Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Shenmue III is going to suck

Listen, I love Shenmue. I've completed the original Dreamcast game a half dozen times, and attempt to play through it every year at Christmas. But it seems like a lot of people have forgotten something about the game:

It's really not good.

The controls are even more obviously dreadful than when the game was released, sixteen years ago. The last decade and a half has been incredibly unkind to the visuals. The story is over-padded, dumb and poorly paced. The script and dialogue are laughably awful. The Virtua Fighter-based combo system has been surpassed by modern combat systems, leaving Shenmue's battles feeling sluggish and boring. The one thing it still does better than nearly any other game I've played, the minute details of the world that Ryo could explore, pick up and examine, was all but dropped by the first sequel, leaving little hope that a third installment will reduce its scope in exchange for focus.

The Kickstarter for a third installment has, at the time of writing, just passed its $2,000,000 funding goal - a thirty-fifth of the Dreamcast original's $70 million budget - with 31 days remaining.

If I'm honest, I never wanted Shenmue to continue. The second game's out-of-nowhere cliffhanger, with a levitating magic sword, was the final straw; the believable, realistic world of Sakuragaoka and Dobuita was what I loved about the game, and by introducing overt supernatural elements - seemingly out of nowhere - the game had lost me.

I'm surprised the Kickstarter has been this successful. As vocal as they were, and continue to be, Shenmue can't have enough fans to justify the kind of budget that's required to produce a game that'll satisfy them. This campaign is undoubtedly a kind of financial proof-of-concept for a larger investor - maybe Sony, since they hosted the announcement at their E3 press conference - to put up the rest of the budget.

But who's going to buy the game apart from the people already clamouring to support it? Who's going to be willing to jump straight into the third installment of a sixteen-year-old period kung fu series? Shenmue isn't going to appeal to the Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed crowd, which is where all the money seems to be, these days. How many people remember Shenmue as anything other than a forum joke?

Especially given the terrible pitch video on the campaign page. My brother sarcastically described it as "really pushing the upper limits of what the Dreamcast can do"; to me, it looks like a particularly impressive third-year computer arts student's showreel. I guess it looks like a $2 million game, but that's not what the series' fans want, and I'm sure it's not what Yu Suzuki wants either.

But even if I'm not going to play it, I do hope Suzuki gets to finish Shenmue. Closure's been a long time coming for its creator as well as its fans - let's just hope Shenmue III doesn't end on another 14-year cliffhanger.