Kikee’s Summer Spotlight: Shenmue 3 Review
Nostalgia, a noun, as defined by Google as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” It is a feeling gamers enjoy partaking infrequently. The industry has been taking notice over the years with everything from previous Resident Evil titles, Final Fantasy 7, and Tony Hawk Pro Skater being remade in the new millennium. But what about many overdue sequels?
Back to the 80’s in Shenmue 3
This was the case with the highly anticipated Shenmue 3 in 2019. It had been 18 years (yea that is right, 18 God damn Years!) since its predecessor Shenmue 2 hit shelves. Although many fans of the series were ecstatic when the game’s development cycle was announced, rating and consumer opinions ranged, giving many mixed feelings about the game. Many naysayers had the same reasoning of how, “the game feels old”. Which got me wondering, is it old and unpolished, or is nostalgia going unnoticed?
Following the events of Shenmue 2, Ryo Hazuki, a young martial artist, finds himself in the mountains of Gulin, China attempting to track down the man who killed his father, Lan Di. For those unfamiliar with the series, or who haven’t played Shenmue, Ryo’s father Iwao Hazuki was murdered when Lan Di pulled up at his dojo demanding to know the whereabouts of a mysterious artifact. Iwao tells him where it is, and after Lan Di and his men retrieve the artifact, Lan Di did what any rational person would never do, and killed him.
Lan Di claims that Iwao killed his father Zhao Summing, so he just had to return the favor in a fit of vengeful villain rage (That’s not how the law works Lan Di, but go off sis I guess). Sadly, Ryo had less than stellar timing as he came in right while his father was getting the beat down. He was unable to rescue him and he died in Ryo arms. Lan Di thinks he may have gotten away with both the murder and the artifact, the coveted “Dragon Mirror”, but the joke is on him.
Because the other mirror is not in China where Lan Di heads to track it down…. Rather the Hazuki family basement.
Ryo wanted to know why his father was (A) accused of being a murderer, (B) why two people died over this mirror, and (C) seek revenge on Lan Di by following his trail through a series of unfortunate martial arts events. Eventually, leaving his homies, girl, job, basically his entire life in Japan behind to travel to Hong Kong (Shenmue 2) to track down Lan Di.
This eventually leads to the small village of Bailu where he meets Shenhua. You see, Shenhua’s father is a stonemason. These stonemasons are a select group of people with the talent required to make such artifacts as Phoenix and Dragon mirrors. This ain’t something you will learn to do in Skillshare or Udemy, which obviously makes them a perfect target for a Phoenix Mirrorless Lan Di and his crew of degenerate thugs. As a result of poor Shenhua’s father, the stonemason Master Yuan, goes missing.
On top of this, the icing on top of the inconvenient shenanigan cake is that other stonemasons in the village are being harassed by Lan Di and his crew. What do these thugs want with the stonemasons? What does Lan Di want with the stonemasons? Where is master Yuan? And most importantly, will this lead help Ryo finally track down the man who killed his father.
In a perfect world, Ryo Hazuki would get his answers straight up and make a Beeline for Lan Di, but where would the magic be in that? Shenmue 3 involves Ryo being extorted for services from point A to B, all the way to Z. Being the son of a martial artist, stuck in a village full of aspiring fighters, the opportunity to step up his martial arts game is a challenge Yung Hazuki welcomes.
These features are implemented in a variety of different gameplay features which will keep the player interested. Players have the option to play a variety of games in order to make money or level up Ryo’s martial arts. If earning an honest living chopping wood, and fishing aren’t your style, players can also gamble to win a token to buy prizes (Pro Tip: to align the Gods of RnG in your favor, visit the fortune teller pre-gambling).
From there, players can sell their prizes, or exchange them for new martial arts scrolls to learn new moves. Ryo can step up his Kung Fu game by sparring, playing mini-games, or move up in rank at the local martial arts school by squaring up against the top rank students.
When players aren’t trying to get a bag or throw some fists, they are out to get answers. This involves talking to various townsfolk, then checking the notebook on where to head next. As players question their way to the next big lead, they will be met with searching segments where players search rooms for clues or an important item. Last, but certainly not least, are the infamous QTE segments that involve players hitting a specific button or pattern of buttons that flash on the screen in quick succession.
The issue with the QTE, is this time around, they are much quicker. Almost too quick to a point. They also no longer come accompanied by the classic sound, which used to aid in their successful execution. As for leveling up, Ryo’s endurance is not tied to his health, which drains like crazy early on. Players can’t simply run from point A to B in the village without Ryo running out of energy. So folks, when the option becomes available, spend some time on that Horse Stance minigame.
While the gameplay and the graphics are pretty solid, the way they are presented is where a lot of critics and players are at odds. Remember that “nostalgia” I was yapping about earlier? If you were living under a rock and never followed Shenmue 3’s development, you would think this was a remastered title. Ryo Hazuki sounds just as dry as he did back in Shenmue1 & 2.
The dialogue is even drier. The townsfolk are as rude as ever, and there is a lot of button pressing to rush conversations. And don’t forget them loading screens, and remixed songs from prior titles! But this is what I believe makes Shenmue, well, Shenmue. It is here where the nostalgia factor really comes into play. When Shenmue 3’s development was announced, I’m going to assume the consensus was that it was going to play more like the modern Sega titles that have been dominating the turn of the century.
And when I say “modern Sega titles” I specifically mean Yakuza. And here is where the disconnect is: If players want a more “modern” or a “polished” Shenmue, then they ought to play Yakuza. In fact, I highly suggested picking up the remastered bundle, and Kiwami titles in the past. The beauty of Shenmue 3 is it feels like a Dreamcast and Xbox game. After all these years, the development team kept all the elements of the game that made it unique. Even down to the interface. There was a lot of room here to just make it more like Yakuza, but I’m glad this wasn’t the case.
The dialogue makes good laughs, and playing this title can really bring back those memories from playing the two previous titles. I forgot how wanting to know more about the mysteries and clues kept me glued to my controller for hours. But playing this game more than two decades later, glued to my controller trying to find out what the deal is with the Phoenix Mirror in Shenmue 3.
There is only a month and a half left of summer, so if you’re looking for something to play, I highly suggest giving Shenmue 3. Especially if you have played the first two. The same complaints that surrounded the series more than 20 years ago are still present. I think this is a testament to the unique style of gameplay, elements, and overall feel of the series. While there was room to make the game feel more modern, it wasn’t; it works for the titles just fine. Which is why I am giving Shenmue 3 a 4/5. While I wish more new features were added, I do think it’s cool that the game stayed true to its janky roots, bad voice acting.