Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review - The Neverending Story of Video Games

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games

The Neverending Story of Video Games

  • System: PlayStation 4, Windows (Steam)
  • Publisher: Deep Silver (US/Europe/Australia), Koch Media (Japan), Oasis Games (South Korea)
  • Developer: Ys Net
  • Release Date: November 19, 2019 (worldwide)
  • Pricing:$34.99
  • Rating: T for Teen
  • Genre: Open World, Action, Adventure
  • Players: 1
  • Official Website:

Shenmue III trailer

Who it Caters to

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Shenmue III is for the 81,087 dedicated backers who helped fund it (which happens to include me, so be sure to find my name in the credits!) as they have been waiting since September 6, 2001! As we have shared in previous articles, Shenmue is considered the original modern open-world game so if players want a taste of that, then this is their chance! In addition to the hardcore fans who never gave up, Shenmue III is certainly for those that love classic Kung Fu flicks because that’s what Shenmue is in game form!

What to Expect

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
If any of you readers have played the first two Shenmue games, the third installment largely plays like them but adds some new elements to keep it fresh and yet still maintain the atmosphere of the originals. In addition to visual and conversational exploration, expect some Kung Fu fighting and QTEs but with a new presentation that equally appeals to veterans and rookies alike.


NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
We don’t know if any of you remember March 21, 1987 (or if you were even born yet!), but what makes this date significant is that it marks the beginning of Shenmue III! Ryo and Shenhua have finally stepped out of the cave where they have just discovered giant versions of the dragon and phoenix stone mirrors that were in Ryo’s father’s possession. Shenhua’s father has been kidnapped and our heroes have to find him as they explore her home village of Bailu. As they explore the village, Ryo learns that his father once visited there on a training journey from his old training partners who still reside there.

As they get deeper into the proverbial rabbit hole, Ryo and Shenhua learn about the origin of the mirrors, how they relate to their fathers, and why the fiendish Lan Di (a Kung Fu master who killed Ryo’s father in the beginning of the first Shenmue game) is after them. Later on, Ryo and Shenhua venture off to the port city of Niaowu where they face new dangers, and encounter new and old allies.


NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
The graphics of Shenmue III are very much in the spirit of the original Dreamcast releases and make excellent use of the Unreal Engine 4. This is masterfully expressed in Bailu Village, where players can immerse themselves in its nature and culture.

Just like in Shenmue 1 and 2, players can almost freely explore the environment around them. This is executed by closely inspecting every object and opening every cabinet in a room, or by talking to the locals who may have information that can help Ryo progress on his quest. Every character Ryo interacts with is voiced and, thankfully, players have the choice to experience the game in Japanese or in English. Furthermore, the exploration is expanded so that Ryo can wander grassy fields to collect medicinal herbs which he can later sell for money or trade for a skill book that expands his martial arts mastery.

Shenmue still uses a day/night cycle so some of the activities and story events are connected to it. One hour in the real world equates to a day in the game just like in the originals. As to how time is applied in the story; take, for example, it’s 12:00 pm in the game and the person Ryo needs to meet won’t show up until 7pm. Players have the option to skip time to 7pm, or just kill time doing something else. Beyond that, players can also see NPCs all over town at a certain time and when it’s dawn, the children go home and the adults get together and eat at the food stalls.

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
While Bailu Village may not be as big as the fictional LA County in GTAV, players are given the chance to intimately know its culture by interacting with its citizens and participating in a range of activities. Bailu Village uniquely contrasts with Yokosuka, the setting of the first game; in Shenmue I, Ryo feels at home since just about a majority of the NPCs already know him and are willing to offer their support. When Ryo visits Bailu Village, he’s naturally treated like an outsider and not many people want to talk to him when he first shows up.

Once players have Shenhua accompany Ryo to the village, the villagers will react differently thanks to her presence. Then when Ryo talks to the ladies of the village without Shenhua present, they wonder if they’re engaged! As Ryo and Shenhua venture out of Bailu Village, players get to experience a different side of China through the port city of Niaowu (based on Phoenix Town in Hunan Province). Niaowu is a big town that offers cultural authenticity with its traditional architecture along with food that players can buy for Ryo such as meat buns or steamed dumplings.

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
Naturally, martial arts play a part in Shenmue III and it re-introduces training. As opposed to practicing moves in an empty parking lot or at Ryo’s home dojo like in the first game, Ryo can now spar with other martial artists to level up his moves. Through sparring, players can familiarize themselves with how the fighting works. As opposed to re-using the Virtua Fighter engine (Shenmue was conceived as a Virtua Fighter RPG) from the first two games, Yu Suzuki has implemented a brand new fighting engine that is more striking oriented in order to accommodate players who don’t specialize in fighting games.

