Shenmue 3 hardly matches the current spirit of the times in terms of tempo, gameplay, and storytelling. Everything in the game is grinding, cracking and bursting at the seams and that is precisely why it is worth it to dive into this epic by developer Yu Suzuki. Although archaic, there are few games that have as much attention to detail and anthropological depth as Shenmue.
The first Shenmue appeared just before the turn of the millennium and emphasized that games can and must take a shot at realism. Shenmue 3 does not give the appearance of a realistic game, but is therefore all the more fun.
Yu Suzuki has hardly tarnished the concept of the series in twenty years and for that reason, it is particularly striking how our perception of realism changes.
Shenmue took a shot at a lifelike representative of reality In 1999. In 2019, Shenmue 3 mainly excels as a game form, not as realistic storytelling. And that is exactly why Shenmue 3 is worth it. Plus It brings back a lot of Nostalgia.
The Story Of Shenmue 3
Main character Ryo Hazuki has already completed a long journey in the opening scene. After his father’s murder in Yokosuka, he arrives in Bailu Village via Hong Kong and the Chinese mountain region of Guillen. Together with the local teenager Shenhua he continues his search for the murderer of his father.
This is of course not without a struggle. The picturesque village is struggling with a violent gang. No occupant seems to be able to do anything about it, despite the presence of a successful kung fu dojo and a handful of martial arts teachers. So it is up to Ryo to put a stop to this.
You cannot compete directly just like in the first two parts. You do not know what the planes look like, where they are located and how you can best deal with them. What follows is an anthropological study. You talk to the villagers to find out what the social norms are, who is willing to tag along with you and how you can participate in everyday life as an outsider.
In 1999 this approach was groundbreaking, now it is mainly charming. Every character has something to say, whether you are looking for a specific restaurant or are looking for a part-time job.
Also in recent open-world games you often have conversations that are independent of the specific context of the story, so that it hardly pays to speak to the same character twice. In Shenmue 3 it is different. The always cheerful Chen Tai Chi teacher may not have eaten cheese of entrepreneurship but can point out exactly who can teach you a new kung fu technique.
Charm Of The Game
The majority of Shenmue consists of these kinds of conversations. Due to the incredibly detailed game world and all sorts of quirky, sweet and crazy characters, this is also incredibly fun, twenty years after the original.
Conversations are not necessarily realistic. This is mainly due to the comically poor voice acting and the bizarre script. This makes it all work a bit. Characters only respond half to each other or repeat the same thing three times. The conversations express so much personality and charm that the raw voice-overs become part of the experience.
Gradually you get to know everyone a little better and you become part of the neighborhood without even noticing it. You can earn money by gambling or selling your collected herbs.
Just like in the Yakuza games, these kinds of side jobs are cast in mini-games. Your side job as a lumberjack, for example, takes the form of a simple rhythm game. If you want to catch a dozen chickens a little later, you will have to deal with pretty tough quick time events. A game mechanism for which the first part is known. It is incomprehensible In particular that the fighting has also become a sort of crazy mini-game.
You Have To Spend Money
Yu Suzuki is the man responsible for the Virtua Fighter titles. The fighting system of Shenmue 1 and 2 is based on Virtua Fighter, which entails the necessary depth and challenge. Although you do not get into fighting so often in these parts, you notice that much time and attention has been given to this. The combat system is superficial and unwieldy in Shenmue III. Often you do not come out of the fight as a winner by a smart strategy or by properly anticipating your opponent’s fighting style, but simply by training until you have reached the required level.
Where your interaction with the game world is convincing, the battles feel artificial. The line between them is thin. For example, at specific moments in the game, you need a lot of money. You have to work hard for this for several hours.
In many games, that would be incredibly frustrating but it fits Shenmue. The context explains precisely why you need this amount. Characters also regularly let you know that they think it’s bad for you that you have to go out of your way to be able to buy even more wine for that one drunk.
Social Norms And Relationships
This fits exactly with the approach of the game. you get involved in the social dynamics of a community and that includes the fine, beautiful and unjust things. The fighting is, however different. You always train to reach a higher level, but the time invested does not contribute to the fighting itself. In fact, with button bashing, you come a long way. During long training sessions, it is noticeable that the soundtrack is quite limited. There is only one song per area, which is repeated indefinitely.
Somehow it is inconceivable that Shenmue 3 exists at all, especially when you consider that Sega is not involved in this project. That alone makes it worthwhile to give the game a try. It is a direct dive into the past of an interesting, complex history full of ambition and obstacles.
Above all, Shenmue 3 is an ode to everyday life. As an anthropologist, you observe the small things of our existence to slowly find your place in a complex game of social norms and relationships.