protagonist Ryo Hazuki is as awkward as ever, while supporting cast characters like the crucial Shenhua retain their toe-curling dialogue.
Shenmue’s defining characteristic has always been its ability to create believable backdrops, and despite operating on a shoe-string budget, this third instalment maintains that mainstay. The inaugural area is more picturesque than the grimy urban setting of Yokosuka in the first game, but it adheres to the same format: it’s a sandbox that you very quickly familiarise yourself with, learning its many intricacies as though you’re in foreigner Hazuki’s trademark white sneakers.
The title constricts you to a set path early on, but it isn’t long before the stabilisers are removed and you’re given the freedom to explore at your own pace. Buildings can, for the most part, be entered, and cupboards can be searched. You’ll quickly stumble upon bars, gambling dens, fishing hotspots, and homes – each populated by their own cast of characters, adhering to their own work-life schedule that’s governed by an in-game clock.
The quality of life improvements from Shenmue II return, meaning that you can fast-forward time to crucial moments if you choose; you’re also free to mind your own business and play a round of Excite QTE 2 – one of the arcade games returning from the original – to keep you occupied until your appointment. New life simulation mechanics like eating – tied closely to Ryo’s energy – add to the sense of realism. It’ll be tedious to some; immersion to others.
There are other subtle mechanical improvements, like a more in-depth levelling system that rewards you for taking time to train. Invest effort into your kung-fu, for example, and you’ll increase your overall energy and fitness, meaning that you can sustain yourself for longer both in battle and when out and about. Herbs populate the landscape and can be collected and exchanged for cash and combat scrolls, while collectibles like the infamous toy capsules now serve a larger purpose.
Suzuki has said that he wanted the wealth of activities that the series is known for to be better connected, and this is obvious throughout. One side-quest, for example, sees you locating a soccer ball for a wannabe footballer living in the village. However, to get it you’ll need to play one of the new minigames – a simple activity where you throw rocks into buckets – in order to earn it. Where you were simply killing time in past games, it feels like there’s reward for time wasting here.
But it’s not without its issues: in an era of instant gratification, Shenmue III’s tardy pacing is almost obscene. Dialogue is drawn out to extreme lengths, with characters repeating themselves to the point of irritation. The problem with this is that the game wants to embed you in its world, but no one converses like a human being. It’ll be off-putting to anyone but the most ardent fans, even if the series’ trademark humour is present throughout.
The presentation also reflects the title’s overarching budget limitations. While the art direction is generally excellent, marrying realistic environments to stylised character models, the animation is sub-par across the board – whether it’s Ryo’s encumbered sprint or the dodgy lip-syncing on display. These are forgivable shortcomings, of course, and anyone familiar with the project’s development will be able to overlook them – but they must be mentioned.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the plot – that one of vengeance and friendship and loyalty and betrayal – remains as intriguing as ever. It really does pick up exactly where the series left off 18 years ago, a bold but welcome move that will delight fans who’ve waited so long for this moment. The mere sight of returning characters results in moments of fist-pumping euphoria; a reward for the patience of franchise faithfuls.
The fact that such fanservice is surrounded by a game that’s not only serviceable but a direct continuation of the work that was started almost two decades ago is a testament to the unflinching ambition of Suzuki and the Ys Net team that he’s assembled. For this long-time fan, the mere existence of Shenmue III is a dream come true; that it’s actually a very playable, very enjoyable game is pure fantasy. Welcome to the Fantasy Zone, we guess.
Are you a long-time Shenmue fan, or a casual observer? Will you be playing the hotly anticipated sequel now that it's finally here? Furrow your brow like Ryo Hazuki in the comments section below.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask away.
I’m stoked beyond all belief that it’s looking great for fans at least. While I may be somewhat of a poser since my first console was the Cube, I got into the series later. I love the weird townsfolk and the odd pacing and to be honest, it’s about as close to Twin Peaks as a game will get in terms of oddness. Well, other than Deadly Premonition, which is also odd but has less satisfying gameplay.
@get2sammyb Do you know of a place where sailors hang out?
@get2sammyb hey Sammy out of 10 how'd u rate the difficulty for the platina? and the lengh?