In addition to sparring, other training mini-games players can have Ryo engage in are practicing the one-inch punch (coined by Bruce Lee) and the horse stance, a common martial arts exercise. While sparring raises Ryo’s attack levels, the one-inch punch and horse stance mini-games level up Ryo’s health. Another training method that is introduced in the second part is Rooster Steps, which focuses on Ryo’s footwork. Like the one inch punch and horse stance, this exercise also raises Ryo’s health.

Speaking of health, how is it applied in Shenmue III? In the first two games, players didn’t have to worry about Ryo losing his health if they have him run from point A to point B. In Shenmue III, just by walking, Ryo’s health goes down and players are going to have to refill it by giving him food. Players can buy fruits, vegetables, soda or authentic Chinese food to keep him going! At the start of the game, players are going to be low on money so they’re going to need to make a quick yuan (Chinese currency) for food (and other things)! So how can players help Ryo make some money?

First, there’s chopping wood! It’s not much but if players do it for a day, it’s enough to help buy the food Ryo needs! As we mentioned earlier, Ryo can collect herbs in the wild and once he collects enough, he can make a considerable amount of money off of them. Also, Shenmue III introduces a simple fishing mini-game. By the end of a session, players can sell whatever fish they catch for some cash! Last, the forklift job is back from the first game and introduces some fresh features! Instead of merely transporting boxes, players can have Ryo move arcade cabinets from a boat to a warehouse, and they become playable in the arcades the following day.

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
You can also gamble! The way gambling is executed—players gamble for tokens or prizes as opposed to money—is intended to accommodate Japanese social norms where gambling for money is illegal. To circumvent this stipulation, players can exchange whatever tokens they win for prizes and, in turn, sell the prizes for money (and this loophole is semi-practiced in Japan)! Some of the gambling games players can bet on (which are back from Shenmue II) are lucky hit or throwing a pair of dice to score a bigger number than the dealer. Some original games include betting on turtle or frog racing and players button-mash to make the animal they bet on go faster. If gambling doesn’t work for some players, then Ryo can once again participate in martial arts challenge fights like in the second game!

If any of you have played a game featuring QTEs (or Quick Time Events), then you’ve got Shenmue to thank for that! As expected, QTEs are back but are presented differently than the first two games. As opposed to a button flashing on the screen as in the originals, the QTEs in Shenmue III are more like Yakuza’s where the button has a blue outline that functions like a stopwatch to indicate how long players have to press the corresponding button. Freeze QTEs, which were introduced in Shenmue II, are also back and are also portrayed differently by feeling more “in motion” with the action (such as the Body Check attack).

Unfortunately, Suzuki’s arcade classics that established his name back at Sega such as Hang On, Space Harrier, and After Burner aren’t featured or playable in Shenmue III, but the QTE mini-games are! As opposed to having modern digital games (with the exception of a Virtua Fighter spoof featuring Chobu-chan, the in-game mascot of Niaowu), a lot of the arcade games Ryo can play are more in-tune with old mechanical carnival games such as whack-a-mole, a driving game where players drive a toy car on a rotating cylinder that represents a road, and a game where players have to throw a golf ball into a moving golf hole (or you can play the basketball version) and more!

Other returning novelties such as buying capsule toys are present. As opposed to buying capsule toys of franchise Sega characters such as Sonic or Rent-A-Hero, players can buy capsule toys of Shenmue characters, Buddhist statues, gems, and other generic toys.

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games

Honey's Gameplay Consensus:

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
While the fighting engine is more button-masher friendly, a lot of the techniques from the first two games manage to make a return such as the elbow assault, but they’re executed differently to accommodate the new engine. Thankfully, sparring functions as the ultimate tutorial to get players familiar with it! The new training games are also rich in detail. For example, when players first try the one-inch punch, Ryo tends to chamber his fist back to his armpit (making it look more like a one-foot punch) but when he levels up through practice, his efficiency in executing the technique will start to resemble how Bruce Lee famously demonstrated it! However, we feel that the training dummies that Ryo uses to practice these training games on could definitely feature more functional applications to them. Just like how Kung Fu practitioners use wooden dummies to polish their techniques, we feel that Ryo could further practice his techniques on them in addition to sparring.

