It was released for PC and PlayStation 4 on November 19, 2019. The PC version is a timed-exclusive to the Epic Games Store. It is unknown how long this will be, although Yu Suzuki said, "Probably one year." It will eventually be released on Steam.
Shenmue III is developed by YS Net (Yu Suzuki Net), Yu Suzuki's development studio, and is published by Deep Silver instead of Sega since Sega licensed the Shenmue IP to Deep Silver.
Shenmue III begins March 21, 1987. Ryo Hazuki has made his way to Guilin, China in search of his father's killer, Lan Di. There he meets a new travelling companion, Shenhua Ling, and learns of a legend from her village that has foretold their path together. The story continues as Ryo and Shenhua start off on a new journey that will take them farther into enemy territory, deeper into mystery.
Part I: Bailu Village
Shenmue III begins in Bailu Village in Guilin. Shenhua begins to suspect that perhaps Lan Di and the Chi You Men abducted her adoptive father, Yunshen Yuan, which would explain his sudden mysterious disappearance, and so she intends to rescue him, her motives overlapping with Ryo's.
Ryo and Shenhua discover that a group of thugs have attacked and raided several stonemasons in search of the Phoenix Mirror, leaving their houses a mess. This includes stonemason Guowei Xu. With the help of martial arts expert JiuSi Sun, Ryo defeats the thug leader, Yanlang. Shenhua interrogates Yanlang and learns her father and Xu are in Niaowu. Ryo and Shenhua are also attacked by familiar face Chai, but Ryo thwarts him away.
Ryo and Shenhua also learn more about Bailu's history, such as how the Phoenix and Dragon Mirror were created by Yuan's grandfather to welcome a Chinese dynasty visiting Bailu.
Part II: Niaowu
The second area, Niaowu, is a riverside village with lots of shops, souvenir stores, hotels and temples. Ryo and Shenhua stay at Hotel Niaowu and search for traces of her father. Along the way, they encounter a mysterious woman, Feng Li, and encounter a criminal gang called the Red Snakes who have been terrorizing shopkeepers.
Ryo meets Wuying Ren again by chance, who has come to Niaowu in search of treasure. Ryo discovers the Red Snakes hideout in a warehouse located by the hotel. Ryo tries to defeat the gang but is unable to defeat their leader, Longqi Ge. Later, Ryo has Ren help him try to fight the Red Snakes leader, but the two are unsuccessful. Ryo tries to pinpoint a weakness in the leader's style, and has experts Qiu Hsu and Xianzi Bei assist him.
When Ryo and Ren plan on fighting the Red Snakes leader again, they find Feng Li alone in their warehouse hideout. Ryo and Ren ask where the Red Snakes went. She vaguely tells them that the land belongs to her, so she had them leave. She tells them that the gang are in the old castle and abducted Shenhua, even smiling as she says this. When Ryo and Ren return to Hotel Niaowu, they find a letter from Feng saying that if Ryo wants to save his "little girlfriend", he should come to the old castle and bring the Phoenix Mirror with him. In a flashback, Feng is seen lying to Shenhua, telling her that the Red Snakes captured Ryo, and Shenhua leaves with her.
Bei agrees to help Ryo cross the river to the old castle. Ren also shows Ryo a fake Phoenix Mirror he found by chance at a local store, which could serve helpful in rescuing Shenhua.
Part III: Old Castle
Ryo takes a boat to the old castle with Ren, Bei, Hsu, and Shiling Lin who is a shrine maiden who has taken a liking to Ryo. Ryo finds Yuan and Xu locked in a cell and releases them after defeating Chai.
Ryo and Ren find Niao Sun waiting for them. Ryo realizes Niao is a disguise of Feng Li. Knowing that if Niao realizes the mirror is a counterfeit that Shenhua could die, Ryo trades Niao the real Phoenix Mirror in exchange for Shenhua's life.
Ryo and Ren fight their way to the top of the castle, defeating the Red Snakes leader. Ryo confronts Lan Di, intending to complete his revenge, but Lan Di proves too powerful for Ryo. Niao has her bodyguards burn the headquarters, and Ryo and Ren are forced to flee.
The group leaves Niaowu by boat. Ryo, Shenhua and Ren are last seen walking along the Great Wall of China.
If the player makes it to July 31st, Elder Yeh is seen talking about how all hope is lost. Lan Di tells Ryo that he has obtained the mirror and Ryo has outlived his purpose. Lan Di fatally strikes Ryo and Shenhua screams "NO!" Lan Di stares at Shenhua before walking away.