I knew. After GI was gushing about the game especially. No way a pioneer (Yu) delivers a lemon.
@pimpjuice Nowhere near finished yet so couldn’t comment on the length. Platinum looks time consuming.
@m8e3point1415 Yeah, if you don’t like 1 and 2 then you won’t like this. Simple as that.
I cant wait for this. I adored the first 2 on Dreamcast and the nostalgia came flooding back when I worked for the platinum on the HD collection. I was going to hold out and ask for it for Christmas but I just dont think I can. I really dont think it would be possible. Make no mistake tho, this is a game directly for those people who have waited patiently for 20 long years and will puzzle the life out of the majority of folk.Great read @get2sammyb
@get2sammyb does it seem like everything you wanted/expected so far? This was a game changer for me (pun intended lol) when i was about 14 years old. I really, really cant wait to play this and hope the nostalgia damn near kills me lol. By the way i tried to get my wife into the OGs and she thought i had completely lost my mind
Came home to find this waiting for me. Having not played 1/2, I think I’ll pick those up on a sale and give it a go from the beginning.
@get2sammyb If you were to say...put a number on the quality of the game. Lets say..1 through 10...what would you give it?
@get2sammyb Congrats on finally getting to play this, been over 4 years since that E3. And FF7R due out in a few months. Really unbelievable. Unbelievable as in - I can't believe Shenmue 3 and a FF7 remake are actually really releasing. Hope springs eternal after all.
@get2sammyb Any sign of whether they improved the fighting mechanics from the demo???
@get2sammyb when does review go up on this site ?
@get2sammyb ive never played the first two, but im interested in these games. Do i need to play through the first 2 before i play this one?
@ellsworth004 yes 1000%. If you dont you wont have a clue about the story, characters, places or anything and you will ask yourself why you have just purchased a game that feels like it was made in the 90's. Play 1 and 2 and they will still feel old( because they are) and the controls
are clunky but you will appreciate the game and realise why people have been wanting it for 20 years. It's basically the 3rd part of a movie.
I'll be disappointed if I don't get a chance to finish off Lan Di
@Kidfunkadelic83 a remaster for 1 and 2 just recently released, right?
I thought this game was doomed to the rubbish tip cos of the review embargo?
Got this downloading whilst at work, looking forward to experiencing Shenmue for the first time.
@ellsworth004 correct but it's basically a tidy up. I does look alot clearer but make no mistake its defenately a remaster and not a remake.
So now just need to wait for parts 4 & 5!!
I played some of it yesterday. It's hardly perfect, but it is quite wonderful.
@Acquiescence have tou played the first 2 parts or you coming in fresh? If so does it feel like the originals?
@Kidfunkadelic83 im gonna try and pick it up discounted. I have a huge backlog so im not rushed, thanks for the info though. Im definitely gonna be checking this out at some point.
@Kidfunkadelic83 I've been a huge Shenmue fan ever since the first two games came out on the Dreamcast. I would say that Shenmue 3 doesn't miss a beat in replicating the vibe and feel of the older games, even though there are some differences, like how the combat mechanics work. And there are some frankly weird editing techniques used during certain cutscenes where the screen will fade to black on a regular basis. It's hard to explain but you'll see what I mean when you play it. Other than that though, it is Shenmue through and through.
@Acquiescence thatsxgreat to hear. Also a big original fan here.
Just hope Ryu won't need to balance on wood planks with quick time events. I still have nightmares from that segment
@get2sammyb I guess no SEGA arcade games / consoles this time..? Ryo was so ahead of his time, he had a Saturn in the 80s. Thanks for preview, will hopefully pick the game up soon after launch.
Sounds brilliant! This is my most-wanted PS4 game for Christmas!
@tameshiyaku I fell off so many times 😂
Not reading any of the hands-on info as I'm waiting on the postman to deliver it today after only 18 years of waiting. Psyched!!
I loved Shenmue on the Dreamcast. Replaying on PS4 last year was like revisiting my past in a good way.
Had a quick go on Shenmue 3 last night and it was glorious. (I enjoyed the recap of the first two games, nice touch). Can't wait to get back from work and put some serious time in. Definitely gonna take my time with this.
