So two weeks ago I replayed Shenmue I and II on the HD compilation, in preparation for Shenmue III.
Thoughts on first two:
Shenmue 1 is the best in the series imo, the scale and intimacy of its world is phenomenal, QTEs aren't abused, the forklift section is fun.
Shenmue 2 is a bit of a stepdown, it nails the environments but they're not as intimate as Shenmue 1, the QTEs are a bit too heavily relied upon. Furthermore, it doesn't make a lot of sense that the forklift isn't available as an option for beating the money gates -- this leads to cheesing the gambling system.
Both games have absolutely phenomenal combat, with the main issue in both being camera control and ability to focus on enemies.
Great art direction, great graphics for its time and great music.
The way you learn moves and how that ties into the combat directional inputs is very uniquely Shenmue
I can easily recommend folks try the first two games via this HD compilation
I marathoned both on a staycation in under 40 hours, by the end I wanted more Shenmue and was ready for 3.
These are truly some of the best games ever made, especially considering the time for which they were made. The good news is they've aged well, play the HD compilation and you're in for a treat.
Thoughts on three:
Shenmue 3 immediately threw me off with its implementation of a stamina system that requires you to eat throughout a day to be able to run, as I'll discuss the game has many shortcomings but most feel like they can be blamed on budget. Not this choice and it's a bad one.
The combat is a massive step-down from the first two games Virtua Fighter basis and I describe it as "Arkham Shenmue", the sacrifice of the combat system is very likely due to budget
There's a lot of padding and gating that didn't exist in a serious way in the first two games, in the first two you can often sequence skip to a target destination if you deduce how to get there or already know how, in Shenmue 3 this is largely impossible, if I figured something out before Ryo and tried to go to the destination it wouldn't work and I'd need to hunt for a random NPC to make Ryo aware of what I already knew. Potentially tied to budget (having to record and script alternative events/dialog).
The game has a lot of unnecessary padding, near the end there's a 5,000 yuan moneygate but you can't cheese the gambling system in this game and the forklift doesn't pay out the same way relative to this gate. This is another odd choice because the first game is 20 hours long and folks are saying it's taking about 26 hours to beat 3. Why not target a shorter length? Another odd design choice not explicitly tied to budget.
Gambling loop is bad, even if it's more authentic. Buy gambling tokens > gamble > trade out tokens for prizes > sell prizes vs. Shenmue II loop: Money > Gamble > Money.
Environment, art direction and design are great. Graphically I'm impressed and feel he retained the Shenmue "vibe" with the locales. Disagree with folks in here about the faces being bad, I think they are stylized and I like them.
I cannot easily suggest Shenmue 3 to a newcomer to the IP, it's for mega fans who can live with the sacrifices to see some more story, though the story doesn't move much in this game.
Where are the Sega arcade games?
I was a KS backer. Don't regret it but me and some friends had talks at the beginning of this KS that we would prefer he save the budget and just build Shenmue 3 in the engine they used for Shenmue 2, re-using Dreamcast assets. To be honest, I'd preferred he had done that with the visual limitations and all vs. sacrifice so much gameplay that made this series unique and special. My hope for four should it happen is that Sega will become involved, help resolve the combat situation and lend more IP to the game.
There are elements that I am loving about Shenmue 3, namely Ryo and Shenhua's relationship, but it was a mistake to not finish the story if this game wasn't going to modernize gameplay in order to pull in new fans.
I want to play through, but deep down I'm asking myself what's the point? It took nearly 20 years to get this made, and it's not going to do well enough to gain funds for a part 4.
Don't regret it but me and some friends had talks at the beginning of this KS that we would prefer he save the budget and just build Shenmue 3 in the engine they used for Shenmue 2, re-using Dreamcast assets. To be honest, I'd preferred he had done that with the visual limitations and all vs. sacrifice so much gameplay that made this series unique and special
There was talk of this around the time of the kickstarter, and I think the graphical style holds up enough to have made this a valid choice, however many people said that it would have ended up more expensive to do it this way than with using UE4. I guess that game engines have advanced a lot over the past 20 years, and modern engines are more streamlined and automated. Suzuki himself praised the UE4 engine (although I'm sure he would have preferred to create his own new engine, if given a large enough budget).