Crowdfunding! Remember when it was the talk of the town? There was definitely a gold rush around the turn of the last decade. This was a good time for certain industry figures, who were able to grow well-fed off of Kickstarter money. Sometimes they even produced games as a result! Over the past few years we’ve seen the release of a few of these games, and now one of the more legendary Kickstarter projects has come to light in the form of Shenmue III, courtesy of original creator Yu Suzuki and his new development house Ys Net.
Yes, a third Shenmue game that exists and you can buy right now. You can’t play it on your beloved, dusty Dreamcast console but you can, however, play it on modern hardware. The past is pretty great, but the future is amazing.
After his adventures in Japan and Hong Kong, we left off with our hero Ryo Hazuki meeting up with his pal Shenhua in a rural village. If you don’t remember where things were going 18 years ago, that’s entirely reasonable! It’s a good thing that Shenmue III recaps the plot of the previous two games for you. In the third game, we follow Ryo and Shenhua as they continue searching for the truth of the mysterious mirrors that are central to the game’s plot. This includes discovering more about the villains that oppose them and the truth behind their quest.
Without spoiling too much, we can say the game doesn’t conclude the series, so if you were expecting any type of resolution, well, sorry. Stay positive, though. At this rate we may be lucky to get a fourth Shenmue around 2050 or so. No promises.
Shenmue III is interesting in that it feels something like a remaster of an older game that never existed. The controls feel clunky, as you’d expect from a game that could easily have been published on the Dreamcast. There’s all kinds of fluff, like the fact that basically every drawer and cabinet opens up and has something unique inside to look at. In an age where games are often designed to provide the purest, most concentrated dose of Content (TM) possible, Shenmue III wants you to spend twenty minutes opening all the drawers in a random house just because you can. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing is up to your taste, though for my part I found it charming. There’s lots of stores to visit, Gachapon machines to play, toys to collect…the works. If you appreciate this kind of content you’re going to have an amazing time here.
This sort of wandering and futzing about is the focus of Shenmue as a series, but naturally there’s more traditional gameplay as well in the form of martial arts battles and RPG-style leveling. This plays out a bit like the classic Virtua Fighter games, with the option of training to improve Ryo’s stats over time as well. Combat isn’t exactly infrequent, but you’re certainly going to spend more time exploring the world and appreciating every minuscule detail than you will tossing punches and kicks, and if you focus on improving your skills then chances are you’ll just outscale most of the enemies anyway.
As mentioned, Shenmue looks…well, bad probably isn’t the right word. It’s just clearly not a game from this era. Textures and models are clean and look great, especially when it comes to environment design, but animations are straight from the post-Dreamcast era of goofiness. Likewise, I think we all know what to expect when it comes to the voice acting in Shenmue, and the latest game delivers. This is, simply put, a blast from gaming’s past. With that in mind, note that it’ll run on hardware that’s not especially beefy, which is a nice perk.
If any of the above sounds like your thing then Shenmue III delivers! It’s awkward, it’s strange, it’s full of absolutely bizarre design decisions…and it’s also a relic from a time before we perfected the art of making games hyper addictive microtransaction-grabbing Content (TM) delivery systems. More than anything, Shenmue III’s got heart, a reminder that the original games provided the essential DNA that would eventually inspire modern Sega classics like Yakuza and Judgment. If you like those titles, check this one out.