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Shenmue 3, Review

I never played the original Shenmue, released 18 years ago on the Dreamcast, nor did I play Shenmue 2, so I went into Syu Suzuki’s (crowd funded) third Shenmue game (Shenmue 3) without rose-tinted glasses on or a feeling of nostalgia. I’ve decided Shenmue 3 is a strange mix of old gaming mechanics wrapped up in a modern, shiny new skin – and I’m not sure it works entirely well in today’s modern gaming landscape.

Give me the pre-amble

Set in 1987, Shenmue 3 follows on directly from the cliffhanger ending of part two, and sees the return of Ryo Hazuki. There’s a lengthy catch-up video. To fill you in, if like me, you didn’t play either of the previous two games.  The opening few hours take place in Bailu village. Which, to be honest, is quite a pedestrian affair, restricting you to the village to carry out fetch quests. Or talking to villagers to find out what happened to missing stone mason, the father of Ryo’s close friend Shenhua.

As the mystery widens, so does the game world, and as the story progresses, Ryo must piece the clues together to find who killed his father and face the ultimate show down against his arch nemesis.

Shenmue 3

But, Shenmue 3 is new and HD shiny, right?

Right from the outset, Shenmue III seems like a modern day game lumbered with old game mechanics. Visually, it looks pretty darn good, with nice vistas and plenty of places to explore. However it’s hampered by awkward, often cringeworthy, dialogue between Ryo and those he talks to. He’ll often open a conversation with the same person he’s spoken to multiple times with “Excuse me, I’d like to ask you something …”.

Character animations are clunky and the controls just seem laboured, especially when navigating through conversations. Cutscenes are also strangely edited, often fading to black at the moment you think it has finished only for the scene to continue.

Combat is a staple of the series. While not overly complicated, it amounts to little more than button mashing for the most part. Until an opponent is defeated. Sure, Ryo can learn different techniques at the martial arts hall. But to me, button mashing and blocking seemed to work the best for most fights. At least for low-level enemies.

Needs a rose-tinted filter

To me, Shenmue III seems a game with old-school mechanics wrapped up in a modern-day package. It has modern-day trappings, no loading screens and updated visuals. But the character animations are stilted and janky as if from an older game. It just feels dated to me, but that might be perfectly fine for fans of the series.

Ultimately, Shenmue III is going to appeal more to the fans of the series who want to continue the saga from where they left off 18 years ago. Whereas newcomers will flounder a little with the game.