Shenmue III preview

clock • 6 min read

'On that day, when the snow turned to rain, do you remember seeing a black car?'

TRULY, we live in a time of complete Kickstarter-driven wish-fulfilment.

"If you build it, they will come" has effectively made the entire concept of nostalgia irrelevant. Starting sensibly enough, perpetually-broke ex-Monkey Island developer Tim Schafer using the crowdfunding platform to fund a new point and click adventure game back in 2012. From here, the Kickstarter model was born, complete with a veritable slew of call-backs.

From Toejam and Earl to Wasteland to a ridiculously ambitious (and sadly unfunded) MMO follow up to Ecco the Dolphin, the 1990s just weren't sacred anymore. Absolutely any of these relics could potentially dodder back from near-retirement just for you- if you had the cash.

But no aging gamer would be truly happy until Yu Suzuki - creator of ancient motorbike games, fighter jet cabinets, blocky 3D fighters and, oddly, Shenmue, a bizarre simulation of the minutiae of a teenage boy's life in a small Japanese town in the mid-80s - popped up in 2015 to announce that yes, the third part of that staccato-voiced young man's quest was coming soon. Just dig your hand in your pocket, and all will be well.

Many, many, many loyal 30-somethings did just that, to the tune of just over $6,333,000. And INQ has had a go with Shenmue III, to tell you all about what to expect from this investment.

Shenmue III begins literally where Shenmue II ends, which is quite uncanny and weird, as that original sequel game came out in 2001 when Sega's Dreamcast was already on its last, three-year-old, legs.

While Shenmue shifted to the Unreal Engine in its 18-year hiatus, great care (or lack of budget?) seems to have been taken to make everything look and feel like it used to. Slightly cardboard foliage, vaguely unconvincing texture work. Usually we'd balk at it, but it's unmistakably Shenmue and takes you right back. Just as the fans wanted.

This isn't The Last Jedi - it's The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Which is to say, it's rubbery, it smells vaguely of mildewed fluff, and the fight scenes are completely unconvincing. And we'd have it absolutely no other way.

The voice actors are either exactly the same as before or - if new characters - have been firmly instructed to deliver their lines like a first-year GCSE student reading Of Mice and Men out loud to the class, and it's brilliant.

When protagonist Ryo Hazuki uttered his immortally non-committal conversational response "…I see…", we sighed as 20 years of looking for sailors, being flogged soft drinks by Santa Claus and racing forklift trucks all came flooding back to us. The strange air of wooden detachment that fills the world was always palpable, and it's been recreated almost perfectly, decades later.

Shenmue simply would not work with today's technology, and that's a fact. It was a curio even in its time, so it's an extremely smart move on the part of the developers at Neilo and Ys Net to simply carry on as nothing had changed.

The demo itself was little more than a walking tour of the picturesque Chinese village of Bailu, where Ryo fetches up at the end of Shenmue II after trying to find "a black car" on "that day" for more hours than we care to remember in the original game, as he leaves Japan to try and track down the rotters who killed his father in the Hazuki family dojo.

We weren't disappointed for old-timey Shenmue experiences. We got to spar with a hairy, overweight dweeb who was training children in martial arts in the village park, showing off the game's slightly more accessible Virtua Fighter-style fighting system (and the much-maligned 'Quick Time Event' button mashing sequences revised to icing on the combat cake, rather than a necessity).

We rifled through possible love interest Shenua Ling's kitchen cupboards while she patiently cooked us lunch (as with any past Shenmue, there's usually nothing stashed away but exquisitely laid-out napkins and crockery, and that's the kind of needless texture we crave), while also getting to grips with an elaborate herb collecting meta-game, which looks fun enough for completionists.

Aside from the slightly revamped punching and kicking systems, there are a few other attempts at quality of life enhancements, which caused mixed feelings. Characters who give you a new objective through conversation will attempt to point to where the next person or place is, with varying degrees of actual accuracy, and we found this adorable, and in keeping with the traditionally slightly shaky nature of Shenmue. But more controversially, if you're told to meet a certain person at a certain place, at a certain time, there's now also an option to teleport right there and fast forward to the moment of contact.

This doesn't feel right. Some of the most memorable moments of Shenmue were being told somebody was 'usually around the garage at 8pm', haring over to where you think it is as the day/night cycle surges forth, but being distracted by kittens, capsule toy machines, random street fights, arcade games, and then either arriving too late for the opportunity, or discovering you had the wrong garage in the first place.

Not to overthink it, but if Yu Suzuki was really trying to 'simulate' the life of this odd young man and his odder young life, the boring bits represented an essential part of that small-town existence. You'd spent your time buying cassette tapes or trying to find another excuse to visit Nozomi, the flower seller's daughter.

Still, with what looks like a hunger meter (it wasn't explained to us what it does), consumables in the menu, the herb stuff, and apparently a fishing dynamic, if there's enough new and interesting ephemera to make up for the collapse of aimless waiting for the evening, we might be willing to put up with a few concessions to modernity.

We just hope Neilo and Ys Net don't go too far, though. Shenmue III is clearly only for Shenmue fans, and the stiff, mannequin-like characters slowly going about their small town life, stopping only to drone pointless, nonsensical or bluntly expositionary lines, show a keen awareness that this game is nostalgia-to-order.

In Shenmue III's finished form, we don't want Stardew Valley, and we certainly don't want Death Stranding. We just want Ryu to settle up with Lan Di and all that mirror business, put our 18-year wait to rest, and inevitably sling his duffle bag over his shoulder and wander off into the sunset forever. But having waited this long, we've shown we're good at waiting - and that literal five minutes at the bus stop waiting to get to our forklift job every day is what we've paid for, and what we expect.

We're masochists, Mr Suzuki. Please spend our millions wisely. µ

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