There is so much to love about Shenmue 3, from the colorful flower meadows in the Chinese hinterland to the classic jingles and the cheerful music at the “Tomato” convenience store that has been making me laugh since part one.
Most impressed, however, as headless developer Yu Suzuki and his team begin to record the threads left with the predecessor and continue to spin, even in a playful almost conserved form.
As if no 18 years and three generations of consoles had passed since Suzuki conjured up the moonlight sword in the final of Shenmue 2 (actually Sword of the Seven Stars, but it looks like From Softwares all-time darling). Protagonist Ryo Hazuki and his previously spearheaded companion Shenhua walk through her father’s mine, chattering prophetically.
Here begins something for which the term “fan service” would have had to be invented had it not been for an old hat. This adventure exists because Suzuki is at least as much a fan of his story and characters as the approximately 245 people who persecuted her over the years. It exists for you and in a lovely way, given the niche production size: carefully matched to modern gaming habits, without admitting to trends, a little quirky, without being too bulky, full of all the lovable peculiarities of the series. We also speak here and above all of a sentimental value, at the latest when one leafs through the guest book of Ryos future accommodation. I have to admit, a little bit of it made me, just like the one or the other cameo.
The initial closeness to nature in the Chinese village of Bailu moves Shenmue 3 away from the oppressive concrete jungle of Hong Kong and Kowloon City. Even the much smaller Japanese coastal town of Yokosuka, where 20 years ago started for the Dreamcast posterboy, is a gray-and-brown juggernaut of army supply shops and clothing stores. Land and people are the linchpin of a technologically and infrastructural truncated community and a wonderfully decelerated clock. At the most, expectations are rattling and clanking here, if someone without the knowledge of the predecessor has in mind a fun, action-packed open-world game. I really enjoyed the walks through the village, the country air in the sunflower field, the fishing, the herb search. Clear,
Shenmue has always been about experiencing a richly detailed environment with its occupants, opening cupboards and drawers, touching objects, turning and turning them around in Ryo’s hand. Of course, Suzuki’s detail fetish in three-dimensional space is not overly salient in the days of Assassin’s Creed and Red Dead Redemption, but he sticks to the roots where it makes sense, and I credit him that.
Even today, one strolls through dealer streets and can rummage at the pawnbrokers, pharmacists, toy or even art dealers in lavish displays. Instead of a sort of dumplings, there are half a dozen, as well as differently labeled types of alcohol, cakes, books, kitchen utensils and snacks.
There are some drawbacks: much of the stuff is useless and is just for turning and turning a 3D model into inventory. You can no longer speak to every single passer-by or knock on every door, which was exotic even beyond GTA 3 (2001) and still is today. Shenmue simulated a small, dense microcosm, a few streets instead of the big anonymous world. The question was never why you have to do all that, but that you can, and the illusion was right. This has lasted until today.
Staying faithful also means that Ryo continues to stalk around the area and harass dozens instead of hundreds of NPCs. Where previously, for example, the “Mad Angels” gang on the harbor was up to mischief, today it is the “Red Snakes”. Phrases like “Have you seen the Red Snakes?” come just as self-evident as his legendary “I see …” in response to just feeling everything. No other series is so close and iconic with the words “Do you know where to hang out?” linked and means that seriously. I really love that jamming.
All the snooping is still in the service of the overarching revenge motive since Ryo’s father was killed by the Chinese martial artist Lan Di in the intro of the first part. One might assume that after all those months (Shenmue starts in late November 1986, Shenmue 3 in March ’87) and the more or less nice people on his travels lost the bite, got a clear head, let it be good and after Japan returns, but oh no!
