Shenmue 3 Is Boring AND Brilliant | Shenmue 3 Review

Hello and welcome to Cluck Paper Shotgun. I mean Rock Paper Shotgun. Sorry, I’ve got chickens on the mind. Shenmue 3 will do that to you. I was trying to think of one image to capture
the magic of Shenmue 3, but so many compete in my head. Yes, there’s chasing chickens for this drunken
lunatic, but then there’s also the immense satisfaction of paffing a martial arts master
with an uppercut, or successfully landing a winning ball in a game of Lucky Hit. Or when you manage to over deliver on a forklift
truck shift for a mega payday. All of these things are Shenmue as hell. But when I really think about it, nothing
better captures the appeal of Shenmue III than its save files. On one line, the current date and time; above
it, the date and time this particular save will whisk you back to. Because that’s what Shenmue is: time travel. The opportunity to visit a very specific moment
in history. In the case of Shenmue III, China in the spring
of 1987. Of course, it’s time travel that doesn’t
fret about the butterfly effect – you spend most of your trip kicking in groins in a way
that will surely curtail a few family lineages. But this sequel is time travel of a second
kind, too: a design throwback to 1999, when Shenmue was the cutting edge of blockbuster
game development; then the most expensive game of all time, and one that remained so
cherished that it raised 6.3 million dollars in a Kickstarter campaign. That’s 6.3 million dollars worth of permission
to not change a thing, and so it has largely turned out. Does the aging design hold up and can it make
new converts almost 20 years on? Well, that’s what this video is about. If you did back the game, I’d love to hear
form you in the comments – did it deliver for you? Before I get to that good stuff, we’ve also
partnered with Displate who make fancy metal posters – there’s a link to our poster store
in the description – everything from Cyberpunk to Red Dead Redemption – and if you do buy
anything, a bit of that money comes back to the channel. I’ll admit, it’s slightly more appealing
way of raising pocket money than chopping wood – although I can’t get enough of the
banging tune that kicks in when you land a perfect hit. How much wood can a woodchuck chuck? Set to this music, the possibilities are endless. First of all, kickstarter backers can breathe
a sigh of relief: Shenmue III sure is a Shenmue game. When you aren’t feeding shoe leather to
local hoodlums, you’re wearing it down in the streets and countryside you explore as
you endlessly pester NPCs for gossip. Most of Shenmue’s design hinges on existing
in the pre-internet age; it’s a detective story that could probably be solved with two
Google searches, but it’s stretched into a 30 hour trek round the houses. Certainly Google Maps would cut playtime in
half as much of your time is spent asking for directions. To newcomers this may sound terrible, yes,
but there’s something hypnotic in the way the to-and-fro sucks you into the world. Simply registering which house belongs to
who, or where residents can be found at different times of the day forges a bond; you begin
to think like a local. Your dependance on others is gradually swapped
for expertise – where the best wine is sold, which elder is the least senile – and the
excitement of holding your own in a foreign land helps disguise the relative mundanity
of the tasks at hand. Playing this now I’m struck at how few games
have attempted similar design. There are hints of this organic sleuthing
in recent Ubisoft adventures, where quest markers can be swapped for naturalistic directions,
but it still feels more lived in here. The fact that every NPC has to have a voiced
response to Ryo’s every question suggests why few designers have repeated it, though,
and Ryo’s own generic replies – “I see!” – soon begin to grate. Much goodwill could be earned with a dialogue
skip option for this endless smalltalk. Oh, and definitely play with Japanese voice
overs to avoid some honking line delivery. And
the style definitely works better in the first half of the game, set in the rural Bailu Village. With its small community it’s much closer
in tone to Shenmue’s Yokosuka. Every NPC is a named character, most play
some part in Ryo’s tale and lodging with your fellow sleuth Shenhua gives you a comfortable
base to explore it all. The later port town of Niaowu loses some of
that magic with its non-interactive shoppers, restricted routes that force slow walking and daily demand for hotel
fees. That last one is especially scary as the lady who runs the hotel seems to have no connection between her teeth and face. In fact, throughout there’s a gulf between
handsomely moddled central cast and everyone else who appears to have escaped from a budget
Dragon Quest. Shenmue 3 is technically a quest for revenge,
as Ryo Hazuki is still looking for the man who killed his father in Shenmue 1. But it’s relaxed revenge. Creator Yu Suzuki is more interested in the
rhythm of everyday life than the thrum of a Hollywood thriller. This is a world where investigation happily
pauses for week-long fishing trips or part-time wood chopping. The inclusion of two brutally pricey quests
practically forces the latter, slamming the brakes on the story to become a menial job
simulator. You get a smaller, but persistent cash drain
from feeding your stamina/health bar, leading to odd moments of wolfing down garlic bulbs
because they’re the most cost effective foodstuff. Probably for the best Ryo is so stilted around
his love interest Shenhua – his stinking breath would eat through the back of her head. With that relaxed pace comes an invitation
to fully submerge yourself in the world, to get to know two relatively small open worlds
(by modern standards) in intimate detail. As before, this means opening drawers and
cupboards to poke and probe the domestic detritus of 80s China – spoiler alert: it’s mostly
nondescript jars. The first-person camera is slicker this time,
smoothly segueing into item interactions, but it still boils down to a rather bored
sounding voice actor pretending that he’s interested in a set of napkins. I remember reading previews of Shenmue in GamesMaster, where talk of fully
interactive furniture gave the impression that Suzuki had somehow cloned the entire