What we considered a downside as it relates to the restructuring of the fighting engine is how it changes whenever NPCs teach Ryo a move. In the first two games, the player would apply the verbal instructions of a martial arts NPC into the controls in order to learn it. Due to how the moves are executed in the third game by relying more on the face buttons and none of the directional ones, this feature is slightly modified by not giving players a chance to try the moves out themselves.

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
The voice acting in the English version is a HUGE improvement over the second game, but we still recommend the Japanese version. A good portion of the English dialog still comes across as iffy, but Shenmue in an international sense wouldn’t be what it is without how awkward the English is. The good news is that Masaya Matsukaze and Corey Marshall return as the respective Japanese and English voices of Ryo and when players hear them perform, it’s as if they never left the role these last 18 years. Some of you may know Masaya Matsukaze in the roles of Teru Mikami from Death Note, Morita in Durara, and Shin in Code Geass: Akito the Exiled. As for the best English voice, we have to give it to Shenhua’s actress, Briana Knickerbocker, most famous as the voice of Rem from Re:Zero and Filo from The Rising of the Shield Hero. As Shenhua, Knickerbocker masterfully balances her concern for her father and her country girl curiosity through her interactions with Ryo.

In Niaowu, players can make international calls to characters from previous games. Players make these calls by purchasing phone cards (remember those?). As a backer, one of my rewards was a phone card for unlimited calls! For spoiler reasons, we won’t say which actors are back but, unfortunately, some voices are changed in both the Japanese and English versions and the new actors just don’t have the same feeling as the originals.

Due to how time is applied in Shenmue III, critics feel it slows down the game and we can’t disagree with that. As we said, players have the option to skip time, or they can just explore the village, make some money, or level up. While other open-world games do have a time system, it’s just something players see, and not feel because time is of no consequence in some games such as in GTAV or MGSV. Shenmue does a great job of demonstrating how time works not just by an NPC’s individual schedule but how the sun moves, thus affecting light. When players start their journey in Bailu Village, they can see how it looks in the nighttime. They can experience how dark it can get in a place with no light other than a full moon.

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games
Another charm that was very prevalent in the first Shenmue game was the magic weather system which would produce rain or snow since Shenmue 1 largely takes place in December. While Shenmue III once again features weather, it wasn’t really that emphasized when we played it. While we’re not experts on China’s climate, we’re going to have to guess that it doesn’t rain too much between March and April. In instances, it did rain during our quest in Bailu Village—the grass would still have puddles and the sandy areas would still be muddy the following day if it was sunny.

Honey's Pros:

  • For Kickstarter contributors, they get awesome in-game bonus content depending on how much they donated.
  • Rich and detailed environments that are like the real thing!
  • The soundtrack excellently applies traditional Chinese acoustics and percussions to bring players into its world.
  • Even with its new features, Shenmue III largely plays like the originals
  • Ryo and Shenhua’s casual conversations can be educational as they engage in how their cultures and lifestyles differ.
  • While the dialogs are in Japanese or in English, there is text support for other languages such as French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Honey's Cons:

  • Not for people who prefer style over substance.
  • Not for people that prefer something fast-paced.
  • The weather didn’t feel too emphasized.
  • Not for people who want a definitive ending (Suzuki already confirmed Shenmue III completes 44% of the WHOLE story).
  • No bonus content such as Shenmue III footage on Dreamcast (if it ever existed like the Shenmue Saturn footage feature in Shenmue II).
  • Grappling is no longer featured in the fighting engine.

Honey's Final Verdict:

For nearly 20 years, the fans who never gave up got the chance to show their love and dedication for Shenmue by giving whatever they could to the Kickstarter that launched back in E3 2015. Thanks to the ALL the fans, no matter how much they gave, they made this game happen and it was damn well worth it! Through the success of the Kickstarter, Suzuki could thank the fans by giving them a chance to be part of its legacy. Some of the Kickstarter rewards included having certain donors featured as a capsule toy, and other donors who gave a certain amount of money would also have their pictures displayed in a gallery at a temple in Niaowu called Save Shenmue! Did we mention that there are other donors who happen to be featured as NPCs?! Considering the rewards depending on how much a donor can contribute, they’re definitely the ultimate treat!

If you are interested in trying Shenmue III, as we said before, it’s best that you start with the first two games because they’re intended to be played consecutively. You’ll have a better appreciation for the story, a better idea of Suzuki’s vision and why longtime fans never gave up on it. For now, we stand by the fans as we also encourage Suzuki to make Shenmue IV.

NewShenmueLogoE_GoldNuki-560x137 Shenmue III - PlayStation 4 Review  - The Neverending Story of Video Games


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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