So I will immediately start with this disclaimer – I haven’t played the two previous Shenmue games. I think going into this game without any pre-conceptions has allowed me to see the game for what it is, rather than with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia clouding me… Although you could equally argue that the game is totally lost on me because of this; this is my brutally honest first impressions review of this game.
So, one of the few things I went into this game knowing is that it is a sequel, and the most recent part of this game was released around 20 years ago on the Dreamcast. Boy oh boy can you tell it was a follow on from then – I think I’ve been spoilt with up to date visuals and the beautiful graphics that games are capable of in this generation. This game looks like it’s been ported from a PS2, rather than a new release for PS4. This is one of the elements that I think are completely lost on me as a complete newcomer to the series. To me the visuals are inconsistent and they really do not represent the abilities that are available these days; characters are pretty much only able to communicate to each other through cutscenes, one of the most tedious parts for me is when you get a cutscene every single time Ryo takes his trainers off at Shenhua’s home – It is really unfortunate that it took 20 years for this game to come out as it is just too out of place in this era.
The soundtrack to this game is quite tedious and repetitive after hours of playing, it seemed to be the same 2 minutes of music on a loop to me. The voice acting is awful, most of the characters are monotone, and when a large chunk of the game focuses on talking to other people, this gets old – Fast. There are also some hilarious translation hiccups, but these also wear thin when it’s the 17th time you’ve had to ask the same character the same question.
This game is just too dated for me – As I have said, most of the conversations are through cutscenes, you can choose which character you speak to (which is pretty much anybody you can approach), but there is no way to direct the conversation and you cannot skip these. Moving around areas is clunky and clumsy, trying to navigate Ryo through some of the areas in the game was more than a little frustrating – The combat system is also too clunky for me; you need to train to improve your moves, but the training system itself is tedious too. There is a specific training area in this game, and there are a few different characters that you can spar with to practice, but this wasn’t enjoyable to me at all… The game also needs food and time management, where you need to make sure you have enough health from food, which you have to buy, and I have only found menial, mind numbing ways to earn money to do this besides a lot of gambling games. Wood chopping in the village has been the most palatable, but the whole process is very strange and it takes a long time to earn enough that is beneficial in the longer term.
I’m not going to go into the story too much in an effort to avoid spoilers, but I can say that this game is a direct continuation from the previous games, so is set in the 80’s itself as well. Ryo is able to speak to most of the NPCs in the game, and this is basically how you learn where you need to go and who you need to speak to in order to move the story forwards. For all of the elements of the game, I can imagine that the story is going to be the biggest driving force for a lot of people wanting to play this – I know that seems a bit of a redundant statement, but it definitely isn’t the breath-taking visuals or astounding music score drawing people in. All I will say about the story is that it may not answer the questions that people have waited 20 years for.
As you can probably tell, this game really hasn’t been one for me. Walking in as a newcomer may have been a mistake, but like I’ve said, I think it has allowed me to see the game for what it is without getting too emotionally invested in it. This game doesn’t make me want to play it for hours, it doesn’t make me want to fully research the lore and history of the previous games and characters, and most basically it didn’t entertain me. Even if you have played the other two games, I wouldn’t recommend anybody to rush out to get this.
I could elaborate further into why this game is disappointing, but I don’t want to turn this into purely slamming this instalment. I’m sure there will be people who are huge fans of the series who will still enjoy this game, but for me it’s too little, far too late.