Shenmue 3 Preview: 10 Reasons We’re Excited
After 18 years of waiting, fans will finally get their hands on Shenmue III on November 19 on PlayStation 4 and PC. It seems hard to believe, but one of the most awaited video games of all time is almost here at last. Shenmue III appears to be on course to satisfy longtime fans, but it seems to offer plenty for newcomers to the series too. Here are 10 reasons why any gamer should be excited for Yu Suzuki’s epic – almost two decades in the making.
1. The story goes on…A story that leaves the audience in suspense for what might come next is known as a cliffhanger, but since Shenmue II ended its story inside a cave way back in 2001, we’re calling it a “cavehanger”. Near the end of Shenmue II, protagonist Ryo Hazuki finally encounters the series’ heroin, Shenhua; but shortly after the meaning of the title Shenmue is finally revealed, the game ends with more mysteries than answers. Will Ryo finally stand face to face with Lan Di, the Chinese martial artist who killed his father, Iwao? Will we learn the meaning behind the two stone mirrors Iwao took back to Japan from China?Shenmue 3 ScreenshotsFor fans who have been waiting for these answers for nearly two decades, a continuation of the story alone is a dream come true. But for newcomers, a cliffhanger is more daunting than exciting. Can Shenmue III appeal to those who did not play the originals? While playing the remasters released in 2018 is obviously the best way to get into the series, Suzuki claims that Shenmue III can be enjoyed without prior knowledge of the story. Shenmue III not only contains a digest movie that explains previous events, but the main game appears to have plenty of scenes and flashbacks that allow newcomers to learn as they play.2. Meaningful conversationShenmue is a series known for its astonishing volume of fully voiced dialogue, and according to Suzuki there’s even more of it this time. While the English voice acting appears to be just as cheesy as before, I look forward to talking to a wide array of charming NPCs. But more than anyone else, I want to continue my conversation with Shenhua.In Shenmue III, players will be able to engage in long talks with Shenhua at her home in Bailu Village, or at the hotel in Niaowu where you will stay for the second half of the game. Multiple-choice options appear for the player to direct Ryo’s side of the conversation, and your relationship with Shenhua changes accordingly, in Mass Effect fashion.What makes these conversations so deep and interesting is the fact that Ryo and Shenhua have drastically different backgrounds. Ryo is a Japanese city boy from Yokosuka who wears leather jackets, while Shenhua was raised deep in the mountains of Guilin, China, and this leads to interesting wrinkles in their conversation. A game that tackles cultural differences is something you rarely see.3. Detailed environmentsShenmue is often considered a key early title in the evolution of open-world games, but Shenmue’s worldbuilding is much more focused on density than scale, which sets it apart from its modern counterparts. Shenmue III has you explore two Chinese towns crafted with an impressive level of detail.The first area players will explore is Bailu, a small village tucked away in Guilin’s mountains with a history of martial arts. While enjoying slow life with the villagers, Ryo will train his kung fu at the local dojo with Guilin’s picturesque scenery as the backdrop.The second town Ryo visits is Niaowu, a vibrant harbor city also located in Guilin, along the famous Lijiang river. Niaowu counts over 140 explorable shops (of which over 70 allow you to actually buy items) and over 400 unique NPC characters. Prepare to lose yourself browsing store shelves and talking to the locals to glean valuable tips or just a friendly salutation. Revenge can wait.4. Opening drawersWhen I said Shenmue was all about density, I wasn’t kidding. Not only the towns themselves, but also the houses and shops you enter are crafted with care and detail rarely seen in open-world environments. As with previous entries, Shenmue III allows the player to open drawers and cupboards, and Ryo can investigate objects ranging from books to framed pictures that lend believable depth to the world. According to Suzuki, the amount of explorable objects has been largely increased, and Ryo now more often has something to say about the objects he has in his hands.Games like Gone Home and Life is Strange are often credited for their environmental storytelling, and Shenmue was likely a major influence on those titles. It will be interesting to see what kind of stories Suzuki has hidden in his cupboards this time.5. Martial arts trainingRyo may be a fighter, but he’s not your ordinary untouchable hero. The story of Shenmue is all about depicting Ryo’s growth as a character and martial artist, and a new training system is implemented to link that story more directly to the gameplay.In Shenmue III, Ryo can enter dojos, where he must practice his horse stance and strengthen his fists by hitting wooden dummies used in kung