Shenmue III is an adventure game featuring exploring China and occasional combat. It is very similar to the previous games.
Save data can not be imported from Shenmue I & II, due to the technical age of both games, so the player must make a fresh start.
Ryo is alone for most of his investigation, despite that Shenhua is his companion who only follows him in certain rare moments. The two have a hidden relationship mechanic where their current relationship can affect conversations. It was said that many NPCs in the game have their own "affinity" meter where Ryo will need to spend time and try to befriend them in order to receive help back, although it is unclear how much depth there is to this system in the final game.
The game features a stamina section where running and fighting drains Ryo's energy. Apart from sleeping at the end of the day, Ryo can restore energy by eating food in the inventory. He can also restore health during battles, but only if bottles of Snake Power are obtained. Up to 4 bottles can be used per battle.
Unlike past games, Ryo's health does not automatically rejuvenate after battles and prolonged hunger will lead to low stamina and the inability to run. This is a major change compared to the previous games, where Ryo's health would always return to max and food did not have major purpose.
Money is important to obtain in Shenmue III. The game features an economy system where prices of items fluctuate between locations, so finding the cheapest is recommended.
In Niaowu, Ryo can make phone calls to Japan to catch up with the lives of characters from previous games.
When interacting with NPCs, their name will be shown on-screen for convenience.
There will be mini-games, such as Lucky Hit, turtle and frog racing, and throwing stones in a bucket.
The camera can now be fully rotated around Ryo, instead of only being able to show his back. There is now a first person mode. By clicking the left analog stick, the player can adjust the camera distance from Ryo.
The weather system is a bit more realistic. For example, if it rains, then puddles will remain for the rest of the day, and previously dry dirt will turn into muddy mush. Like previous games, one in-game day passes in approximately one hour.
The player can feel a bit more fashionable and customize Ryo's clothing, and wear different shirts, pants and shoes, although they must be obtained.
Part-Time Jobs return, a major one being wood chopping. In Niaowu, there is an optional forklift job. Ryo can unlock arcade cabinets in the arcade via this.
Capsule toys return, as well as finding sets to sell in exchange for money and items. Ryo can now collect herbs and sell herb sets.
Like past games, there are some side quests, one major one being finding miniature Chobu-chan (bird) statues at every shop in Niaowu. There are also trophies.
New Game Plus is available. Money, tokens, skill books, skill levels, wooden dummy practice level and kung fu level are carried over. All story-related items are deleted.
Because not everyone is into the fighting aspect of Shenmue (as even reaching the endings of the first two games can be difficult due to the mandatory fighting, some of them which are hard), there are be four difficulty levels. This will make the game more accessible for casuals without hurting those who prefer challenge. The difficulty can be changed at any time.
The four levels are:
- Easy (EXP 2.0x, player level +18)
- Normal (EXP 1.4x, player level +6)
- Hard (EXP 1.0x, player level +0)
- Very Hard (EXP 0.9x, player level -6)
Unlike previous Shenmue games, the combat in Shenmue III is harder for those who mash buttons randomly, and in order to win, the player must be on the defensive side more and keep their distance.
A new AT “automatic” system is present, which allows people who can’t handle input commands to do moves easily by pressing one trigger. 5 moves in total can be put on the AT system. An MT “Manual” system is present as well which will require you to input the moves like in previous games. The more you use a certain move, the stronger it gets, until you “master” it.
There will be multiple dojos in the game which Ryo can train at, which will increase his stamina and power. There are also three combat mini-games which also help; rooster steps, one-inch punch and horse stance.
Skill Books can be collected to acquire new moves.
Shenmue III was originally planned to be developed for the Dreamcast but due to the dwindling sales of the console and its games and the huge losses Sega incurred between 1998 and 2001 (at 2001 losses hit an all-time low of approximately 51,750,000,000 Yen) it did not seem financially viable for Sega to develop a sequel to a game that cost $70,000,000 for a console that was no longer profitable.
However, of the $70,000,000 budget the developer had spent the budget on, all the research and resources necessary to create all the further installments of the Shenmue saga, in fact the Shenmue story was already finished and planned out, the research for all further titles is complete. The character designs were complete and there were still hundreds of gigabytes of uncompressed textures ready to be ported for development on any console the developer would be creating Shenmue III for.
