Shenmue III (PlayStation 4) Review

By Albert Lichi 13.04.2020

Review for Shenmue III on PlayStation 4

In 2015, the unthinkable happened; Shenmue 3 was announced at the Sony conference at E3 as a Kickstarter project, after decades of dormancy. Since Shenmue 2 last appeared as an Xbox port, SEGA had effectively retired the Shenmue brand, and Yu Suzuki's experimental "Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment." Fans had given up at this point, and Shenmue as a whole would only be remembered as that weird Yakuza "spiritual predecessor." When Shenmue 3's crowdfunding was unveiled to everyone's shock, it shattered all records. While the first two entries were huge undertakings from a big publisher with enormous budgets, gamers everywhere were sceptical that the threequel could live up to expectations as an indie developed project with a fraction of financial backing. With Yu Suzuki's credibility as a game designer on the line, is Shenmue 3 worth the wait?

Shenmue 3 is a very unusual experience. It is like stepping back into 1999, or the year 2000, and playing something that actually looks like pre-rendered CGI key art. Anyone who was familiar with the gameplay of the first two Shenmue titles will feel right at home because almost nothing has changed. Ys Net really took a huge risk by vehemently being consistent with the gameplay mechanics from 2000.

The pacing is as agonizingly glacial as its predecessors, yet Shenmue 3 also manages to be a much longer and bigger game, and is stuffed with filler. In the original Shenmue, the overall experience could be completed fairly quickly, and the grand scheme of the story involved acquiring a boat ticket. The setting was tightly knit, and despite it being set in an urban environment, it was still very intimate. Shenmue 3 on the other hand has a dense plot with a large cast of characters.

Screenshot for Shenmue III on PlayStation 4

Ryo gets involved with the Red Snakes, there is a sub-plot involving a fake dragon mirror, and the conflict between the martial arts schools. The stakes are overall more epic than they have ever been. In spite of all of this, the adventure amounts to being the "vacation episode." After everything is said and done, Ryo is still no closer to avenging his father, and Lan Di is still as elusive as ever. After 18 years, Yu Susuzki has the audacity to drag this story out, and not bring it to a close, and is so presumptuous that there will be a fourth Shenmue.

Who ever made the statement that the Yakuza games were the "spiritual successor" to Shenmue has either never played a Yakuza game or any Shenmue. This meme must come to an end, because other than the fact that both series came from SEGA, they have nothing else in common. Once again, Shenmue 3's progress relies heavily on the in-game day and night cycles. The various NPCs all have their own routine and schedule that is dictated by the time of day, and it is Ryo's responsibility to find leads by working within these limitations. Some characters won't entertain Ryo at all if they are on the job, or are too busy to talk to him, or they won't even be home at all to be questioned.

Even combat is nothing like how Kiryu throws down with random encounters with thugs. In Shenmue 3, combat rarely happens, and even when it does, it is a much more mindless affair than it ever has been - even by Shenmue standards. Basic combos are a string of face button sequences, which must then be re-inputted during a quasi-QTE for special attacks, but with a very small window for perfect timing. It is hardly necessary, since the difficulty for the entire adventure is very lax, and Ryo is free to stuff his face for health recover in the item menu.

Screenshot for Shenmue III on PlayStation 4

Aside from looking for people to talk to or the occasional scuffle, expect to take in a few mini-games. Having some diversions to add to the authenticity of the setting makes for a more immersive world, and is a staple of the Shenmue series. In the previous entries, there have been the infamous fork-lift races, darts, slot machines, arm wrestling, billiards, and a few period-appropriate SEGA arcade games. Since Shenmue 3 is no longer under the SEGA banner, it is understandable that After Burner or Space Harrier would not appear. Even when taking this into consideration, the mountainous area of Guilin is light on the side-activities. Some of the villagers from Bailu try their hardest to accommodate the player with their Chinese knock-off variants, but the attempts just feel sad and desperate. Instead of engaging in these mini-games out of curiosity, players might only do so out of guilt.

To say Shenmue 3 is slow-paced is an insult to snails. There are many times when the only thing to do is to just wait or kill time. Making Ryo go elsewhere is not always the best option, since he has apparently gotten really out of shape from Shenmue 2, and he loses all his stamina after a brisk jog and requires a huge meal to restore it. If he runs out of steam he'll just call it quits, and an entire day gets wasted. Yu Suzuki really wants players to take things slow and absorb the atmosphere.

Screenshot for Shenmue III on PlayStation 4

Bailu and Niaowu are chock full of details to admire, and compounded with the relaxing pace, it can be easy to be lulled into a drowsy state. It can take hours to open every drawer, and inspect every piece of worthless geometry that was placed there for the sake of believability. In-game weeks will pass, and no story progress will be made due to innate inquisitive human nature completely side-tracking users, and in the end there is not even any reward.

There just is not enough pay-off to explore this large space. Compared to Shenmue 2, features have been cut, and the lacking substance is likely due to the reduced budget and man-power behind the development. The few aspects where Shenmue 3 has improve over its predecessors, is obviously the visuals, but more importantly is the load times. Back in the Dreamcast days, Ryo had to open each door individually, and then an egregiously long load time would gradually add hours to the play-time. Thanks to the advances in technology, Ryo is able to freely explore uninterrupted. Areas are seamlessly connected, and the overall sense of place feels so much more believable compared to the bespoke rooms from 18 odd years ago.

The voice acting in Shenmue 3 is as terrible as it has always been since 1999, but at least it is high quality - like eating Taco Bell at a five-star restaurant. Shenuha always sounds depressed, or like she is constantly grieving, rarely showing range at all. Ryo still awkwardly delivers his lines like he is confused, or as if he does not believe a word he is saying. Even the grating and annoying shrill of the sappy Chinese string music will only inspire gamers to disable the music. It would have been weird if suddenly the third entry in this franchise had natural sounding performances by real voice actors, so it is impressive that Yu Suzuki kept things so consistent. This can apply even to the game as a whole, for better and for worse.

Screenshot for Shenmue III on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 5 out of 10


Shenmue 3 is a tough recommendation for general audiences. It won't please the die-hard fans of the originals due the step backwards in terms of game design. Neophytes who are curious about it will be confused and bored by the sleep-inducing pace, plus the how the voice acting has not changed since the early '00s. The visuals may have improved, and the loading times are a thing of the past, but this is still has the soul of a Dreamcast title. It won't live up to the expectations that fans have, nor will it excite interest in the franchise. Nothing of substance gets solved by the conclusion, and there's a lack of a pay-off to playing such an intentionally slow experience. The highs in Shenmue 3 involve doing what amounts to nothing; that is just taking in the atmosphere and exploring.


Ys Net


Koch Media


Action Adventure



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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