The journey to creating Shenmue III is pretty fascinating. It’s been 18 years since the release of Shenmue II, and thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Ryo’s journey to find his father’s murderer continues. Whenever a series has an extensive gap between games, I always question how the development process will factor in current gaming technology and trends. How will the gameplay to modern audiences who never touched the original games? In the case of Shenmue III, it plays similarly to its predecessors. And for modern gamers, this may be a bad strategy.
I would argue that the Shenmue series is very unique. In essence, it is a murder mystery that needs to be solved while the protagonist lives his daily life. The series never took the route of streamlining the adventure. Rather, Shenmue made you live out the daily life of Ryo while trying to solve your father’s murder during the spare minutes you have. It’s a unique and awesome game design that you don’t typically see. Typically, a protagonist drops everything to search for clues and fight bad guys. It never shows how you pay for food or rent during the adventure.
This type of game design is not necessarily going to appeal to everyone. In some ways, players might find the daily routine monotonous or, heaven forbid, boring. In previous games, Ryo had to work a typical shift to make money. He had to eat and train. Conversations were never straightforward or quick. Personally, I had no issue with the first 2 games and enjoyed this game mechanic. Regardless of my love for the series, even I have to admit that it doesn’t translate well into today’s market.
When I first started playing, I had my 11-year-old’s attention. We went through the very handy video that shows what happened in the previous games. It also helped that the start of Shenmue III takes place immediately after the conclusion of the 2nd game. I was immediately hooked as I went through the same motions as before. Time moved just as quickly, dialogue options were similar, and there were plenty of items to buy and ways to gamble and waste my money.
About 30 minutes in, I noticed my son stirring out of the corner of my eye. He would look at the screen a little bit, then find a toy to play, or make some kind of joke, or mess with his tablet. I finally paused the game and asked if what he thought so far. After a couple of seconds, he responded with “is this all there is to do in the game?” My greatest fear with Shenmue III was happening before my eyes. My son, a so-called “modern gamer,” was bored out of his mind.
As I pause and think about my time in the game, I realize that there are some very valid points to his boredom. It’s not always fun having to work constantly or train constantly. The dialogue can be very painful at times, with some of the line delivery sounding very wooden and out of sorts. And the working, training, and self-improvement games can be very tedious. It really plays exactly how I remember it 18 years ago.
There are a couple of aspects that have improved. The main one that struck me was the improvements to combat. In the past, you would learn and memorize button commands. I remember learning a palm strike that was quick and made an enemy stumble backward, and it was so effective that I spammed it constantly. The combat in Shenmue III is a little more fluid, almost like a simplified arcade fighting game. You mix and match button sequences and block the majority of your time. I like that the memorization is gone, but combat is still pretty challenging.
I also appreciate the attempt at improving the graphics. There are nice updates and details about the environments. However, some of the character models seemed to miss the graphical updates. I found it amusing walking around and seeing maybe 50 or 60% of the characters have nice facial details. The others look a bit more cartoony than others. Again, there are some nice improvements that help bring the series to more modern expectations.
I would not be doing an appropriate job reviewing Shenmue III if I didn’t at least mention my biggest issue with the game. Shenmue III has had a rough developmental road. 18 years is a long time to wait, and I was honestly expected the developers to finish the story. After all, we wouldn’t want to risk another significant delay or something worse, like the game never seeing the light of day again. Unfortunately, Ryo’s story was not finished at the end of Shenmue III, and the stage is set for another game.
Will we see a Shenmue IV? Who knows? I guess there is always a chance that another Kickstarted campaign will bring an actual conclusion to the story. But I am dumbfounded that they would leave it up to chance. What if Shenmue III does not meet expectations? Will we ever see a conclusion to the story? I really wish they would have found a way to properly end the series with Shenmue III. I hope I’m alive to see the actual conclusion.
Ultimately, Shenmue III appeals to those who love the franchise and want to continue the story. It’s just as long and tedious as previous entries, yet have a few updates that make things more bearable. I’m just not sure it will resonate with modern players. It’s a throwback to a unique series that plays vastly different from modern titles. Since Shenmue I and II are on Game Pass, perhaps more players will be willing to try the series and then give Shenmue III a try. As of right now, it’s hard to recommend to those who have never played the previous entries in the series.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Plays like the original games (for better or worse)
Nice graphical and combat updates
Tedious daily activities
Set up a sequel that may never happen