FEATURE – Will Shenmue 3 live up to expectations?
Shenmue 3 recently broke a Guinness World Record on Kickstarter for being the most-funded game ever, beating Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which previously held the record on June 11th 2015. However, with many Shenmue fans now delighted to hear the news that the third installment will become reality in 2017, it’s not difficult to over look the fact that it is now 14 years later since the last Shenmue, and gaming has changed a lot during that time, with consoles becoming more powerful and graphics looking better than ever, making for many expansive and in-depth games. It is certainly an amazing accomplishment on behalf of all the fans who pledged for the game, but will Shenmue 3 live up to expectations?
It is all well and good asking for a game that has been long overdue, but Shenmue and its sequel left behind a legacy with its demise, with fans pondering for years just what the outcome would be; many played the games over and over again, filled with nostalgic joy and a sense of despair at the thought of never knowing. As a long time fan of Shenmue who had given up hope on ever seeing the third game, it’s only fair to address some concerns that the game now becoming a reality brings up.
The first concern is the fact that the immense environments of Shenmue and its sequel was one of the things that set it apart from other games at the time of its release, and it has been confirmed that Shenmue 3 will have a smaller world. Many games these days are huge and would dwarf the areas of the original Shenmue and Shenmue 2; Batman: Arkham Knight has a large play area, and the likes of any recent zombie game also have expansive areas to roam, Dead Island and Dying Light being two examples. Games such as Far Cry, Just Cause and Grand Theft Auto 5 also have immense environments. Many games have huge and immersive environments these days to play around in and explore, so will Shenmue 3 be able to compete? Yu Suzuki has already commented that “Ever since [Shenmue II] I always had decided that ‘for the next game, I’m going to go much deeper'”, and instead wants to focus on character development and how they react to the players’ decisions.
One of the other things that set Shenmue apart, besides its enormity, was its interactivity, being able to not only speak to non-playable characters and play mini games, but also being able to pick up items in the environment and examine them, whether they were important or not; it was certainly a novelty being able to pick up almost every item to be found. Shenmue is a meticulously detailed game with much to offer, so it remains to be seen if this interactivity will be incorporated into Shenmue 3 as much as it was in the original two games.
The second concern is the graphics. Looking at the E3 trailer, the environments look beautiful and serene, with the calming music adding to the sense of tranquility, just as the original Shenmue games did, and there certainly does seem to be improvements in the quality. The graphics of the original Shenmue were very well detailed and even made IGN’s list of ‘Greatest Graphics of All Time’ in 2009, but with graphics being almost as important as gameplay and story these days, just how detailed can Shenmue 3 be? Will graphics take priority over other elements of the game? With many other features added to the previous two games, such as interaction with different items, variable weather effects, a continuous flow of time, individual character schedules etc just how many of these elements will be sacrificed in order to make Shenmue 3 one of the best looking Shenmue games?
Another concern is the story. Many fans, of course, will race back to play the original two in order to refresh themselves on what has happened so far, but will the story stray too far from its roots and take a much too mystical turn? Shenmue is a game rooted in reality and that is part of what made it such a great and relatable game, and even though it had a sense of magical awe, it never overshadowed the realism of the games’ world. Towards the end of Shenmue 2, it certainly felt like it was losing touch with its sense of realism, so will Shenmue 3 include more mystical moments? Not much was discovered about Lan Di and his plot to use the two mirrors once they had been combined, other than that he wanted to use them to resurrect the Qing Dynasty, so just how much of Shenmue 3 will be realistic, and if there is any magical moments involving these special mirrors, will it be a good ratio of magic:realism?
