Shenmue 3 is a mixed bag of emotions (Review)

Shenmue 3 review

Just the name of this review likely provides an impression of where this review will end up, but Shenmue 3 has been a mixed bag of emotions from the start. At E3 2015 when Shenmue 3 was originally announced, nearly everyone was jumping out of their seats with excitement. This announcement was quite unusual, however.

PlayStation was not funding the game, but instead used this media platform to announce the Kickstarter for the game. So it was an announcement, but not really, and the game still needed to be funded. Emotions flew from excited to disappointment, to cautiously excited. Now that Shenmue 3 is released, let’s take a look at how those mood swings followed the game into production with our Shenmue 3 review.


The developers were wise to include a recap video for those that didn’t play through the first two games in anticipation of this release. Be sure to watch this recap, as Shenmue 3 picks up exactly where the previous games left off. Ryo is standing with Shenhua in front of the giant carvings of the Phoenix and Dragon mirrors.

The story continues as Ryo accompanies Shenhua to her home in Bailu Village. Ryo then begins a search for Shenhua’s father, in order to learn more about the mirrors since his family helped create them. Throughout Ryo’s journey to find Shenhua’s father, he travels to the city of Niaowu. Ryo encounters many enemies throughout the game, mainly the Red Snakes. The Red Snakes is a gang working with the Chi You Men, which Lan Di leads.

The story includes many complex relationships and heavily relies on the ability to do tedious detective work in order to progress. Shenmue 3 does fantastic with helping the player learn the names and locations of people and shops.

Shenmue 3 review

Learn and Remember

Similar to how Assassins Creed’s exploration mode, the map will be limited to the location you have learned. The map will not include the player’s location, so this will force the player to become accustomed to the villages.

Ryo will have to learn several things along his journey. Martial arts techniques are the main thing he needs to practice. Learning new techniques and increasing his Kung Fu levels are imperative to progressing quickly in the story.

If he wants to take down Lan Di, he needs to be prepared. The story will teach the player much about the history of the mirrors, Lan Di’s motive to obtain the mirrors, and why the mirrors are so important. Shenmue 3’s story has great pacing and is a perfect addition to the series.

Great Gameplay

Shenmue 3 absolutely nails the nostalgic feel of the series. When it comes to gameplay, there are very few improvements to the overall play. A wonderful improvement is the ability to control the camera angles. This allows the player to more freely look around the environment to discover secrets, objects, signs, and locations. This becomes imperative for several parts of the story, as Ryo’s detective work plays a large part.

Fighting has greatly improved. Ryo now needs to train and spar to become more powerful and skilled with his techniques. To do so, the player can spar and fight at dojos, practice horse stance, one-inch punch, and rooster walk, and master skills learned from skill books that can be purchased.

There is an option to cycle through techniques and use an auto-complete button to perform the combo, but it is less effective. Performing techniques requires proper timing and placement. It is best to learn the combos and practice performing them to lock down the timing. Doing so will greatly improve the ability to win a fight.

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Classic Feel

Outside of the small improvements here and there, the game plays exactly like the first two. Having Ryo knocking on doors only to tell himself, “Huh, I guess nobody’s home,” is just as laughable as it was 18 years ago. The English dub of the game is still horrendous, but the Japanese audio with English subtitles is infinitely better.

Character models received more polygons and textures but remained the same in terms of the overall design. Ryo even walks the same as before. Lucky Hit is still stealing away earned money. Several mini-games have been added as well. Making money by gambling is one of the fast ways to earn money if luck is on your side.

Quick time events are still here as well. Not nearly as many of them, but there are a few. The time frame in which to press the button seems to have been shortened greatly, even on the easiest mode. Pressing the button just prior or sometimes at the exact moment it appears on the screen will likely cause the player to fail the quick time. This becomes quite infuriating, especially when chasing down chickens to grab them. (Yes, grabbing chickens is part of the game.)

Not So Great Gameplay

So much time has passed, and many people believed that Shenmue 3 would have tons of quality of life improvements. Sadly, they would be disappointed. There were a few that were implemented, but many are missing. The only assumption for the exclusion for all of these quality-of-life improvements would be that the goal was to ensure it stays as traditional to the original as possible.

As great as it is to play Shenmue 3, and it feels as authentic as possible, even indie studios can do more with the budget this game had. The menus are horrendous and can be sluggish at times. Although the fighting is greatly improved, it still feels very sticky. Dodging works but is delayed or not responsive at times. Quality-of-life improvements are the biggest issues with Shenmue 3.

The sheer amount of tedious activities and inconsistencies with quests and Ryo’s encounters are plentiful and annoying. The developers spent so much time programming every drawer to be usable. They could have spent that time coming up with better ideas than tedious back and forth traveling to complete mundane activities so that a villager will provide a hint to what needs to be done next.

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More Tediousness

Making money is an essential part of the game, especially since they introduced a stamina meter. Ryo needs to eat to gain stamina, and he needs money in order to eat. Making money is slow and is used up quickly.

Completing Shenmue 3 will likely take between 14-18 hours, depending on an individual’s ability. If the tedious, non-story-related activities were removed, it would likely take 4-6 hours to complete.

In order to obtain money at a much faster rate, which is much needed, please look at our guide to making money quickly in Shenmue 3. On top of that, Ryo needs to increase his kung fu, or he will get wrecked in a fight. Increasing his kung fu skill requires the player to constantly spar and practice at a wooden dummy. This is incredibly tedious, especially when the story starts picking up.

Final Reaction

While Shenmue 3 continues a legacy, it leaves a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, it truly feels like a successor to Shenmue 1 & 2. On the other hand, it’s not 2004, it’s 2019 and Shenmue 3 doesn’t fit the mold. Fans of the series will love the continued history and story of the game, but newcomers will likely be displeased.

Overall, Shenmue 3 should have and could have been so much more. Maybe if there is a Shenmue 4, they will look at all of this feedback and make the necessary adjustments to make it consistently enjoyable.

Score: 2.5/5 Atoms

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