Much like the larger main game it’s attached to, Shenmue III’s first post-launch DLC release, Battle Rally, feels less like a cohesive experience and more like a half-baked mish-mash of gameplay ideas and concepts. It’s technically functional and can potentially add a few hours onto a typical Shenmue III playthrough, but what it doesn’t do is the one thing I’m guessing fans wanted it to: advance the game’s story.
Rather than revisit the narrative threads left hanging after the conclusion of Shenmue III’s main story, Battle Rally instead offers up a pair of mini-games that are entirely divided from protagonist Ryo Hazuki’s quest for revenge. Die-hard fans might enjoy getting to spend a little more time in the Bailu Village region where both mini-games are set, but those who care more about the Shenmue story and world will find it tougher to justify investing in the $8 DLC.
Speed Up, Slow Down
Battle Rally is directly accessible from Shenmue III’s main menu, but even if a player has purchased the DLC they must first reach the Niaowu region in the game’s story mode before they can try out the new mini-game modes for themselves. Once a player unlocks access to Battle Rally, they’ll discover that the actual ‘Battle Rally’ mode is just one of two modes included in the DLC, the other being a scavenger hunt mode aptly called ‘Bailu Chan Hunt.’
In the Battle Rally portion of the DLC, players must sprint along a linear path in the hopes of reaching the final goal. Along the way they pass through checkpoints to increase the track’s timer and fight enemies to improve their final score. Said final score is tracked on a leaderboard of sorts, but that “leaderboard” is mostly made up of fictitious competitors whose names and birthdates match those of NPC’s from the main game (this is about as close as the Battle Rally DLC ever comes to linking its mini-games to the larger Shenmue III story).
Perhaps the most intruiging element of the Battle Rally mini-game is that, for the first time ever in the entire Shenmue series, players can control other characters besides Ryo Hazuki. Along with Ryo, the Battle Rally roster includes Ryo’s grumpy friend Wuying Ren and a new female character named Wei Zhen who appeared as a sparring partner NPC in the main game.
Each of the three playable characters has their own attack combos and special moves, and they also each have their own custom values for the mode’s two combat stats: health and attack power. Ryo has more health but less attack power, Ren has higher attack power and lower health, and Wei Zhen is equally balanced in both stats.
As for Bailu Chan Hunt, it’s similar to the optional Niaowu Chan Hunt players could participate in during the main game. As they walk around different parts of Bailu Village, players must track down and find small Bailu Chan figurines hidden in the environment. A helpful “Bailu Chan Tracker” mechanic helps players zero in on the well-camouflaged collectibles, and the Bailu Chan Hunt experience itself is worth at least checking out since finding collectibles is how players unlock stat upgrades and additional courses for Battle Rally.
Sadly, unlike in Battle Rally, only Ryo is playable in Bailu Chan Hunt. However, the mode does at least allow players to sniff around for Bailu Chan figures for as long as they want without any sort of time limit. The rewards that players can unlock through Bailu Chan Hunt also offer some semblance of progression, but such progression never moves beyond the bounds of the Battle Rally DLC itself.
Shenmue III’s disappointingly obtuse and unintuitive combat mechanics quickly sap away what little appeal the Battle Rally mini-game had to begin with. Each of the three playable characters has five special moves (some of which are actually multi-hit combos) attached to a specific series of button inputs, and special moves can also be instantly executed by selecting them and pressing the dedicated special move button (R2 on PS4 for example).
Given the tight time limits imposed on each Battle Rally course, the most efficient strategy for dealing with the thugs that block your progress is to just equip a speedy special move or combo and just spam it the moment you’re in striking distance. Of course, while this is a pretty easy strategy for Ren and Wei Zhen to implement, such is not the case for Ryo and his woefully pitiful array of assigned special moves (for some reason Ys Net gave Ryo both the Elbow Assault and Counter Elbow Assault even though their Shenmue III iterations are virtually the same).
Aside from the stat upgrades unlocked through Bailu Chain Hunt, you also can’t customize the three playable Battle Rally characters in any way. Their special moves are permanently locked to the same small selection of five (even though Ryo can learn many, many more in the main game), and there’s nothing in the way of unlockable outfits or other customization items. This means that, aside from chasing top times on a mostly meaningless leaderboard, the Battle Rally mini-game has virtually no replay value.
After playing through Shenmue III proper, my expectations for what the game’s DLC would entail were admittedly not very high. Still, it’s disheartening to see that, whether because of limited resources or a limited inclination, the best Ys Net could produce for the very first Shenmue DLC ever was a cobbled-together and underbaked side distraction which relies almost entirely on recycled game assets.
There’s still at least one more piece of DLC on the way for Shenmue III, so maybe Ys Net is just saving its best for last. Here’s hoping the next DLC offers an experience that’s a little more substantial and, more importantly, expands the world of Shenmue in a more meaningful way.