The Shenmue series is one that I’ve returned to time and time again. Growing up, I can recall my friends, and I spent hours exploring the beautiful environments as we lost money to the mini-games. Now, the series continues with Shenmue III.
In my first three hours with the game, I’ve discovered that outside of better graphics, Shenmue III is very much Shenmue. Now, this can be a good or bad thing considering what your attachment to the series is. Those jumping in for the first time might want to understand a bit more before taking the plunge into this unique adventure.
Shenmue III begins moments after the conclusion of Shenmue II. Ryo Hazuki and Ling Shenhua are trying to piece together the whereabouts of her father as well as get closer to finding Ryo’s father’s murderer. It’s a slow beginning, but early on, we learn that Ling’s village has been under the torment of some thugs who might serve as a clue to Ling’s missing father.
In the meantime, the player can spend time questioning villagers on specific topics and learning more about the village. Alternatively, players can play a few mini-games to pass the time.
Shenmue III might have a hard time keeping the attention of modern players. The game’s dialogue is blocky and slow-paced. The story is established over many conversations, and sometimes clues need to be gathered to progress the narrative further. For Shenmue fans, this is a typical day in the series, but it feels out of place in this new modern adventure.
Conversations come off as unstructured and messy as NPCs will often repeat themselves in unskippable dialogue scenes. In the opening scene, all that is required the player does is talk to people. It’s simple enough, and players shouldn’t have an issue progressing the narrative.
While the game’s opening hours are relatively slow, the environments are well detailed and relaxing. Walking with Ling through a field of wildflowers with butterflies all around is exceptionally romantic. The developer’s attention to presentation in this game is stellar and makes every new area interesting to explore.
Sadly, this is halted by strange conversations between Ryo and Ling as Ryo continually asks questions, like a lot of questions. The camera switches from Ryo to Ling, to them walking, and then to them standing randomly, and I’m not entirely sure why. Well, at least the character models look fantastic, so there’s something positive about these scenes.
Players can train at a dojo in the game and gain ranks by fighting higher-level opponents. Fights are pretty straightforward, but the game doesn’t do the best at explaining how to get the most out of the encounters. This is something I’d like to spend more time to see how it evolves in the later parts of the game.
Music in the game is fantastic and fits the environments well. It made everything feel relaxing, and I never felt rushed to get through the game. I know we’re looking for Ling’s father here, but come on, I want to stare at everything for a little longer.
Shenmue III is precisely what Shenmue fans have wanted for 18 years. The game’s graphics feel like a natural evolution for the series, which makes the fanboy in me happy to see. Playing Shenmue III should only come after you’ve played the previous installment.
If you’re trying to jump in right away, the game does offer a recap movie to get you up to speed. However, nothing can prepare you for the pacing and dialogue this game provides. As excited as I am to continue my adventure, I fear that this game might not play well with the advancements made in video game narrative over the years.
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