fu training. He can also engage in sparring sessions with other martial artists to practice individual moves, and winning at matches held at the dojo will allow Ryo to reach higher ranks. As an old kung fu master would say, it’s all about overcoming yourself, rather than the opponent.Shenmue III’s battle system itself is completely new as well. While it is a bummer that Ryo’s iconic throw moves did not make it in, over 60 move scrolls to obtain and master should allow for a lot of experimentation.6. Endless distractionsPart-time jobs such as woodchopping, fishing and forklift truck driving; Whack-a-Mole, punch machines and even a Virtua Fighter rip-off that goes by the name of Chobu Chan Fighter at the arcades; gambling options that range from the iconic Lucky Hit to the new quirky turtle races; herbs to collect from the fields; and a mascot character of the city hidden in over 140 stores… Naming only a few of the activities in Shenmue III shows that this is by no means a small game.Most of these activities are simpler and more arcade-like than you would see in other open-world games. Suzuki, who developed Sega classics like Space Harrier, Out Run, Virtua Fighter and more, is a legend of the arcades – and it really shows. Shenmue III is dotted with small bites of nostalgic entertainment that makes you want to throw in just one more coin, and they perfectly match the game’s 1980s setting.7．An interconnected worldBut Shenmue III’s activities are not only numerous – what is more important is that they are all interconnected. For example, if you go to the arcade, you will see that there are a few cabinets that say “Coming Soon” which you can’t play yet. The forklift part-time job has Ryo carry all sorts of incoming goods from a cargo ship to the harbor’s warehouse. Sometimes, there might be an arcade cabinet on the cargo ship, and if Ryo carries that to the warehouse, you will find a new game installed at the arcade on the following day. And you might need to beat that game in order to get a special item that is used in the main game.Interconnection gives these activities real meaning, and by engaging in them, it feels like you are actively changing Shenmue III’s world.8．Bizarre mascot huntAmong all of Shenmue’s side activities, finding Chobu Chan has me the most excited. The Niaowu tourist association has created a new mascot character for the city, Chobu Chan. Its round yellow body and red beak suggests a chick, but it’s actually a cormorant, referring to the cormorant fishing common in the Guilin area.Chobu Chan’s favorite way to pass time appears to be hide-and-seek, since it is hiding at every single shop in Niaowu. That means that you have over 140 Chobu Chans to find, and the color, shape and size of each one is tweaked to match the shop’s interior. Find Chobu Chan and you will get a shop card, which can be exchanged for new move scrolls at pawn shops. Yes, even finding Chobu Chan is interconnected.9．Calling those you loveAs the story follows Ryo’s pursuit of Lan Di, the man who killed his father, most of the characters Ryo left behind in Yokosuka and Hong Kong won’t be making a comeback. That being said, you can always call them and say hi.To make a call, Ryo first needs to obtain an international telephone card, a realistic detail that is completely unnecessary yet somehow utterly charming. There’s a wide array of different telephone cards to collect, “The Three Beauties of Niaowu” being a series Suzuki mentions whenever he gets the chance.Telephone conversations also offer multiple-choice selections, which result in different conversations. These phone calls are great fan service, but at the same time have the potential to function as a fun way for newcomers to learn more about Shenmue’s past.10. Changing Ryo’s outfitRyo’s leather jacket is iconic, but in Shenmue III you might not be wearing it all the time. Being able to obtain new costumes is a pretty standard feature for a modern video game, but it will allow players to roleplay as Ryo more than ever before. Small touches like changing into martial arts wear at the dojo or taking off Ryo’s jacket on a sunny day add to the immersion.Players can freely change Ryo’s jacket, T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, which can be bought at stores, obtained through gambling, won at fishing tournaments and so on.Bonus: The Wooden Dummy CaféAn epic story, a deep conversation system, detailed environments, a training system that depicts the growth of the main character, countless side activities. There are more than enough reasons to be excited for Shenmue III, but if you’re worried the game may be a little low on humor, the Muren Café should make you think again.As a parody of Japan’s themed cafes that range from owl cafes to foot-bathing cafes, Shenmue III has you drink coffee or tea with… well, wooden dummies. Ryo usually trains with these mannequins at the dojo, but at this café they wear flamboyant dresses and fancy hats. Suzuki-san, what were you thinking!?
Esra Krabbe is an editor at IGN JAPAN. Shenmue is pretty much all he talks about on Twitter.