Unfortunately as much as I'm enjoying it, Death Stranding has had to take a back seat for the time being. I've waited many years for this.
Never played the originals and am not sure I would be able to get into this series however I think it is great that this game exists for those who really want it and doesn't betray its origins. This will clearly be a niche title but hopefully that niche supports it so it does well.
sounds great, my copy arrived yesterday, will be starting tonight, let's get sweaty!
@nessisonett jazz bars apparently, also have you tried the harbour, the bus stop just outside the flower shop will take you right there Ryo
@get2sammyb I see what you did there! I am glad you were the one to write this "hands on" article for Shenmue III.
Bring it on! Waiting for my copy to arrive!!!
@get2sammyb did they ever manage to fix or improve the audio for the ports I haven't been back since launch, the audio was that bad...
@mini_piekarnik just make sure you have your fork truck license.
@get2sammyb Thanks for taking the time to write this. I'm hoping to buy it soon. Is the darts mini-game in it?
@Kidfunkadelic83 Those planks can go to hell
only two reviews on metacritic at the moment. a 50 and a 60. yea, sounds about what i expected...
@Kidfunkadelic83 replaying the games with the hd remasters had me thinking how much time and patience I had for this stuff in the early days of the internet. Nowadays I went as far as using a guide for the qte's.
Got my PSN code through this morning but currently touring Spain in a camper. I've got my PS4 with me but my phone won't let me download 24GB abroad. I really need to find some wifi that'll handle the download. After 18 years of waiting this is excruciating!
@tameshiyaku I had to for some of them. My reaction times arnt what they used to be when I was a whipper snapper 😂😂
Man, the score is beutiful 😍
@rjejr you figure we'll get to play Mother 3 anytime soon then? 😆
@clvr You'll get to play Mother 3 as a pre-order bonus for Half-Life 3. But no, the VR game doesn't count.
@Porco the thing is with reviewing this one is it depends on your stance. If your reviewing it from today's standards and have no love for the past entries then I can see why it gets those scores as it does just feel slightly dated,clunky and with odd button prompt layouts.If, like me, you are a huge fan of the originals then this will resonate alot more with you and pull other chords. I've been on it for a few hours now and it's so authentic to the original 2 its ridiculous. It literally just feels like Shenmue with a decent lick of paint and that feeling could easily have been lost amongst poor writing,pacing and a completely revamped control method. As I said, I'm only a few hours in but I just cant help but love it to bits. Yu Suzuki really has done a stellar job on this one imo.
It also gets an extra point for the gorgeous exclusive steel tin I got with mine.
@rjejr wow, if it weren't for your comment I wouldn't have known about the new HL.
Ok, it's not 3, but after all this meming about 3, it's hard to believe that a new HL game is actually in production 😆
@Kidfunkadelic83 that is totally fair. the game feels like it could have come out in the late 2000s and i mean that in a good way. it does look like a direct sequel that was created to be as respectful and pure as the originals. for that reason, it comes across as a time capsule of sorts, but i don't think shenmue fans would want it any other way. it is a very difficult game to review since it is aimed squarely at those who are familiar with the originals. this is an example where the uninitiated need not apply in the truest sense of the word. the reviews will be all over the place as a result of this... that said, user reviews are high so that is all that really matters. now, if only the games i cared about (xenogears) could get the same treatment
@clvr Glad I could help. Sorry I didn't post a link, was busy running errands and cooking dinner.
When is all the DLC content coming out ?
There is already 3 packs of DLC trophies 🏆
attached to the game , but no info about availability .. ???
Are you doing a full-fledged review for this game Sammy?
@rjejr no worries! People will try to convince you otherwise, but it's not that hard to Google stuff lol 😆
My friend has waited so long for this, I bought the first two but refuse to play it until the third game is in my hands. I heard the cliff hanger is that bad ..
@clvr I'm too lazy for Google these days, I just ask Alexa. If Alexa doesn't know I just move on to something else.
@rjejr ahahahahah that's actually funny 😆
I just meant that, since my phone is already in my hands while I'm visiting this site, it takes me absolutely no effort to Google stuff, so no biggie 😄
Though if I'm not actively using it or a PC, it's a bit of a drag actually ahahahah
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