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5 ways Shenmue III could learn from Yakuza

Judge Eyes and Shenmue. What’s the middle link? Yakuza. Toshihiro Nagoshi’s gritty detective drama takes place in the same universe as its gangster-smashing stablemate, and features the same epic rucks and barmy minigames. That’s despite Nagoshi-san previously claiming it would be worlds away from Yakuza. As for Shenmue, well, that’s kind of interesting. The Dreamcast series somewhat inspired Yakuza, with Kazuma Kiryu’s bone-breaking epic seen as something of a spiritual successor to the sailor-searching opus. Now we have Shenmue III on the horizon, playing catch-up – could things come full circle? 

Shenmue has often been compared to Yakuza, and for the most part, that’s fine. Yu Suzuki’s martial arts epic does share some similarities with Sega’s curb-stomping, gangster-fuelled romp, even if just on the surface. Both offer meticulously crafted sandboxes to explore, based on, or at least inspired by real-life locations in Japan (and in Shenmue II’s case, China), and both feature a protagonist who knows how to handle himself in a ruck. Shenmue and Yakuza are also heavily focused on storytelling, though there’s always the chance to venture off the beaten path and indulge in a plethora of optional activities. 

Still, that’s about where the apron strings are cut. Both titles are distinctly unique in both the way they play and feel. For example, Shenmue has a dreamlike, engrossing quality that almost revels in the mundane. Its attempts to immerse you come from innocuous little touches: examining a wardrobe full of Ryo’s clothes; dialling a phone number; sliding a coin into a vending machine for a cheeky Jet Cola; and catching the bus to work. Yes, work. Yakuza on the other hand is extravagant; a blaze of neon-lit streets inhabited by extraordinary people, bathed in a majestic, alluring glow that beckons you to the next karaoke joint or backstreet. Kazuma Kiryu puts as much effort into nailing a high note at karaoke or caving in a bloke’s head with a sofa as Ryo Hazuki does tracking down his father’s killer. It’s totally mental and just a bit silly at times, but therein lies its charm.  Shenmue is comfortable weaving its own path, but Shenmue III could stand to learn a thing or two from its spiritual successor – here’s five ways it could doff its cap, and produce something special.

Better Side Quests

While Shenmue was very much the progenitor for modern-day open-world games, it didn’t really have what you’d call side quests in the traditional sense. Yakuza on the other hand has managed to pack its bustling streets full of interesting (and more often than not, deliciously idiosyncratic) distractions. This is something that Shenmue III could definitely benefit from; giving the player meaningful, bite-sized missions gained by interacting with characters in the world, which wasn’t really a thing back in the original games. I mean, most of the people you speak to don’t give you the time of day (or even have the ability to blink, for that matter), and are only there to point you in the direction of the next clue. Obviously, you’d need an incentive to actually do these missions; how about a tasty move scroll as a reward? Or hell, even a cool 80s mix cassette wouldn’t go amiss.

A smaller, dense open-world

Yakuza’s richly-detailed sandboxes aren’t the biggest out there, but it doesn’t matter when they’re dense. And to be honest, I’d much prefer a world that’s smaller in size that’s jam-packed with things to see and do, than something that’s massive but as barren as a Steve Brookstein gig. To be fair, I’m not knocking Shenmue’s environments; even today, the meticulous level of detail shines through despite them being almost 20-years-old, and the fact they were powered by the Dreamcast is a fine testament to the power of Sega’s ill-fated white box. However, Shenmue III definitely needs to go to the next level. More people to interact with, less backtracking, increased mobility, fast-travel options, a few extra opportunities to get into a scrap, and for the love of god, no more sailors. 

Revamp the combat system

One of the best things about Yakuza is its combat system. Yes, it can get a bit button-mashy at times, but it’s accessible, diverse, and just bloody fun. When you’re not curb-stomping foes into the pavement with the heel of Kiryu’s snakeskin shoes, you’re smacking them about using a traffic cone, money gushing from their broken bodies. It’s a bit ridiculous to be honest, but ruddy awesome nonetheless. Shenmue never felt all that accessible, and in all honesty, was a bit awkward at times due to the more complex button combinations that made it more suited to one-on-one brawls than the often crowded punch-ups that Ryo would find himself in. It would also be beneficial to have the ability to switch up styles like Kiryu could in Yakuza 0; Ryo amasses an eclectic range of techniques during his adventures, so with Shenmue III he should have gained an awesome repertoire of moves. Trouble is, these were hard to juggle in past games as you had to swap out moves that used the same button. Having the ability to switch styles would easily solve this problem and make managing your arse-kicking abilities that much more seamless.

More playable characters

Shenmue is Ryo’s story, first and foremost. There’s absolutely no arguing with that. However, he does meet some interesting folk along the way, many of which have been instrumental in helping him get as far as he has. Remember Guizang from the original game? He injured his leg at the climax of Shenmue, but said he’d catch up with Ryo when he’s healed. He’s also a bloody good fighter and an interesting sort of chap, so it would be pretty cool to step into his shoes for a bit. Then there’s Ren, the street-smart gang leader who teamed up with Ryo in Shenmue II to battle against the nefarious Yellowheads and their lumbering overlord, Dou Niu. Wouldn’t it be pretty cool to see Ren’s point of view for a bit, perhaps teaming up with some of the Havens to give Ryo some much-needed muscle in his quest for revenge? 

Lots of Sega games and other crazy shit

Okay, we’ve had stuff like Hang-On, Afterburner, and Outrun, but how about some more Sega classics? Virtua Fighter would be a good shout, and how about stepping out of the comfort zone with mini-games? We’ve had forklift racing and duck racing in Shenmue I & II, respectively, so why doesn’t Ryo try his hand at something else in the sequel? Hell, they could bring back the whole kitten babysitting thing from the original game and turn it into a full-blown simulator. Ryo’s a sensitive soul after all, plus who doesn’t love babysitting kittens? I’m actually babysitting a cat now and it’s lovely, although the little bugger did try to bite my finger the other night.

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