Shenmue 3 Review – Back to the “Future”

It took me a long time to get to this point – the point where I could actually put my thoughts to words in regards to Shenmue 3. It probably shouldn’t have taken a long time, but it did. It probably shouldn’t have felt quite so tedious, but it did. And I probably shouldn’t have enjoyed my time, but somehow… I did. This really sums my experience with Shenmue 3 up.

It’s long and it’s tedious, but that doesn’t make it bad… Although perhaps it should.

Part of the problem – and it is a problem – is that this is the continuation of a story started twenty years ago. Not only that, but the last title in the series was itself released 18 years ago. At the time, they were some of the most advanced games of their kind that were available in the market.

An epic RPG that told a real-world story in real-world terms, albeit restricted by the technology of the time.

Further, the story that was started in Shenmue and Shenmue 2 was never completed and so fans were clamouring for the story to be completed for around 15 years before finally they were told they would get their wish.

However, Shenmue 3 does NOT tie up all loose ends, instead choosing to simply continue the story, leaving it still unfinished, and the door open for more titles.

How do I feel about this? I’m not sure. Or… to be clear – I’m not sure I care enough to go through this again.

Shenmue 3 Review

Twenty years ago, the artistic design of the towns in which Shenmue was set was what first piqued the interest of the fans. Going about your business in these towns really felt like living within these towns. Those of you that may have travelled to Japan would likely lament that Japanese towns were captured so faithfully therein.

In terms of game mechanics, players could talk to virtually any NPC, shop at almost any of the shops, work, and train. In some ways, it was just as tedious as real life.

Now, 18 years later, players have Shenmue 3 in their hands, and what should they perhaps expect, given the multiple advances in technology and game mechanics that have occurred since?

Perhaps a game that takes these advances into consideration, and perhaps even tries to push the boundaries once again?

That would seem like a fair expectation.

However, this is not what we got. Shenmue 3, while graphically beautiful, is faithful to its predecessors, still including such archaic gems as lengthy discussions that can not be skipped, a lack of fast travel, a difficult to navigate (some may say virtually non-existent) map system, an unintuitive control system, and some very questionable design decisions.

Want to pick up a plant to use it as medicine? Switch the UI to first person, point the reticule that appears on the screen at the herb, wait for an animation to bring your view up close and personal to the plant in question, then wait for the GUI to tell you that you can press the button to pick it up.


Want to use that medicine you’ve just collected herbs for? Well… you can’t… you can only sell it.

These kinds of strange design decisions, coupled with a story that is designed to frustrate, and you have a tedious RPG. Not to mention the fact that cash is hard to come by.

You absolutely WILL have to work for your cash. Or play mini-games. Or use the capsule machines in the hope you can collect a set of toys. But why do you want to do all of this? Because the game forces you to need to buy a very expensive item, that’s why.

You’ll also need to do the Kung Fu mini-games to improve your Stamina and Strength, and you’ll need to fight a bunch of enemies to increase your Kung Fu level in order to progress through increasingly difficult enemies. It is onerous to a degree that very few (if any) modern games would dare approach.

And yet… It works.

The characters are quirky. The town you start in, and the little city you progress to, both have their own personal charm. The fighting, while simplistic, is fun. The mini-games, while silly, are welcome distractions. And each day you play in-game (yes, there is an in-game clock, and you can only save at your bedside) progresses the story – generally to a satisfactory degree.

So I’m conflicted by Shenmue 3. There are certainly times I did NOT like it. There were days that I played in which I felt I did NOT progress. But soon I was able to unlock access to a new area, where I met new characters and learned new things.

And then another.

And then another.

And of course, the game does open up and increase its pace once you reach Niaowu, but that took me almost 20 hours. The first little town is virtually a training area. Yet somehow… all of this is enjoyable tedium.

Some of it, at least. There are Quick-Time Events, and they aren’t so enjoyable (not even when they work).

In terms of the visuals, Shenmue 3 is leaps and bounds beyond its predecessors, but somehow still looks like a Dreamcast game. My guess is that it was a design decision to match character proportions so as to still feel like the same world, and to a degree, it works, but for those new to the series, it just doesn’t look or feel right.

I guess that’s the clincher, isn’t it?

Fans of the series are going to find everything they love here – a game that refuses to be anything else apart from itself, even if that is rooted in the past.

New players, though – they may not be so easily swayed. Yes, there is a video that can help catch players back up on the story that came before – and sure, SOME aspects of the game have even been improved – but the mechanics are so dated, and the story so frustratingly told that I’m just not sure that enough new fans will jump on board…

Shenmue 3 was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy provided by the publisher.

PowerUp! Reviews

Game Title: Shenmue 3

  • 5/10
    Dedicated to the experience at any cost - 5/10
  • 8.7/10
    Great for fans of the originals - 8.7/10
  • 4/10
    Not great for players used to modern games - 4/10
  • 9/10
    Wonderful visuals - 9/10
User Review
5 (1 vote)
Greg Newbegin
Greg Newbegin
Gamer since the early '80s. Dad. May or may not be terrible at video games. Also a writer of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror - see what I'm working on at!

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