Many Sega fans should be able to recall the anger that transpired when it was announced that Microsoft snapped up the rights to Shenmue II, just one month prior to itâ€™s US Dreamcast release. The game was eventually released in Europe, but Americans would have to endure another year of waiting to see the fate of Ryo Hazuki. Shenmue II fast became the most imported PAL title ever, with thousands of American fans seizing the chance to play the game. Microsoft has finally delivered their port of Shenmue II, so get ready to go looking for sailors, collecting toys, playing arcade games, and maybe go and discover why your father was murdered, if you can spare the time.
Shenmue II picks up right were the last game left off, with Ryo landing in Aberdeen, Hong Kong. Ryo intends to find Master Lishao Tao in Wan Chai, but within minutes of landing on the dock, his bag and money are stolen. Ryo must recover his possessions, find out the truth behind the Phoenix mirror and his father's past, and attempt to confront his father's killer, Lan Di. If you didn't actually see the events of the first game, Microsoft have been nice enough to provide a free copy of Shenmue: The Movie, a feature length movie detailing all of the events which took place during the first game. If you can't spare 90 minutes, there is a much shorter movie on the game disc, called the Digest movie.
I'm looking for sailors
The narrative forms the core of the Shenmue II experience - you control practically every aspect of Ryo's life during the game thanks to the F.R.E.E. engine (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment). You essentially have free reign over what you wish to do - instead of finding clues to further the game's plot, you can mess around collecting toys, playing Yu Suzuki arcade games, gamble, consume drinks and work at different jobs and so on. Ryo keeps a journal which automatically records any hints and tips he receives during the game, as well as recording the important details of any conversations or cut scenes which take place. The journal is essentially your key to remembering what do to in the game; Shenmue II can become very immersive at times, and you may often forget what you're meant to be doing next.
The F.R.E.E. engine has seen a few enhancements since its debut in Shenmue. You can now choose to fast forward time when Ryo is forced to wait around somewhere until a certain point of time, which should please some of the fans and critics of the original. Markers can be placed at specific locations around the world if you need to remember the exact placement of a location. NPCs around the world are much more helpful to Ryo as well as they will lead you to specific locations that you're looking for. Finally, the last major enhancement is the ability to save anywhere at any point in time - a lifesaver for anyone without hours to spend on a game at a time.
One of the best parts of the original Shenmue was the fighting (F.R.E.E. Battle), and it has come back in a big way in Shenmue II. Once you've cleared the initial introductory phase, you'll find that Shenmue II is a much more action packed affair than the original, with the number of QTEs (Quick Time Event) and fighting seeing an exponential increase. Fights use a modified version of the Virtua Fighter engine, though you will find that Ryo tends to have to fight up to, and sometimes more, than 5 opponents at one time. Throughout the game you will learn new techniques either through moves scrolls or the Tai Chi master at Aberdeen, though you cannot practice moves in the same fashion that you were able to in the original game. QTEs are situations similar to the old arcade classic Dragon's Lair, where you will be required to quickly press a direction or button to make Ryo successfully complete an action on screen. AM2 have upped the anti for the sequel and added combination QTEs, where you will be required to mash in a combination of buttons. These can be frustrating, but after a little trial and error, you shouldn't have any trouble with them.
Shenmue II is a fairly long quest, clocking in at about 20 hours - provided that you don't take too much time to explore and immerse yourself in the world. You are, in fact, limited to a certain amount of game time to finish the game - we believe that you have until the end of the Hong Kong summer to finish the game (a good 4-5 months game time). Once you're done with the main quest, you have access to a variety of Yu Suzuki's arcade games, including Space Harrier, Afterburner, Hang On and Outrun, which should insure a little extra replay value.
Keep the damn sub!
Shenmue was an excellent looking game upon its release on the Dreamcast during the 2000 holiday season, and while Shenmue II has improved upon the visual stylings of the original, you can't help but feel that the game looks rather dated. Most of the characters look decent enough, with especially good facial texturing, but some look excruciatingly bad (the Mexican arm wrestler), and animation of the characters is generally stiff across the board.
Hong Kong has been recreated for the game, just in the same way that Yokosuka was recreated for the original game, though citizens of the area say that it has changed a heck of a lot, and may not be 100% accurate. The architecture is really quite impressive, though some of the texturing is a little suspect, but that's due to the Dreamcast's slightly lower texture ram capability. Some extra features and improvements have been made, such as the colour masking (press a button and change the entire colour scheme of the game) and the improved lighting. All of the slowdown experienced in the Dreamcast version is also a thing of the past. Sega have also included a 60 Hz mode, which was nice of them.
The Dreamcast version of Shenmue II featured Japanese voices and English subtitles - a very good mix suited to this type of game. Unfortunately, on Microsoft's request, the game was re-dubbed with English voices, and they sound absolutely horrible. It's not that all of the actors are bad; it's the fact that Shenmue's conversations don't flow very well - you'll find that Ryo will be repeating things that the conversant just said, and it will irk you. The other bad thing is that this horrible dub overshadows the excellent musical score, which is a perfect compliment to the style of gameplay that Shenmue uses. The cut scenes utilise Dolby Digital 5.1, while the rest of the game is encoded in 4 channel surround sound.
Can't we just end this?
Arguably the worst part of the Shenmue II experience is the fact that the fate of the series is up in the air, and the thing that will make this more painful is the way that Shenmue II ends - it's like you're stuck in the middle of a book, and can't read any more because the other pages have been glued together. We'd love to see the series finish up, but given the underwhelming sales of Shenmue II, we don't know if we'll ever see it (so go buy it now! It's only $50). Shenmue II is a great example of the fusion of two different genres, and it provides an excellent, engrossing narrative to compliment the excellent gameplay. Everyone needs a copy of this game (so we can see a Shenmue III).