Ultimately, he remains single-minded and in the worst case, the worst egoist he has ever been and who puts the safety of his loved ones at stake, all for his personal vendetta. But hey, he is laughing here for the first time, and through his conversations with his bewitchingly omnipotent companion Shenhua, his past and emotional world become more tangible. She is also a nice provincial contrast to the boy “from a faraway land in the East” when he explains her the merits of motorization or 24-hour stores. Very important: His patch under the eye remains intact and still someone would have him verklickern that you take off your shoes while sleeping. I’ll emphasize that again, because the why can quickly be forgotten, so many stations where he stops, so many people,
Overview of the state of his investigation – if you like the harassment of strangers people like this – provides the punctually filled diary, now with red underlined passages. At a glance, you can see “Go to Joy Park” and know immediately, aha, I’ll ask around. And the diary works from the beginning on a very nice moment. In addition to the main stations of the main story, part-time jobs and maps, it also lists the phone numbers Ryo at least distantly related persons from the predecessors (Joy, Tom “Tornado Kick” Johnson, Nozomi, Goro, etc.) A usable phone comes only after a few hours and I was pleased All the while I’m on call to Ine-san, Ryo’s housekeeper in Japan, who comes closest to the function of a mother.
That was a lot of “Expectation” and “It has to be that way” without defining who “you” actually is. If it makes the three in the title is not clear: This game lives for his fans and no one else. It is committed neither the Sammelwahnsinn nor convenient Questmarkerei. Ryo runs from one NPC to the next (addressed NPCs point with one hand in the appropriate direction or provide a description), asks them for clues to the current goal, solves now and then simple puzzles and gets from one hundredth to the thousandth. A game design as if pulled through the eye of a needle.
Here is an early example limited to the most important stations: In order to defeat an overpowering bandit leader, Ryo has to learn the “Bodycheck” special technique of a kung fu master. Downgrading the level of difficulty does not help fight the villain, as Ryo’s defeat is scripted, even when he pulls his HP groin over the guy’s throat. Without the technology it does not go on. So ask around where a kung fu master has come to his territory, leading you to an abandoned temple. The man shows up only after you have brought schnapps and steam rolls from a dealer. And he says, he only moves the fighting technique in exchange for a 50-year-old rice schnapps.
Let’s cut it off: One bottle costs 2000 yuan, so chopping wood, fishing and gathering herbs in incredibly simple mini-games means that the crap is there. And now? Drunken Master prepares for a game of chicken-catching in a quick-time-event. After that, he is tired and says you should come back the next day. On the following day he urges you to a new exercise. Next day chickens again. Then you should climb the battle range of the local kung fu dojo. And so on. It takes a lot of time until you have worked on tens of intermediate stations to solve the actual problem.
Shenmue 3 is a cozy affair like its predecessors. Do not come today, come tomorrow, it’s almost literally anchored in his DNA. Some people only appear at certain times or days. Whenever the waiting for the next action-relevant event is too big, it can be skipped, so that only little idle. And even if you have to bridge, there are side jobs, mini-games, arcade halls and training opportunities. Shenmue also sees itself as a martial arts game with all the choreographies one would expect. Although fights make up only a fraction, it is nice to see and after twenty years, a matter of course, that they run much less wooden.
New is the stamina display outside the fights. The principle is simple: Steel Ryos Fitness on exercise equipment or sparring and thus increases his physical performance. So you not only skin harder and contract more, but can also sprint for exploring longer, before Ryo runs out of breath and he has to change gears. What helps? Buy food and quickly happa-happa.
Or you just stay in the intended gait: calm, enjoying and with a view to a game in the best possible sense. If Suzuki and Co. continue to be entangled in likeable kitsch about the Phoenix mirror and ancient prophecies, they will do so only for the handful of people who care about Ryo’s career at some point in the last twenty years. And what else can you say? Shenmue 3 does not spray the technological or conceptual “Uiuiui” of its predecessors by far. It’s a weird, out-of-time bird, and in the Red Dead era it’s a rather ugly duckling.
But it is also full of details and love for its characters and environments. Except for the Yakuza series, a few games of this type manage with the restriction to clearer, handier venues. That’s all the better, given how late this sequel, with which legacy, stomps into the polished Triple A world of Ubis and Actis.