The title of this review is to quote one of the original designers of the game and I think the statement does hold pretty true. After all, it was a kickstarter campaign that truly brought the visions of Shenmue 3 to fruition. Deep Silver and Shibuya Productions teamed up to publish what stands as a time capsule in video games. Shenmue 3 honestly feels like a blast from the past despite being a completely new modern game. The title also serves as a successor to the last installment roughly 18 years ago, whew!
Shenmue 3 picks up almost exactly where Shenmue 2 had left off. Players are once again put in control of Ryo, a teenage martial artist who’s on a journey to find the murderer of his father. I can’t begin to imagine how long that journey’s been for us as players that have played the original 2 games.
Of course, we know it’s been a constant endeavor for him and not two freaking decades! The third title has been in development hell but has finally pulled through with the aid of modern crutches.
You start in Bailu village this time with a beautiful backdrop that the Unreal engine actually does a great job of capturing. Although the area and segment of the game was a total pain in the ass from a gameplay perspective, it definitely didn’t let me down visually.
It truly was a nice showcase of how the game has become modernized, looking like a polished and more refined version of the original.
The cityscape you explore within the latter half of the game had more work put into it, however. With the village, it was pretty easy to sink in some nice visuals with the backdrop alone. With the city, all you had to see had to be in the walls and buildings as well as the streets and marketplaces.
I really think they did a great job of capturing the rustic 80s Japanese life really well. The whole time that you’re on this epic movie scenario of avenging your father while simultaneously having new experiences with every passing day was truly magical.
Furthermore, the melodious soundtrack only further added to the enchantment of the journey. I was occasionally a bit annoyed by how perpetual the music was since it literally never stopped. But you could adjust that in the settings obviously.
The visuals weren’t the hugest leap from the original games. That’s mostly because the old titles were actually so ahead of their time. You could go back and play 2 while still having a good time, same as 1. It’s fitting since the original Shenmue was the most expensive video game ever developed at the time.
It’s no wonder the developers went bankrupt and a kickstarter had to be initiated. The 3rd installment retains the classic aesthetic of the game with how the characters look and how their proportions are. While it definitely appeals to some, I can see why it can also be considered rather unattractive to others. For fans, I’m sure it’ll hold up.
The gameplay part of Shenmue 3 is where it actually gets tricky. The reason being that the game is appealing to 2 kinds of audiences. The classic fans who have been waiting for this game since the release of 2, and people who have never played a Shenmue title in their life.
This divide is a major reason the scores on this game from reviews all over the web as well as the consumers can be pretty divisive here and there. It’s solely because your experience greatly varies on whether or not you’ve played the old titles.
Shenmue 3 like it’s predecessors is an open-world game that revolves around simulating a daily life while merging it with an ongoing journey. This includes tracking dates on a calendar, partaking on actual activities that are so realistic at times they can often be mundane with how they are.
The game also plays the same way as the old titles in terms of mechanics, inputs and overall functionality. One thing I will criticize 3 for is the assumption that the player has played the original games. This is because of how rushed the game starts off, almost as if you’re coming from a tutorial rather than going into one.
You’re not actually in control the moment you supposedly should be since it’s an autorun into a bunch of errands with little to no explanation on how the game’s mechanics work. It’s not until you start to use them in an immediate sense as to when you actually start to learn how they work.
I liked this feature in some aspects of the game, like how you learned martial arts. Specifically using capsules with moves in them which were then practiced out in sparring sessions.
The combat of the game is a lot more fluid and a lot less clunky than the original titles. Mainly due to how the block function was improved as well as the removal of directional inputs which made things a bit too overcomplex in the old titles.
The scenarios within which you experience these combat mechanics are also pretty well placed within the game. You can improve certain moves and stats in these training style quick time events. Normally I don’t condone too many of these in games but seeing as Shenmue is the father of these events in video gaming, it gets a pass here.
The game overall in terms of gameplay in movement, fighting and every nook and cranny in between feels pretty rigid and stiff at times. It’s quite literally just like Shenmue 2, which can be taken as a good thing or a bad thing depending on what type of player you are.
Even the quest design in some aspects has not really aged well, and the progression phase taking place in Bailu village was just a real slog to get through. I was glad when it was over and it did kind of shred a layer of replayability off for me.
My only main criticism of Shenmue 3 is in how the game isn’t very new player friendly due to its rather guideless in your face nature at times. Still, if you’re willing to learn, the game is definitely worth a shot.
Due to how similar it is to the previous titles, you can even go back and play them after this one without feeling like any of the older games aged horribly. I do feel like the game has a bit of a bias towards it’s older fans in comparison to the newer ones, and this is evident in the reviews as well.