Shenmue and Shenmue II were released on the Sega Dreamcast in 1999 and 2001 respectively. The first game was the most expensive game ever developed at the time with an estimated $70 million with production and marketing combined.
It was hoped that the games would be the Dreamcast’s killer app and despite selling 1.2 million copies the game didn’t break even and was considered a commercial flop for Sega. This meant that fans hoping for a third entry in the series were out of luck as Sega scrapped any plans for a sequel after leaving it development hell. After Shenmue’s developer Yu Suzuki left Sega he achieved the impossible with a Kickstarter fund that raised $6 million and 18 years later fans finally have the sequel they wanted. Let’s see if the game lived up to expectations.
10 Bad: It’s Slow Paced
Despite the comparisons to the Sega’s Yakuza series, Shenmue moves at an excruciatingly slow pace and there’s very little action. There’s so much focus on the story about learning the philosophies of martial arts yet the player is given very little opportunity to use it.
The game’s twenty-hour story is also very slow and at times feels like it has been padded out with deliberately boring tasks. The game will also have players conversing with one character only to be redirected to another character, and this process repeats constantly.
9 Good: It Picks Straight Up From The End Of Shenmue 2
It has taken eighteen years for fans to finally get the continuation of the story that they wanted in the series. Shenmue 3 picks up exactly from where its predecessor ended finally taking Ryo to a 1980s set China which will not only please older fans but it caters to those that played the remastered versions too.
The player follows Ryo as he continues his quest for vengeance against Lan Di, the man that killed his father in the opening scenes of the first game. There are obviously some graphical enhancements compared to the first two games but fans will love that it feels and plays exactly like the originals.
8 Bad: Bad Dialogue and Voice Acting
There is no getting away from the fact the Shenmue series has always had terrible voice acting. The conversations are often dull and go on for far too long. This will be especially jarring to those who have grown accustomed to the quality that’s seen in the Yakuza games.
The translation is excellent but it’s the delivery of the lines that are so stilted and laughably bad that new gamers may find themselves instantly put off by this. However, for many fans of the originals sounding like badly dubbed Hong Kong film is part of the series’ charm.
7 Good: The Combat System
The combat system in the Shenmue series has its roots in Yu Suzuki’s Virtua Fighter series and the crucial moments in the game’s plot are highlighted by the fight scenes. It doesn’t quite have the complexities of a Virtua Fighter and neither is it as brutal as a Yakuza title but it’s still a lot of fun.
There’s an RPG leveling system at play for the combat and Ryo can unlock new moves as he progresses through the game’s story and trains at the dojo.
6 Bad: The Need To Eat
The Shenmue game wasn’t just designed to be a Virtua Fighter RPG or an open-world action game, but a life simulator too. As a result, Ryo needs to perform a lot of mundane tasks to get through the day and progress the story, develop his character, and earn money.
However, one of the most irritating aspects of Shenmue 3 is the constant need for Ryo to eat as a requirement to replenish his stamina and health. It’s a time consuming and tedious mechanic that forces the player to worry about where to find the best food and how much he can spend on it.
5 Good: Detailed Open World
Shenmue was one of the first truly open and explorable worlds, and arrived two years before Grand Theft Auto III. However, its world has more in common with the Yakuza series as it can only be explored on foot with areas unlocking as the story progresses.
There are arcade mini-games that can be found throughout the game’s world and even though there aren't any Sega licensed games anymore, there are still lots of other weird and wonderful side distractions and original arcade games to keep players busy.
4 Bad: The Character Models
The character models are a definite improvement over the first two games. However, their design won’t appeal to everyone as they have a distinctly retro appearance to them. The character faces, in particular, have a sort of glossy plastic appearance to them.
The visuals look like high-resolution Dreamcast games which won’t appeal to a lot of modern gamers. However, fans of the original games will probably find this to be another one of the Shenmue's more endearing qualities.
3 Good: Excellent Soundtrack
It should go without saying that Shenmue has an absolutely beautiful soundtrack. It more than lives up to the quality of its predecessors by improving on familiar themes and adding new ones. The score often combines orchestral and traditional Chinese music to create stunning and even cinematic tracks.
The soundtrack adds to the game’s leisurely pace and makes for quite a relaxing game to play. Shenmue was never a game that was meant to be rushed and it’s meant to explored and enjoyed with atmospheric tunes like Bailu Village or Lake of the Lantern Bugs only emphasizing this more.
2 Bad: There’s No Resolution To The Story
Those who were hoping for some kind of pay-off in the game’s story arc after waiting eighteen years will be disappointed to find that there isn’t one. Developer Yu Suzuki has made no secret that he intends to make more entries in the series.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a decent story in Shenmue 3 but it just feels like another small chapter in Suzuki’s vision. Unfortunately, there’s also a risk that such a gamble won’t pay off and funds could be left waiting years for another sequel that may never arrive.
1 Good: It’s Exactly What Shenmue Fans Wanted
Shenmue 3 is an unashamed throwback to two classic games that loyal fans have been desperate to dive into again for nearly two decades. Being a love it or hate it kind of series, it won’t appeal to everyone but that was the point.
Shenmue 3 is a total love letter to the fans of the series from Yu Suzuki. Those that contributed to the Kickstarter fund and helped raise 6 million dollars to achieve what many thought would be impossible knew exactly what they were paying for.