Shenmue and the sequel are two of my favourite titles of all-time, so now that Shenmue 3 has finally hit shelves, I feel it appropriate to lock myself in the house and banish all humanity for eternity. At least until the school run.

Being one of the lucky few to get an early copy, there still wasn’t enough time to really make a dent in this. Therefore, I’ve shoehorned this post into a First Impressions one just so that I can give some folk an idea on what this anticipated sequel (can you say that about a third title) is like.

Reunited after almost two decades

Shenhua and Ryo at night

When is Shenmue 3 out on PS4? Right… about… NOW!

When Shenmue was released back on the Dreamcast in the late 90s, it blew many away. At least in my experience. For the first time, you could play a character in an open world doing some of the most monotonous things, but for some reason, it was captivating.

You play Ryo Hazuki, who returns home one day to find his father mid-battle with a mysterious figure named Lan Di. His old man pops his clogs soon after and Ryo sets out to avenge his death. Along the way, he encounters numerous people to interact with – some of which can give him clues to who Lan Di is, others can teach him some martial arts moves. It’s a bit of an opus, but to shorten it a bit, Ryo ends up in China.

If you’re brand new to the series, Ryo’s is a jiu-jitsu expert. Not karate, nor kung fu. Ryo grows up with the skills taught by his father but gradually introduces kung fu moves to form his own style. With Shenmue 3, it’s more of a focus on kung fu, seeing as it’s based in China rather than Japan. The same applies here as Ryo encounters masters and their disciples and learns a few dance moves along the way.

The combat isn’t like the underwater fighting from the originals – the Virtua Fighter model (I liked it, despite my description). Fighting here is a little faster, and you can button mash a little more, but combos are where it’s at. Press a combination of X,O,O and he’ll do a special move during a sparring match with an ally. Get to the ranking stage in a local dojo, and you can spam it with R1. Movements are mastered through practice, which means repetition.

Like any martial art, practice means perfect, so to do this, you need to spar with another practitioner and repeatedly pull off the move. You won’t die in the process, but your level will go all the way up to 11, which is considered a mastered move. You get three special moves to start with then unlock more with a skill book.

Secondly, you can improve your stamina with mini-games such as the horse stance or the one-inch punch. This increases your staying power (ladies) and means you can take a few more hits.

Grinder, Pretty Boys and Scars

So far, Shenmue 3 is very much a grinding game (through choice) as it’s wise to build your stats early on, but also to earn money to buy new skills and to fill your stamina gauge. That’s right, Shenmue 3 introduces a mechanic where each time you run around, or perform an action such as training, you’ll lose stamina – primarily your health.

You can refill this through sleeping like in the old games, or by purchasing food to restore it. I’ll be honest, I don’t like it. It’s not because of change, but there’s already the restriction of time ticking by. I would happily spend my time punching a wooden man all night, but it gets to about 9 pm then poor little Ryo thinks it’s late. Wuss. Plus he’s still wearing that plaster. How deep was that cut?

Don’t compare this to other titles; the character models seem to be a little dated, but that’s because it’s paying homage to the Shenmue series and I have to say, the visuals are gorgeous so far. While Japan was very bleak with its browns and greys in Ryo’s hometown, Bailu is like something out of a Studio Ghibli movie.

Even though it’s set in 1987, it’s as if time has forgotten about the village. It’s unspoilt, tranquil and dare I say, very enticing to spend hours in. One thing that has made it’s way to the village though is the little gacha-gacha toys from the originals. You know, you plonk a coin in, twist the knob and out comes an egg. No, I’m not talking about sex. Who pays for it?

Wait a minute… I recognise him!

I’m the Kickstarter, Twisted Kickstarter

So Ryo looks as vibrant as ever, in the same clothes. He sleeps in them too, the soap dodger. Everyone else has a Shenmue feel to it, but like the move list, upped to 11 – they look much more polished but without reinventing anything. The dialogue is once again fully voiced. By default, it’s in English, but as a purist, I go for the Japanese. I understand enough of it, but not enough where I can’t tell whether the acting is decent. With the English side, not so much. It isn’t bad, it’s just a little generic anime with the ‘uh’s’ and ‘huh’s’ – to complement the Japanese equivalents. It doesn’t always work, but hey hum

I’m fully absorbed in the Shenmue world once again and just typing this is frustrating as it means I’m away from the screen. It’s not perfect or anything. It’s probably more for the fans as it was a Kickstarter before, as we know. If this were a new title, I’d perhaps overlook it a little, but it’s like revisiting something from your childhood, or another emotional experience that maybe changed your life. I don’t know – perhaps you named your kid Ryo, got yourself a forklift truck licence or just like to hang around vending machines.