By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on November 28, 2019
A long, long time ago, way back in 1999, there was a console called the Sega Dreamcast, which was an awesome piece of machinery featuring a number of cool games. There was one game, however, that defined the Dreamcast. That game was called Shenmue. It defined what games should be like, but after just one sequel, all went quiet on the Shenmue front...
Shenmue followed the exploits a young Japanese martial artist named Ryo Hazuki, who set off on an epic adventure to avenge his father's death and, at the same time, solve the mystery of the ancient artifact called the Phoenix Mirror. Two years later, a sequel, simply called Shenmue 2, was released. While both games were positively bursting with cool characters, intricate gameplay and hours and hours of gameplay, the series was put on hold after Shenmue 2. Apart from rumors and vague statements, the series went quiet and slowly drifted into memory. Many of us thought that would be it for our beloved Shenmue but now, twenty years after the release of the original, it is finally time for us to pick up Ryo's trail where we left off. It's finally time for the third installment in the Shenmue series!
Now, the Shenmue series has always been a point of heated debate and the opinions about the game have always been divided into just two camps. On one side, there were the fans that absolutely loved every inch of the game (of which it had many). On the other side, there were the people that regarded Shenmue as being a slow, overly strenuous and, above all, clunky mess, not worthy of their time and effort. In this conflict, there never seemed to be any middle ground; either you loved Shenmue to pieces or you hated everything about it. Now, this hasn't changed a bit over time and Shenmue III will also not cause these two camps to find common ground. Shenmue III is every bit as intricate and labor intensive as the two previous installments of the series. So if you didn't like the first two game than you're out of luck on this one!
Luckily, I was one of those people who truly enjoyed playing Shenmue and was anxious to see where this third game would take our friend Ryo and, more importantly, if he would finally get his much deserved vengeance on the devious Lan Di for killing his father. Well, let's get this out of the way first. Shenmue III is not the closure we first thought it would be. Now, the series has always been planned as a five game deal, but after the troubles the studio had in getting the third game made, many of us believed it would be shortened into a trilogy of sorts. But no, although Shenmue III clears up a few loose odds and ends, it doesn't actually finish Ryo's tale, so there seem to be plans for even more Shenmue games.
But let's not dwell on the past or, for that matter, the future and focus on the present! As we meet up with Ryo, he is in the charming company of Ling Shenhua, the young woman who he was traveling with at the end of Shenmue II. Together, the pair travels to Bailu village in Guilin, China, hot on the trail of Lan Di. Now, as these things go, a new environment means tons of new people to talk to and heaps of new things to do, like picking herbs, chopping wood or playing games to pass your free time. Being a martial artist, Ryo must also train to improve his technique if he wants to stand a chance against his enemies. A new addition to the game is the Energy Bar. Well, having an energy bar is not actually new, but this one comes with a twist. As the day passes and Ryo runs all over town to gather intel, the energy bar will deplete and Ryo will have to consume food in order to keep his energy up.
Keeping your energy on a high level will come in handy when you walk into an unexpected fight because, let's be honest, no one wants to start a fight with their energy only at a quarter of its original value, am I right? So, with every action you perform, energy is drained, so eating and drinking is just as crucial as training and gathering information on the mission at hand. Luckily, there are shops where you can buy the needed sustenance. Of course, nothing is ever free, so you'll have to pay for your groceries. While Ryo has some money to start with, this supply is nowhere near never-ending, which means you'll have to earn more money. You can do this by: a) trying your luck at the various gambling stalls along the way, or b) getting a job, like chopping wood. While honest work gives you the assurance that you will actually earn something, gambling might get you the same results much quicker. But beware, a wrong bet will mean you'll lose money, so there's definitely a downside to it.
As in the previous two games, Shenmue III revolves mainly around inspecting your surroundings, talking to loads and loads of people and even kicking the behind of some of them. The inspecting and talking are pretty self-explanatory, but the fighting comes in two different varieties: combo based free combat and QTE battles. The QTE (Quick Time Events) battles were a staple of the Shenmue series and, most deservedly, have returned in Shenmue III. Now, I know QTEs may not be the favorite gameplay mechanic of every gamer out there, but I really like them and they fit the Shenmue gameplay perfectly. It adds a bit of anxiety to a battle. No matter how good you are at making brutal combos, you can always fail a battle for not performing a QTE in time. This provides the battles with an additional layer of difficulty and, above all, is really fun!
Visually, Shenmue III is waaaaaay ahead of its predecessors which, of course, was to be expected. I mean, come on, a gap of roughly 18 years since the last game will show, wouldn't you agree? The overall esthetic, however, stayed the same and the game still feels as if it belongs in the same universe as the first two games in the series. Ryo is still recognizable as being the same angry boy he used to be, he just looks a lot smoother. Visually, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Shenmue III; the environments are beautifully crafted and the characters still look as quirky as they did back then. Also, the voice acting and script writing stayed pretty much the same and that's something I absolutely love!
Shenmue III is guaranteed to keep fans of the series amused for hours on end. It has the same feel as the first two Shenmue games and plays pretty much the same as these games did. On his journey, Ryo will travel to a number of exotic places, ranging from a quaint rural village to a bustling portside city. He will meet a huge cast of characters and gather tons of information. The game's slow pace will pick up a bit when fighting is involved, but during the rest of the game, things mostly go at a slow but steady pace. When playing Shenmue III, don't expect an all-guns-blazing, fist-flying, over-the-top action-filled extravaganza, but rather a well-balanced detective adventure, interspersed with a number of more than challenging fights.
Overall, if you're a fan of the series, you will definitely want to play Shenmue III. It is a beautiful game that seamlessly picks up Ryo's trail where we left off back in 2001. The graphics are really nice, the controls a bit less clunky than they used to be and the story is as intricate and mysterious as it ever was. If I has to list one thing I liked less about Shenmue II, it would have to be the energy bar or, to be more specific, the upkeep of said energy bar. I mean, you just have to have an energy bar, otherwise the fights would just be silly and pointless. Imagine two guys with unlimited energy endlessly hitting and kicking each other. That wouldn't make much sense, now would it. No, it's not the energy bar itself, it's the constant need for maintaining your energy that gets me. To me, it seems a trifle unnecessary at times and tends to slow down the game's already relatively slow pacing.
Nevertheless, Shenmue III was, in my opinion, worth the wait and fans of the series can finally see how Ryo's journey unfolds. Because Shenmue III doesn't give closure to the case at hand, we can be fairly certain that attempts to create the last two games in the series will be made. Will they succeed in doing so? Well, my friends, only time will tell. For now, let's all be content with what we have, which is a cool game and a worthy successor to of the Shenmue throne. Now, if you'd excuse me, I have to see a guy about an ass-whooping... after I eat a little something that is!