by Henry Stockdale
reviewed on PC
To say Shenmue III is one of gamingís most anticipated sequels would be an understatement. Created by Yu Suzuki, the action-adventure series first released for Sega Dreamcast in 1999, becoming the most expensive game development for its time. Despite achieving critical success, the first game was ultimately a commercial failure but still warranted a sequel in 2001. 18 years later, after languishing in development hell and a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, Shenmue III is finally here at the hands of Ys Net, Suzukiís new development team, and proves to have been worth the wait.
Slow but Steady
Set in the 1980ís, the series revolves around teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki. Continuing directly from Shenmue IIís last scene, the game sees Ryo having travelled to Guilin searching for his fatherís killer, Lan Di, whilst helping his companion Shenhua find her missing father, Mr Yuan. Upon returning to her home in Bailu Village, the duo discovers thugs have been targeting the local stonemasons and they begin investigating any connection to Mr Yuanís disappearance. If you havenít experienced the previous games, Ys Net has included a recap movie for the story to ensure new players arenít left behind.
Gameplay takes place in an open-world 3D setting, containing life simulation elements such as the day and night system. Exploration is limited at first, only allowing you to go where is currently needed for the plot but this slowly opens up as the story progresses. When you reach an event that requires you to wait until the evening, you can choose to skip straight to this event or spend the rest of the day doing further activities. Money isnít obtained from winning battles like other games, so youíll need to commit to a domestic schedule that includes working, story progression, training, eating, and investigation.
Itís important to remember that Shenmue III is a story-driven game, taking the life simulation aspects seriously and proceeds at a relaxed pace. So if youíre looking for a fast-paced action title like Yakuza, youíll come away disappointed but players willing to put the time in will find a rewarding experience, showing excellent character development between Ryo and Shenhua.
A Heroís Journey
Time passes as you traverse the world, where you can perform activities that range from minigames, training, battles and more. Minigames come in two forms, ones that reward prizes for winning and others acting as jobs to earn money. Alongside collectible items, you can also obtain herbs, capsule sets for toy collections alongside skill books and these form item sets you can exchange for fighting moves. Whilst the minigames help provide gameplay variety, they quickly become tedious, especially when trying to finish an item set.
Your health bar also acts as a hunger meter, slowly reducing after performing activities or exploration instead of fights alone. Once your health bar becomes yellow, your stamina will drop significantly when running. Ryo wonít collapse from exhaustion but it does limit your exploration. As such, youíll need to keep replenishing health with food during these times and itís important to note that some battles cannot be started if your health is low either.
In Need of Training
Combat doesnít happen often in game but when it does, itís easy to understand. Ryo can use single button attacks for simpler moves or perform more technical attacks with differing strength through button combos. Youíll also have a set of special attacks that can be switched during combat and these level up with repeated use. Itís functional but this is one area where Shenmue III shows its age, with the controls feeling stiff in places but youíll learn to work around this quickly.
It can feel overwhelming when facing a powerful enemy or multiple enemies but youíll find many opportunities to improve Ryoís abilities through training, ranging from simple exercises to sparring matches that teach you attack combos. Training sessions will prove vital if you wish to advance the story, as these improve his attack power, endurance and Kung Fu abilities.
Presentation proves to be one of Shenmue IIIís stronger elements, utilising a vibrant art style. Itís apparent that Ys Net had to work with a smaller budget during development, as some 3D models would benefit from further polish. However, they arenít a major detractor and thereís clear attention to the environmental details that breathe life into this world. The game also boasts a fantastic soundtrack, which is not only memorable but also complementing the relaxed style of gameplay well. Thereís also the option for English or Japanese voice acting, which will undoubtedly please certain players.
Return of the Dreamcast
Shenmue III is a love letter to its fans, showing an uncompromising commitment to Yu Suzukiís original vision and giving Ryo new life 18 years on. Though its old-school gameplay may prove off-putting to new players, Ys Net has brought us a fun adventure with an engaging story thatíll hold your attention. Whilst there are some rough edges in need of polishing, Shenmue III is a great experience overall and comes recommended.
Faithful to the original games, Intriguing story, Engaging adventure
Gameplay system feels outdated, Minigames are tedious, Graphics could use further polish