As with any game series, there is always a mix of excellent games thrown in with a few duds, so there is still a chance Shenmue 3 could be the dud of the series. Shenmue 2 is regarded as the better of the first two games, with many improvements made, so hopefully these will be implemented into the third game. There is also the risk that maybe Shenmue 3 will feel a bit dated, so hopefully features will be included to make the game feel up-to-date and fresh, with many Easter eggs included to give some sense of reward, as was the case with the toy capsules. A peeve of gamer’s that was largely used in games, but has slowly seen a decline, is Quick Time Events. These were a staple of both original Shenmue games, and will have to be worked around in Shenmue 3, or taken out all together, as they could be seen as a sore point in the newest game and effect any review scores critics and fans might give.
Gameplay is also a slight concern, as many games have evolved with how gamer’s can play a game these days, with the Wii making the biggest leap in recent years, and the Oculus Rift looming just around the corner. As mentioned before, Quick Time Events will most definitely be seen as dated and so, hopefully, will either be completely removed or used sparingly, and Yu Suzuki has already promised more martial arts manoeuvres in Shenmue 3. Hopefully the control mechanics will be overhauled in the third game, as camera angles, when fighting a group of thugs, was rather erratic, and the fighting mechanics also need to be improved upon, with more of a pattern and time to pull off certain manoeuvres as opposed to just button mashing.
A lot of people may be wondering why the voice acting hasn’t been mentioned here, but as terrible as it is in the first two games, it is hard to want something changed that added unintentional humour. The voice acting was by no means perfect and some of Ryo’s lines are now infamous, and judging by the E3 trailer, thankfully the cheesy, deadpan voice acting makes a welcome return, making it feel very much like a Shenmue game.
It has also been mentioned about how Shenmue 3 will appeal to a wider and newer audience. Fans of the game will have grown up now and with younger gamers focusing on games such as Call of Duty, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto etc, will Shenmue 3 appeal to a Western audience? Most copies of the game has been sold to people who backed the Kickstarter project, and even though the previous games can be easily found on eBay, and with the sequel being released on the Xbox, this definitely seems like a game that is being made for the fans and it may not appeal to the younger generations of gamers who most likely won’t have played the two previous games. Still, there is a chance that with Shenmue 3 creating a lot of hype, it may garner more interest from players who have not played the previous two games, and so this could see the game becoming a bigger success than its predecessors.
However, with only 18 months to go until the release of the game, it remains to be seen if the overall quality will be up to the standards of the previous games. Shenmue 3 does seem as though it is going to be a low-budget release, and with it being confirmed that the game will be on a smaller scale and taking a slightly different direction, then it does seem possible that the game won’t be anywhere near as memorable as the first Shenmue games. There’s certainly nothing terrible about taking a game in a different direction as long as it’s done right, but lets hope once it is completed, Shenmue 3 will still maintain the essence that made the originals a truly great experience.
Shenmue is a different experience, a game that focuses heavily on Japanese culture and follows the story of a young martial artist in 80s Japan as he punches his way through thugs and gangs of sailors as he tries to find the right people to lead him to his father’s murderer. That alone sets it apart from other games, but with so many original and unique titles these days, Shenmue 3 will have to offer a lot more than just its legacy to really stand out and make its presence felt. Shenmue was a breakthrough game and is seen as a pioneer for many games of today, so it remains to be seen if Shenmue 3 can make its mark in the cutthroat gaming world of today. Shenmue 3, of course, will have its flaws, but with the master that is Yu Suzuki at the helm, the game is surely going to be a worthy installment and we could still possibly see many elements added to the game that made the previous Shenmue games so memorable, albeit on a smaller scale. There is still 18 months to go until Shenmue 3 is released (if there are no delays, of course), so it is hard to judge what the game will be like with it still being in the early stages of development. Still, it is fun to nitpick and predict what the outcome will be and many predictions and assumptions will have already been made about the third installment, with 14 years worth of hype build-up, but only time will truly tell for sure just how successful Shenmue 3 will be and whether it will live up to expectations. Even if the game is unsuccessful, at least gamer’s will finally have closure on what could be the most wanted game ever. Gamer’s and fans alike have been waiting for this moment for years, so it is certainly a time to be excited, if maybe just a little cautious.