After a successful Kickstarter campaign supported by nearly 70,000 fans who longed for Rio Hazuki to continue their journey, Ys Net and Neilo developers created a new Shenmue game that will feel right at home on Dreamcast. Shenmue III provides deep nostalgia for fans returning to the series, but also feels outdated and desperately needs development in key areas. This is a game that time has forgotten about, a new experience that stubbornly clings to its retro roots and ignores most of the innovations that have shaped interactive entertainment over the past 18 years.
Picking up exactly where the last chapter stopped, we see how young Rio and his new friend Shenhua Ling leave the cave to continue tracking down Lan Di, the man who killed Rio's father. At this moment, fool's gold flashes in front of the players, and the picturesque walk is supported by stunning visual effects. You see highly detailed textures, luxurious shop windows and lightning, thanks to which the village of Bailu looks like one of the most peaceful places on the planet. The world looks great, but this is the only part of the game that is truly modern. The gameplay that follows the screams of the early 00s and can be absolutely terrible – not only from how old he is, but also from how bad he is.
While I had fun, ignoring Rio's desire for revenge to indulge in a good selection of side effects (such as catching ducks or picking up toys in capsules), the critical path suffers from monotony. This is primarily due to excessive confidence in communication with the civilian population in order to open the way forward. Shenmue III struggles with how he implements conversations, and yet this is what you do most of the time. The dialog is paused, lines are repeated, and some answers do not match the question at all. Through Rio's interrogation, he sounds like the worst detective in the world. “I'm looking for bandits. You saw them? “Do you know where I can study kung fu?” Get used to hearing how he asks for hours about these things.
When Rio is not participating in these crazy exchanges, he trains to improve his skills – not only to take on Lan Di, but these annoying thugs and many other threats. He gains experience and increases by sparring against other opponents and training on training mannequins. Even though the exercises are incredibly boring – like squatting in place for a minute – the skills you collect provide a good desire for strength. If you spend time on intense training, you can upset the game balance and become a fighter monster who, in my opinion, deserves my time in the light of a suspicious combat system.
Battles are more mobile than in Shenmue 1 and 2, which allows you to initiate special attacks at the touch of a button, but do not expect every strike to be delivered even if you hit someone directly in the face. Too often, I knocked the enemy down, circled around to keep up with him, and then dealt another crushing blow, which, despite hitting the target, did not do any damage and did not hit him at all. As if I didn’t even deliver it. This discrepancy can be infuriating, especially since you may need to stop trying the battle again to buy more food in order to regain your health, which may also mean that you need to get a job or have to gamble to get the necessary facilities.
Some mission projects are clearly used to stop the player’s progress, for example, they are forced to earn enough to buy a bottle of wine or a book. Earning this money sometimes falls for stupid luck in a casino or for fulfilling worldly tasks over and over again. Mismatch is everywhere. Sometimes you can travel fast to speed up time, to reach a historic moment, but not always.
Shenmue III is often disappointing, but I still enjoyed my time in Baila and other places that Rio ultimately visits. The freedom to explore and do what you want is still a lot of fun, and the world is charming; he has his own atmosphere, talent and rhythm. I just didn't like Rio talking or fighting, which is usually what the Shenmue III critical path basically talks about. It also has many QTE moments that, oddly enough, are the most refined and fair part of this experience. At these moments, Ryo skillfully dodges strikes and obstacles, and if you miss a button press, you will immediately get another shot. They are fun to watch and not punish you.
I also liked the journey Rio and Shenhua took, although little progress has been made in the overall story. However, fans knew this would happen, as director Yu Suzuki stated that Shenmue III only tells us about 40 percent of Rio’s stories. We are not even halfway to this epic idea. Despite many problems with Shenmue III, I am glad to be back in this world. This scratched an itch that I did not know, and periodically showed me why it was an important game of the time. But it basically reminded me why the third record had not been released for nearly two decades.