Shenmue II - Review

A Trip to Hong Kong for 1/40th of the Price

By: Phillipe Richer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 7
   Plot 8
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Time to Complete

30-40 hours


Shenmue II

   Being the sequel of a highly acclaimed and successful series placed the expectations for Shenmue II quite high. Literally ten times the scope of the first game, Shenmue 2 tells chapters 2-4 in the huge Shenmue saga. Unfortunately for American gamers the rights to the game were bought off by Microsoft which instantly eliminated the prospect of the game ever being released on the Dreamcast. However, being the dedicated fan that I am, I forked over the high price and got my hands on the European version.

   Let me just say this right away; the $135 Canadian Dollars that I paid was worth every penny. Simply put, Shenmue 2 brings back all the good elements of the first game and improves the series tremendously on every other aspect. This time, Ryo will venture out in Hong Kong in a world ten times larger than the original to further pursue the ever elusive Lan-Di. Along his journey, Ryo will make many new friends and enemies, learn about his destiny, and of course collect a bundle of capsule toys.

   Among the returning elements of the first game are the battle systems. The "QTE" (quick timer event) makes a come-back with some slight variations. Once again you will battle enemies; make daring escape attempts and slip by foes unnoticed using the four face buttons and the directional arrows to match the appropriate input. However, you will not always get the opportunity to retry a session you just screwed up. Whether you succeed or fail some of those attempts will bring slight variations to the story-line, thus bringing a little more replay value to the table.

Good thing we didn't have to witness that 8 hour trip.
Good thing we didn't have to witness that 8 hour trip.  

   The "Free Battle Mode" comes back with some improvements as well. Battles now seem swifter and more fast-pace. You will encounter more of those brawls during the story put also within many mini-games. At least it feels more satisfying to perfect your abilities this time around as the battles give you more freedom of movement. The list of moves is still just as big and presents the same problems as before, in that it's impossible and useless to memorize them all. There are no low, middle and high blows. You only have two options: attack or evade.

   The greatest thing about this sequel is that there is a LOT more things to do. In addition to the dozen of new mini-games, you also get the opportunity to take on 2 different part-time jobs, jobs which you can attend whenever you want to, freeing up your schedule greatly. You also get the chance to get some money for your capsule toys. There is several different pawn shops scattered around the many parts of town, which offer different prices for different sets of toys. You can also purchase maps for the different areas of the city, and believe me you'll need them. You can check any map at any time although the place you're currently in will always be displayed in the bottom left corner. You can place color markers on your maps which makes things easier to remember. There's also the ability to save anywhere which is always a welcome addition.

   The interface which was excellent in the first title has also been revamped. You can now choose it you want to use the D-pad or the joystick to move around. The four face buttons are always present at the bottom of the screen to indicate what action can be performed. As mentioned before, battles are also easier to deal with. You can also follow people who will lead you to different locations simply by zooming on them - and it makes stalking beautiful women much easier. The whole game just seems more complete and more thorough than its predecessor on that part.

   While Shenmue was often frustrating because it left you guessing what your next destination should be, Shenmue II is the exact opposite. Almost every person you talk to will give you clear and definite directions to your next destination, often even offering you the chance to follow them there. While this allows you to progress more quickly through the game you will most certainly want to stray off your main quest from time to time just to earn some more cash, play around, or admire the stunning scenery. That is Shenmue II's greatest attribute; no matter how you like to do things, be it zip through the game or explore fully, there is never a dull moment during your experience.

Lost? Better pick up that map.
Lost? Better pick up that map.  

   The soundtrack and the sound effects are as good as ever. The game contains numerous tracks employed perfectly to suit the feel of the action. While the various musical compositions often serve only as background music, they're well-done and done in good taste. Sound effects are dazzling, mesmerizing, and breathtaking! From the ambient sound of people talking to the low ripple of the waves, from the monks training in the temple to the crowd cheering during an arm-wrestling match; never will there be a moment where you will not feel totally immersed by the game. The sound sampling is, once again, indescribably good. You have to hear it to believe out.

And now here comes the piece de resistance, the crème de la crème: the voice-acting! The acting in Shenmue was atrocious simply because it was in English. However this time around we are treated to the magnificent and original Japanese voice-acting with English subtitles. When you talk about quality, when you talk about production values, you get it all right here. While it may displease those who have no interest in the language, no one will miss the sub-par voices found in the first one. It's delicious, and to me it's also one of the main selling points compared to the upcoming Xbox version which will most likely be in English.

Since it encompasses three chapters instead of one you can expect many more plot twists and surprising events. The whole story moves quickly and the memorable moments are everywhere. The cast of intriguing characters has also grown incredibly bringing much more character development. By the end of the game Ryo will be presented with many revelations to bring the game to a satisfying ending filled with questions and expectations. Yu Suzuki really knows how to craft a script.

Oh yeah, you can stalk her if you want.
Oh yeah, you can stalk her if you want.  

While there was much less work to do with the localization, the subtitles have not been passed as a second thought. There are practically no typos and the dialogues are suitably natural and well-explained. The replay value is once again determined by how much you enjoyed your first playthrough. There are a couple events which may somewhat alter your immediate action, but aside from that there isn't much to do differently the second time around. Nevertheless, it's so well-done, so engrossing, so entertaining that you won't be able to restrain yourself from taking the plunge again.

Shenmue II is as stunningly impressive visually as its predecessor. The backgrounds and surroundings are enchanting and remarkably absorbing. If that's what the Hong Kong harbor area really looks like, I have to take a trip there someday. Characters are even more polished from head to toe. Facial expressions are even more accurate and the gestures feel much more natural. The game is an unbelievable display of the Dreamcast's power, a power which will unfortunately never be fully exploited.

The game feels somewhat longer, although it's hard to tell because one, there is no in-game clock and two, you'll have so much fun playing that you won't keep track of time. There are 3 cities, each subdivided into 4-6 different parts, which is huge compared to the first title. Once again, there is just so much to do and see that you will never experience a dull moment. In essence that's what every good piece of entertainment should be like.

Every aspect is superb and the end result is one of the most unique and most memorable gaming experiences ever. Don't wait for the Xbox version to come around. Buy Shenmue II now, play it soon, enjoy it forever.

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