world. You could pick up a cassette tape from a sideboard. But where that accuracy was noteworthy in
Shenmue, and its fetishization of those details warranted, Shenmue 3’s fidelity doesn’t
meet 2019’s standards. As grossly unfair as it is to compare Suzuki’s
small team with the Rockstar Games behemoth building Actual Westworld in your TV, the
bar for realism *has* been raised, and Shenmue 3 often looks threadbare. No, it’s far more potent when it reheats
the deliberately artificial elements of the original games – the bits of the world clearly
built by one of Sega’s great arcade masterminds. For all these games attempted to simulate
life, they also featured silly collectible capsule toys, working arcade machines and
forklift truck racing. And so it is here. Sure, the officially licensed Sega machines
are gone, but those that replace them quickly gobble up your pocket monkey. I particularly like how delivering arcade
cabinets in the forklift truck job sees more games arrive in the local arcade, even if
they are variations on a slightly ropey parody of Virtua Fighter starring chickens. The downside to the density of arcades and
gambling dens is that the world, particularly Niaowu, does begin to resemble a strange funfair,
designed to bilk you every ten meters. The effect is made extra weird when you start
finding the Kickstarter content – the faces of backers pasted on fairground games or a
giant temple full of backer portraits. Although love hearing Ryo pass judgement on
his investors. All of this is sweet, but does butt heads
with the historical authenticity that these backers were investing in. Every time I open my inventory and see a load
of random dudes jangling in my pocket as gachapon, it’s hardly immersion building. At least those collectible toys now serve
more of a purpose, as you can sell complete collections at pawn shops, or swap them for
martial arts techniques. And the latter are important because without
new skills to learn you can’t spar with local fighters, and without sparring you can’t
raise your attack level, and without raising your attack level you can’t hope to take
on the hoodlums who block your progress at key moments of the story. This A to B to C martial arts training logic
is the biggest addition to the game, an attempt to create more of a martial arts RPG (this
was, incidentally, the original pitch of Shenmue – a Virtua Fighter RPG). To call this an RPG is a little generous,
but it does give more shape to the hours of downtime you have during each day. This is time you could spend raising endurance
by playing a couple of sparse minigames – in one you tap a button to hold a squat, in another
you rotate the analogue stick to shadow Ryo’s movement. If the aim was to capture the utter tedium
of exercise: mission success. The combined effect of the exercise grind
and the endless hustling to raise money for new skills is that of a training montage played
out in real-time. The meat of Shenmue 3’s 30 hours (and that
was taking it at quite a pace) is preparing your body for a just a handful of fights. Yes, there are dojos where you climb the ranks,
but the actual story fights, the moments you’re encouraged to train for, number less than
20. In many ways it’s the perfect Shenmue system:
an incredibly slow series of baby steps towards not a whole lot. A lot of the time I admire its zen-like refusal
to pander to overblown action, but others will find it unbearable. It’s also a shame that a story centered
on training (by the end, you’ve achieved little else) is lumbered with quite a crude
combat system. Alarm bells sound when the official tutorial
tells you to mash the face buttons. In truth there’s more to it with that, with
strings of complex combos that can be handily mapped to a button for automatic kung fu wizardry,
but strategy never really goes beyond ‘hold block’ and ‘unleash auto-combos after
the enemy’s failed attack’. All that training manifests as a longer health
bar and higher damage, and even that can be circumvented by glugging health potions mid-fight. There’s no real sense of mechanical mastery,
which is baffling given how much of the story is spent extolling the virtues of technique. The mad thing is, for all its creaky ideas
and garlic guzzling, I was enraptured for chunks of Shenmue 3. Its laidback rhythm lulls you into a state
that few games do, one of such extreme zen/boredom that even the smallest change in pace can
feel monumental. Moments like my evening chats with Shenhua,
where unspoken romance threatens to bubble to the surface only to be gulped back down
with teen embarrassment. Or happening upon the soulful young man philosophising
about the turtles he forces to race in his gambling den. Or chicken chasing for a drunken master. Or the moment I discovered a series of hidden
bird mascots in a shop, transforming the entire shopping district into a quirky scavenger
hunt. There’s magic in Shenmue 3, then; not as
potent as when this oddball adventure first burst onto the scene, but kept alive by the
sheer lack of anything else like it. (Yakuza is often seen as a spiritual successor,
but it’s more Shenmue meets Streets of Rage – if you like the idea of virtual tourism,
but want to crack more skulls, go for that series instead. Yakuza Zero is the place to start.) This is an often boring and sometimes brilliant
game, where the brilliance depends on the boredom. If that’s too risky a pitch for a full-priced
ticket on Suzuki’s time machine, maybe try the originals first (both are on Xbox Game
Pass for PC). For better and for worse, Shenmue 3 is a perfect
continuation. If you’ve made all the way to end of the
video – thanks so much for watching this Shenmue 3 review. If you have the patience to listen to me,
you probably have the patience to enjoy Shenmue 3. If you did enjoy this review, please give
it a like and subscribe to the channel – we do loads of stuff like this. And you should watch them. If you really loved this video, you can support
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game – I’m really keen to hear from anyone who backed the game. Would love to hear if it delivered what you
wanted. Thanks so much for watching Cluck Paper Shotgun,
and hopefully see you again soon. Bye for now.

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