Shenmue 3: the view from Guilin

December 12, 2019
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Editor’s note: Shenmue’s a game that can do funny things to people. First time round I was obsessed with AM2’s detail-rich world, and its take on a place that seemed oh-so-real – Japan in the mid-80s, specifically life in the unremarkable town of Yokosuka. So obsessed was I that when I first made it over to Japan some years later, the first thing I did was drag my partner to the location that inspired it all – a short hour’s ride from Tokyo itself – and was impressed how Shenmue had captured the place.

The sequel went to Hong Kong, while the third game finds itself in rural China, out in Guilin. How faithful exactly is Shenmue 3’s take on that world? British-Chinese journalist Lu-Hai Liang was born there at the very time the game takes place, so I was fascinated to get his take on how well Shenmue had captured his birthplace.

I didn’t expect to like Shenmue 3. I’d been warned that the game is slow and creaky, and from images I’d glimpsed, the visuals looked like the graphical equivalent of North Korean fashion – simple and outdated. I never played the original Shenmue or its sequel, which came out in 1999 and 2001 in Japan, respectively, on the Sega Dreamcast. Back then I was watching my friend play through the four discs of Final Fantasy 8 on my PlayStation, dreaming of playing football for England, and wondering when the PlayStation 2 was going to come out, with its mythical Emotion Engine. Over the years, I’d heard of the awe and fondness this series evoked in the people who’d played it: the sense of atmospheric reality that Yu Suzuki, the creator of Shenmue, had conjured.

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