Next week, on November 19, the long-awaited Shenmue III will finally launch in full, reviving a beloved series which has lain mostly dormant since 2003. Shenmue III’s announcement during the 2015 E3 conference quickly made history when its subsequent Kickstarter campaign reached its initial $2 million funding goal mere hours after launch. When the campaign ended a month later, it had raised roughly $6.3 million, making Shenmue III the most-funded Kickstarter game project in the platform’s history.
All this is to say there’s a lot of buzz surrounding Shenmue III, but also a few questions that need answering ahead of its launch. Whether you’re a younger gamer who’s curious about all the Shenmue hype, a dedicated fan who’s looking forward to slipping back into protagonist Ryo Hazuki’s iconic brow bomber jacket, or somewhere in-between, we’ve got the answers to the questions you’re asking.
What’s the big deal about Shenmue anyways?
Explaining the various reasons why Shenmue is such a beloved property and how it was able to garner so much crowdfunding support despite being nearly two decades old would take an entire article unto itself (in fact, we wrote just such an article to commemorate last year’s launch of the Shenmue I & II HD Remasters).
The short answer is that, back when the original Shenmue launched in 1999 (!!!) and Shenmue II followed a few years later in 2001, both games pushed the boundaries of what video games were capable of at the time. Both games dropped players into intricate open worlds where they could freely explore and interact with a diverse cast of non-player characters, each of whom had their own personalities, daily routines, and fully voiced dialogue lines.
While 18-year-old protagonist Ryo Hazuki was mainly motivated by revenge for the murder of his father (and had the fighting skills to see him through when his righteous anger inevitably got him into trouble), the player was free to explore each game’s world at their leisure. Across both games players could wander through recreations of 1980’s Japan and China, all the while working jobs, buying capsule toys, sparring with friendly martial arts masters, and learning more about the mysterious Phoenix Mirror that predicated Ryo’s father’s death.
As we also noted, the first two Shenmue games haven’t aged very well, and their poor critical performance is why the series lay dormant for so long after the second game’s release. A small but dedicated fanbase held out hope that Ryo’s journey would one day continue, and during E3 2015 Shenmue series creator Yu Suzuki finally vindicated Shenmue’s most ardent fans.
What’s the story behind Shenmue III?
Shenmue III picks up pretty much right where Shenmue II left off way back in 2001. After following a trail of clues through the Chinese provinces of Hong Kong, Kowloon, and finally Guilin, Ryo Hazuki has met a young woman named Shenhua whose destiny appears to be intertwined with his own. It turns out Shenhua’s father is the man who created the Phoenix Mirror and its counterpart, the Dragon Mirror, two artifacts which main antagonist Lan Di (the man who killed Ryo’s father) needs to locate an ancient treasure of China’s Qing Dynasty.
The revelation of the two mirrors’ origins acted as a cliffhanger for Shenmue II, so in Shenmue III players will begin by traveling to Shenhua’s home, Bailu Village, where they must learn more about the origins of the Phoenix and Dragon Mirrors. According to developer Ys Net, players will eventually travel to two additional regions, a busy riverside port called Choubu and a final region called Baisha whose history, according to Ys Net, is inspired by the military grandeur of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga.
As an added treat for existing fans, Ryo will also be able to make long-distance phone calls back to Japan so he can speak with his friends and family from the original Shenmue.
How big is Shenmue III’s world?
We don’t know exactly how big each of Shenmue III’s explorable regions will be, but given how much money Ys Net was able to raise, we can expect it will have at least a similar scale as the previous games (which were both pretty big considering the console limitations of the time) if not bigger. In addition to all the crowdfunding the game raised, Ys Net also announced a partnership with publisher Deep Silver in 2017 which would expand their development budget further and allow the studio to create even bigger in-game regions than previous anticipated.
At the very least, Shenmue III will retain many of the same side activities and pursuits that gave the first two games so much of their charm. Players will be able to buy capsule toys, engage in sparring sessions, play arcade games, and even drive a forklift in some capacity (a clever callback to a portion of the first game where Ryo was briefly employed as a forklift operator).
What platforms is Shenmue III launching for?
Shenmue III will launch for Windows PC and PS4 on November 19. In both cases potential buyers will be able to purchase a digital copy, though in the case of PC Shenmue III will be exclusive to the Epic Game Store for an entire year, after which point it will come to Steam. Interestingly enough, Ys Net has also spoken of a physical PC version (a bit of a rarity for PC games these days), though the physical edition will still require the Epic Game Launcher.
On PS4 players also have the option of a physical copy, though they’ll likely be hard to get for those who didn’t back the Kickstarter or secure a pre-order in advance.
Will Shenmue III come to Xbox One?
Unfortunately, as of this writing Ys Net has no plans to port Shenmue III over to Xbox One. Of course, given the series’ long and tumultuous history, and the fact that the Head of Xbox himself Phil Spencer confirmed back in 2014 that a then theoretical Shenmue III was the most requested sequel among Xbox users, this is definitely a “never say never” situation.
If Shenmue III ends up selling really well (and it seems likely to do just that), then its odds of being ported to additional platforms will undoubtedly grow as well. For now, though, Xbox One users will have to make do with last year’s Shenmue I & II HD Remasters.
Is Shenmue III the final game in the saga?
Amazingly enough, Yu Suzuki has said he wants to take the saga of Shenmue beyond the scope of Shenmue III, and so even though fans have been waiting for a very long time (in some cases nearly 20 years), the highly anticipated third game won’t fully wrap up the entire Shenmue storyline. In fact, just last year Yu Suzuki told IGN that, at a minimum, he’d want to tell the full story of Shenmue over the course of at least four, if not five, games in total.
Some fans are understandably worried considering how long they had to wait for Shenmue III, but to his credit Yu Suzuki has remained steadfast in his grand vision of Shenmue’s potential since the very beginning, and he’s clearly not willing to compromise that vision even if it takes him 20+ years to fully tell it. As we mentioned above, there’s little doubt that Shenmue III will perform well financially (accomplishing what its two predecessors couldn’t), but now there’s just that little extra pressure since the prospect of a potential Shenmue IV/V likely depend on it.