Shenmue III was made for fans of Shenmue and it does everything to remain faithful to the series, for better or for worse. At times it can feel stubborn as it sticks to the Shenmue way of doing things, but that’s also what gives it a charm of its own.
One of the first things that really stood out to me was the UI and menu that look straight out of a mid-2000s game. It basically keeps a similar look to its predecessors. Also, you can literally change Ryo’s outfit in the settings menu. It has a toggle for music, effects, voice, then the “change clothes” option that simply changes his appearance. Now that’s something we don’t see much these days. Also, if you’re not using the leather jacket, you’re Ryo Hazuking wrong.
The game starts out in Bailu Village, home of the Shenmue Tree which the series is named after. It is one of the two main places you explore in Shenmue III and still remains my favorite part. I felt that the scenery was much more pleasant in Bailu than the rest of the areas. It is only matched with the kind of music that gives it an old mythical Chinese vibe, too.
Ryo journeyed from Yokosuka, Japan, to Bailu Village in search of his father’s killer, Lan Di. From here the game quickly teaches you that you’ll need to talk to NPCs to advance. It mostly consists of Ryo going around asking villagers about his current objective and they point him towards a general direction with a key NPC. That’s all pretty normal but the lack of a dialogue skip option can make it brutal at times. I mean you’re there interrogating everyone from senile old ladies to children running around in the playground.
Other than a few thugs the place is pretty quiet so there’s a sense of comfort to the village.
I tried out a bit of the English dub for Shenmue III and it’s overall pretty bad, but I could see some people appreciate it on a cheesy level. What’s really impressive is the amount of dialogue in the entire game. However, that only means that on top of not being able to skip the dialogue, the game makes you talk to a lot of NPCs. And I mean a lot of them.
Most conversations apart from key NPCs aren’t that interesting, but you do get the occasional gems. However, a simple skip would’ve been nice considering you’ll often find yourself talking to the same NPC with multiple choices on countless occasions.
There are all kinds of mini-games you’d expect from Shenmue but they’re often hit-or-miss. I liked the sillier ones such as this one that had Ryo catch chicken. However, most of the training or work-related mini-games are a bit of a drag and don’t feel as rewarding.
Ryo Hazuki is stoic to the core. It’s fine that they keep him true to his character, but I wish they added a little more to his dialogue just to expand on his character, even for a little bit. The Yakuza games are on a different playing field these days but the series does a great job of showing how the protagonist interacts with different kinds of people. As for Ryo Hazuki, the guy is straight to business. He doesn’t care whether it’s a farmer or a toddler, he only wants answers.
The next open-world area is Niaowu. It’s a bigger city located by a river. While it doesn’t have the same nature appeal as Bailu it has all kinds of shops to check out. They say there are over 140 stores, including 70 you can shop at. The stores range from sweets shops to antique shops. If you enjoy looking at the finer details in games, Shenmue III actually does a good job of showing it for the stores.
While the game doesn’t really add too much to the story until later on, it makes it really easy to get distracted with the myriad of activities offered in both Bailu and Niaowu. It’s certainly a slower-paced style compared to other recent open-world titles, but when it comes to QTE action Ryo Hazuki is still your man.
Food for Thought
- Shenmue III is kind of like a time machine that doesn’t only show a setting in 1987 but also gives you an idea of how games were developed almost 20 years ago. It’s interesting to think that at one point the original game was labeled the most expensive video game ever developed.