Let us start this assessment with a confession: we are not done yet Shenmue III. Pixels progress at their own pace, and this is probably the best way to taste this fascinating, outdated drink. This adventure game is the sequel to a classic released in 2001, funded in 2015 on Kickstarter, originally planned for 2017 and finally launched on November 19. If we had to hurry to see the end, it would be known. As a martial arts master tells the hero during the adventure:
“Your problem is that you are in too much of a hurry.”
The game system is an unprecedented ode to slowness. Like the energy meter, which deflates as soon as the hero runs and fights, but is saved when he walks. A strange, contemplative and woolly experience of a game that rewards slowness and lethargy.
The school for daily play
“There are no traffic jams in the movies, there is no downtime. Movies move like trains, you see? Like trains & night”, Truffaut said to one of his characters The American night. Shenmue III is a kung fu film that is said to have stopped at the dock and had the spectator unfold his luggage, move in and live to the rhythm of the passing hours.
This quay is that of Bailu, a Chinese village where Ryo Hazuki, a young Japanese man who left for China in the footsteps of his father’s murderer, arrives. Then Niawo, a beautiful port city reserved for the last third of the adventure, when the investigation had the surprising idea of continuing.
Because when it comes to martial arts, revenge and investigation, the reality is very different: Shenmue III is primarily a daily game. The series was born in the late nineties, when the first internal clocks of the consoles led the designers to imagine games that come into contact with time. The Legend of Zelda: Majoras Maskand his moon is about to fall on the kingdom within three days; Shenmueand the regulated life of the port of Yokusaka in Japan; and Animal crossingand his cute animal village: everyone is more interested in the gentle course of the sun in the sky than in the events they tell, paving the way for slower, compelling experiences.
The Nokia 3310 video game
Shenmue III is one of them, and his very specific rhythm quickly erases the intrigue. Ryo, stoic Japanese, object of eternal desire of the adult villagers of Bailu, quickly learns to interfere with the daily life of the village, play hide and seek with the children, harvest wood to make money, practice kung-fu, pluck wild flowers, buy turnips, gamble and go back to bed wisely every evening around 9 p.m.
Sometimes a bandit appears to simulate that the scenario is progressing, but nobody is really fooled. The story of Shenmue III spans just over twenty hours, with a lot of forced back and forth and fake phone numbers, without telling much. But the game of Yu Suzuki is clearly not for that. In one of the mini games, Ryo attends turtle racing and it’s hard not to see it as an abyss: the goal of the game is to go as slow as possible.
“Red Dead Redemption II” in the Far East
In some respects Shenmue III gives the impression of being the game whose Red Dead Redemption II would have been the prototype. The blockbuster of Rockstar Games fluctuated between intense action scenes, tribute to Western cinema and long contemplative or social phases, sometimes giving the player the impression that he is being torn between two different games.
The work of Yu Suzuki is at the same time more modest, more radical and more coherent. We get here by asking passers-by to find their way. The card is not complete or interactive; it is a simple map of the area, sketched by hand. It is not possible to take the horse or train. We walk carefully and try not to go wrong. Regenerating walking experience, all smartphones disabled.
Another common point: as Red Dead Redemption II, Shenmue III eyeing genre cinema, here the kung fu film; but never pretend to replace a movie. What it offers in a supposed way is the ability to experience a cinematic genre on the screen, at its own pace.
This China is not the real China, but it was seen by a Japanese, Yu Suzuki, as he imagined it in 1987, at the height of the golden age of the kungfu film in Japan, and the rediscovery of Chinese myths and landscapes. Death game, by Bruce Lee, inspires play Kung fu 1984; Akira Toriyama publishes the first albums of Dragon ball, initiation journey that leads to the mountains of Gulin, in 1986; Ryu challenges Lee on the Chinese wall in the first Street Fighter, ode to martial arts, in 1987.
Bailu, this historic village of IXe century that we discover in full bloom of cherry trees, it is the fantasy of eternal China, a kind of dream postcard. But it is also a crazy China, with its share of contradictions. Such as these Chinese villagers who speak Japanese, road signs in English and these mini-games that congratulate you in Mandarin.
Sweet bauble at the time our flight
Sometimes, Shenmue III gives the impression of being a flea market porcelain, at the same time beautiful, precious, fragile and dated at the same time. His clarifications are from a different era, his gaze is a thing of the past, but there is an outdated charm, an identity, almost an originality, of his pink mists. The languid rhythm has no equivalent today; his landscapes, although images of Epinal, evoke a distant whose magic works.
Shenmue III, you might think, is a game over time. It is not correct. It is a time game that we let pass. We play it as we see clouds passing by, filled with a calming peace, somewhere between the chosen boredom, the mental journey and the awareness of the vanity of everything.
Sorry, but we have to go back and saw wood.
- Shenmue III exists, and it is already a beacon of hope
- very beautiful, with a timeless charm;
- the original kung fu simulation side;
- sweet as a camomile before bed.
We did not like:
- the very soft introduction (the rest too, but we have gotten used to it);
- a narrow open world filled with invisible walls;
- spectacularly poorly filmed cut-scenes;
- logging into a video game to win virtual pennies.
It’s more for you if:
- you love tai chi chuan, turtles, aquariums and light kitsch posters;
- you are looking for an even slower game than Red Dead Redemption II ;
- you are a fan of Shenmue (and hesitate to buy the game a second time);
- you learn Chinese AND Japanese.
It is not for you if:
- you love F-Zero, Wipeout, Fast RMXand all that goes very quickly;
- You evaluate a game on the quality of the facial animations.