Last week I put up my initial thoughts on Shenmue 3 – a pre-review if you will, as there simply wasn’t enough time to get through the game to give an overview of what to expect. Well, a few more days have passed, and I’ve… well, not progressed as quickly as I should have, but can now give you my verdict.
For the first day or two (real-time), I spent most of my time chatting to people, playing Lucky Hit games and chopping wood. If I can truly experience a game, then I’m going to milk it, but looking at the time, I realise that I’m not going to give a timely review if I don’t pull my thumb out of my arse. Except for levelling up Ryo with moves and endurance levels, I ploughed through the story a little faster than I would have liked to.
As I said before, this isn’t the type of game to do a speedrun – it’s just constant build-up to the finale, and even then, it’s still somewhat sleepy. I very much like that. The Shenmue series has been about avenging the death of Ryo’s father. But that’s a secondary story to the everyday tasks of earning money to pay your way, collecting miniature toys or talking to practically everyone in the community. I said it before, and I’ll try to reiterate it: from my perspective, Shenmue 3 is very much for the fans. I’d be mildly surprised if there will be any new converts.
As a big Shenmue fan, I was a little frustrated at first. In comparison to modern titles, the controls and animation were dated, and the frequency of cutscenes was excessive. For someone with a great deal of patience, I felt a little tested but soon began to realise that this game is for the fans and is a replica of the original titles. Although the graphics are improved and actually very nice, it’s still the same game and continues on how Shenmue 2 was left. On that basis, it doesn’t feel like Shenmue 3 has made any real progress. When the first game came out, there was nothing like it. Now, the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Death Stranding, technology has significantly improved, as has the game mechanics. Still, playing Shenmue 3 is like putting on The Goonies for the umpteenth time, or watching back-to-back episodes of Adventure Time: familiarity, a safety blanket or comfort food.
But if you don’t share the sentiment, you’re not likely to develop it. For a game with a martial art theme, f you were to break down how much of it you are actually fighting in Shenmue 3 it’s minimal. Don’t forget that the creator, Yu Suzuki, also made the Virtua Fighter series. He knows his stuff. Most of the combat is through sparring or climbing the ranks of the local dojos. Here and there are moments where you fight thugs to push the story forward, but even when learning new moves from martial arts masters, they aren’t battles but more of a quick time event.
Equally, after playing further and getting to Niaowu – the polar opposite of the Bailu and the village mentality, Ryos’ investigation never has any urgency. In fact, before leaving the first main area, I was asked if there was anything else I wanted to do in the village. Given a chance, I would have continued to walk around collecting herbs or chopping wood, but realising that this does nothing to do with the story, carried on to the next area. Other than earning money to collect tat or build-up moves through skill books, it’s only really about the experience more than anything. The environments are big enough but conveniently ‘locked’ until the story progresses. Then again, running back and forth between places eating into your stamina is pretty standard, so you will be covering more mileage that the actual area. Stamina: my biggest gripe of the game.
If you recall, walking, running, training and fighting will eat into your stamina, so you need to have a supply of food to hand at all times. No matter how much of the gauge you build up (I maxed it out through all the training options), it will always drop down to about three orbs. This means if you’re running errands and going back and forth a lot (you will), you can only spring in short bursts. Equally, if you unwittingly stroll into a fight sequence with only three orbs of health, you aren’t going to come out of it looking pretty. You either need to have a steady supply of food to hand or Snake Power – a handy little energy boost that you can take mid-fight. The problem is, it all costs money and the money you earn from jobs and selling items isn’t exactly much.
If you collect sets of items – such as herbs in the village, you can compile into sets that earn you more money. The same applies to the miniature toys you collect; get a full set, and you’ll either be rewarded with a lot of dough or a prize you can sell on. Emphasis again on everything being slow, with no urgency. It takes time to earn money. I made the comparison before, as I’m sure many will; the Yakuza series filled the void and evolved from what Shenmue had started. It’s a similar model of combat, overdramatic storylines and a plethora of mini-games… but, it does a much better job in terms of the graphics, voice acting and overall gameplay. That said, I still very much love Shenmue 3, and it doesn’t disappoint when it comes to replicating the original series. What a contradiction, huh?
I didn’t get involved in the Kickstarter campaign. Still, when I finally heard about Shenmue 3 (late as always), I was excited – so much so in that this was a challenger for the game I was looking forward to most in 2019. So again, I will reiterate that this is a nostalgic piece – a high-end homebrew/fan-made game if you will. It just so happens that it was the original creator, Yu Suzuki, that was involved. There are so many in-jokes and fourth wall anecdotes that only a fan would get, and I must admit, I found that a bit pretentious. In the second main area, Niaowu, there’s a hotel guestbook that has been completed by fans around the world. I’m sure quite a few will be blasting out their claim to fame, and I suppose it’s a little better than their name in end credits. The messages in English, mostly note form, is better than the dialogue at times. Like I said, I play it in Japanese as I can’t tell if the actors are good or not. The discussion in English was quite flat and riddled with responses from characters that seemed totally out of place with the conversation. If someone like Ryo existed and responded with the way he did in real life, I doubt so many people would entertain him.
With those negatives thrown in, I still love this game and have been playing it intensely. Anyone witnessing me sit for 20 minutes at a time tapping X to ensure Ryo doesn’t break his horse stance will think I’m a nut. Or the fact that I’m supposed to be looking for clues to who murdered his father and why, but all I seem to be doing is going around collecting items from vending machines or playing 80s arcade games within a game released in 2019.
It’s like me saying to go back to the original Star Wars trilogy and saying it’s dated. Criticising the space cowboys, little people in furry suits or the fact that none of the helmet forces can shoot straight seems fair, but I’m sure some Star Wars fans will be whipping out their lightsabers in a defensive stance right now. You might argue that Star Wars is something from your youth, or how untouchable the series is. Then they made The Phantom Menace. Shenmue 3 isn’t the Phantom Menance at all. Still, for the sentiment and closure on the story (a little) – should that evoke any positive moods, then this game is excellent.
My score is entirely based on the Shenmue franchise – not as a standalone game because this isn’t (despite the movie recap). Yes, it should be available for the masses to try it out – perhaps win them over, but this feels like we’ve all been let in on the Kickstarter campaign and an exclusive. For Shenmue fans, this won’t disappoint if you want the same thing again. For everyone else, dismiss the overall score as the game might not be for you.
Shenmue 3 PS4 Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8.5/10
Slow, dated controls/HUD and somewhat corny, Shenmue 3 isn’t for everyone. For the majority, I’d give this a 6. However, if you followed the original games or perhaps got the remastered edition of Shenmue 1 & 2 in 2018, this will not disappoint – as long as you aren’t expecting anything revolutionary.
- A replica of the previous titles, only a little prettier
- Areas are small, but with lots of back and forth, it still feels like a big game
- Though not awe-inspiring, the visuals are vivid
- Some of the mini-games will compensate for the lack of action and are surprisingly addictive
- Nothing new brought to the series, considering the first title was ahead of its time
- The stamina system is frustrating
- Far too many cutscenes/periods of inactivity for the modern gamer
- Voice acting is hit and miss – the responses are sometimes irrelevant
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Slim.