At E3 2015 at Sony's press conference, series creator Yu Suzuki announced that Shenmue III would be crowdfunded.
Through a Kickstarter campaign, Shenmue III subsequently hit its initial $2 million (USD) goal within a mere 8 hours, becoming the fastest-funded video game in Kickstarter history. The stretch goals extended up to $11 million. The Kickstarter finished at $6.33 million. Shenmue III became the most funded video game on Kickstarter with 69,320 people helping to bring back the Shenmue series back to life.
The game was developed using Unreal Engine 4 for both PC and PlayStation 4.
Its release date was set for December 2017, although this was delayed to the second half of 2018, then to August 27, 2019, and then to November 19, 2019. These delays were in order to ensure the game is polished. In the meantime, HD remasters of the first two games were released in 2018.
In September 2018, additional crowdfunding from other sites (such as Paypal) ended, making the total crowdfunding 7 million.
In January 2019, the English voice acting, which started recording the previous year, was noted to be about 70-80% complete.
When the game started development in 2015, numerous articles online speculated that Shenmue III would be a "scam" in the sense that the final game would be underwhelming, as Kickstarted games are often notorious for this. In addition, it was revealed after the Kickstarted had launched that Sony would also be helping to fund the game, a fact which would make many fans feel like they would not need to donate as much.
Some pre-release character models seen in trailers and screenshots were criticized. Many feel that they seemed oddly animated, doll-like and lacked facial expressions, although they are more polished in the final game.
Some controversy was due to the PC version being a timed-exclusive on Epic, although it was remedied when it was announced Kickstarter backers could change their platform of choice.
Shenmue III received generally positive reception, although mainly from those who were already Shenmue fans. The PlayStation 4 version has a 7/10 Metascore and an 8/10 user score. People praised the graphics of the environments and other aspects, like the music and the amount of exploration and activities to do.
Some fans criticized several aspects, such as finding the stamina system annoying. Some feel the game is "padded", such as when Ryo has to obtain 2000 to buy wine for an old man. The player can't skip cutscenes and a lot of dialog, making some moments feel tedious and repetitive.
Some fans felt that the story could have been more developed, especially with the unclear future of the series. Some feel the story should have concluded with III, although other fans prefer an open-ended ending and would not want a rushed ending.
Some of the Kickstarter integration has been criticized due to the fourth-wall breaks which ruins immersion for some. These include a "Save Shenmue" building in Niaowu, a backer commentary book in Hotel Niaowu, and the penultimate battle in the game is against a group of Kickstarter backers.
The voice acting is generally regarded as decent, although one exception is the Nozomi Harasaki phone call who sounds very different compared to her original voice actress, as well as the awkwardness of them suddenly calling each other by their surnames.
Future and sequels
Yu Suzuki said he was always confident that the rest of the story of the series would be told. He said that Shenmue III is not the end of the series from a story perspective and that Shenmue III will be open for a sequel and that is is not possible to fit the rest of the series into III. He estimated that Shenmue III is only 40% of his vision of the series, and that ideally, a Shenmue IV or V would be the end of the series. At the end of Shenmue III, there is a gratitude message from Yu Suzuki saying he still intends to create Shenmue IV.
It is unclear if there will be a Shenmue IV, and if it would be crowd-funded again, although it would be faster to create due to much of the assets and systems for III already available, in addition to the voice acting roles for the major cast already selected. When a forum poll was conducted about whether or not fans would back another Kickstarter, the results were about 50/50.
Some fans have also posited that if making games is not viable, then Shenmue movies could be produced using the Unreal Engine 4 assets of III, just so the story of the Shenmue saga would be complete. For example, Shenmue IV and V could be a duology of two movies, each about 2 hours.
There will be apparently be three DLC planned for Shenmue III. One is story-related and is implied to feature Shuqin Zhang. The other ones are focused on combat and a casino.
- One of the major complaints of Shenmue II (due to the floating sword in the ending) as well as the cancelled Shenmue Online (which featured characters throwing fireballs) was that players did not like the supernatural elements in the series which has been mainly realistic. In response, Shenmue III does not feature supernatural elements.
- Yu Suzuki said there were plans of a snail racing mini-game but they had to be dropped. Because snails are slow, Ryo would need to visit later in the day to see the results.
- Shenmue III was supposed to feature an area called Baisha Village which would feature a "siege game reminiscent of the Warring Kingdoms." It was cut out from the final game, likely to time/budget constraints.