Shenmue II (Xbox) review
"Young Ryo Hazuki’s life was smashed by the sudden arrival of an uninvited guest. Dressed in dark green Chinese clothes, the mysterious Lan Di waltzed into Ryo’s family home and used a strange martial art to murder his father. Proving to be no match for this man, Ryo was utterly wasted in one strike and watched in agony as the mysterious man walked away with an odd trinket, the Dragon Mirror. Something that Ryo’s father had wanted to hide from the cold and dark ambitions of Lan Di. After watch..."
Young Ryo Hazuki’s life was smashed by the sudden arrival of an uninvited guest. Dressed in dark green Chinese clothes, the mysterious Lan Di waltzed into Ryo’s family home and used a strange martial art to murder his father. Proving to be no match for this man, Ryo was utterly wasted in one strike and watched in agony as the mysterious man walked away with an odd trinket, the Dragon Mirror. Something that Ryo’s father had wanted to hide from the cold and dark ambitions of Lan Di. After watching his father die in his arms, Ryo vowed revenge and set off on a journey to destroy Lan Di and find out why his father was murdered.
After a long and tiresome journey, resulting in several dead ends and unanswered questions, Ryo finally digs up some answers about the mysteries of his father’s murder and the importance of the Dragon Mirror. He learns that the Dragon mirror is part of a set of two mirrors, combing the two together seems to be Lan Di’s master plan so Ryo manages to beat him to it by finding the Phoenix Mirror, the twin brother of the Dragon Mirror. He then learns that Lan Di has left Japan for Hong Kong and eventually manages to jump on a ship, which begins a completely new adventure for Ryo.
That was an extremely brief run down of the Dreamcast classic, Shenmue. Thankfully, the Xbox version of this games sequel comes with a digest movie, which summarises the events in the last game. You don’t have to shell out more cash to buy a Dreamcast and the original game to enjoy the follow up, simply plug in this DVD and relax as the world of Shenmue is magically unveiled to you.
What made Shenmue II so unusual was the way it brought together small gameplay elements, which merged to create the bigger picture. It uses free quests, which allow you to control Ryo through the streets of Hong Kong, talking to the locals and exploring every corner of the city. The game runs on its own internal clock, which counts minutes as seconds. When this clock reaches 11pm, Ryo will go to bed and start afresh the next day. Don’t worry, it doesn’t pull an Animal Crossing and keeps on ticking even when your Xbox is off, it only goes down when you play. However, this also means that you’re actually timed to finish the game; you start it in November and are expected to finish it by May. If not, you will be spanked by the mysterious “bad ending”. You do have plenty of time to finish the game so you don’t have to worry about running out of time. The player would have to pathetically poor to get this ending, unless you deliberately did it.
Ryo may have to use his Kung Fu skills in battle against various punks and henchmen, even if walks through the wrong area of town, he may be randomly assaulted by hot shots or bloodthirsty gangs, putting Ryo in a fight against seven people. The fighting system is loosely based on the Virtua Fighter series and features a large selection of moves for Ryo to kick ass with. Ryo already knows some of these moves but a few of them can be learned from characters he encounters in the game. If you reuse moves in fights, they will become a lot stronger and will even take out enemies in one shot.
Another original yet slightly tricky feature are Quick Timer Events, which will occur during various cut scenes, especially during a chase or a fight. For example, when you first arrive in Hong Kong, a little scruffy street urchin called Wong steals your bag. He runs through a network of alleys and you follow him in hot pursuit. As he approaches a corner, he’ll push a stack of boxes down which will start up a QTE, a button icon will flash rapidly on the screen and if you press it quickly, Ryo will jump over the boxes and keep on chasing Wong. However, if you are too late or press the wrong button, then Ryo will fall over the crates and Wong will escape. In a fight, it works in a similar way, a wise guy will through a punch at you and the button will flash on the screen. If you press the button, Ryo will block the punch and throw him one of his one but if you fail, you’ll get a smack in the chops and will probably have to do the whole sequence again, which is really frustrating if you make one little mistake in a large QTE chain.
You will also come across Command QTEs, a small combo which usually appears at a very important moment in a fight or when you reach a very dangerous obstacle, like a large jump. A combination will flash before your eyes and you will have to input the combination that was just displayed to you. If you fail, it usually ends with Ryo being killed or injured and requires you to start the QTE sequence for scratch. For example, a thug brandishing an iron pipe takes a swing at you, the CQTE will appear and if you mess it up, the thug will brain Ryo. If you succeed, Ryo will duck and attack the perpetrator. Some of these will be integrated with fighting to implement the final blow to an opponent.
Shenmue II also provides you with a small collection of mini games, which allow you to take a break from the adventure. You can go to an arcade and play old SEGA classics such as OutRun, Afterburner and Hang on or you can perform tasks that will earn you cash such as moving crates using the QTE system or playing the merciless Lucky Hit. If you want to earn cash, you can become a part time stand owner of a Lucky Hit stand, a popular Hong Kong gambling game. It’s a game that is very unfair, is heavily based on chance, and has no strategy. The annoying thing is that if you keep losing, you will lose your money and on some occasions, you’ll work at the stand and earn next to nothing. It’s best to stick with the mundane crate lifting for a finance boost, it is dull but it gives you a firm cash flow.
Shenmue II uses the D-pad for movement and uses the analog sticks for your control of the camera. It’s a little awkward to grasp because nearly all of the Xbox titles use the analog stick for directions but Shenmue II stays firm. After you get the hang of it, it’s not a problem at all but you’ll be meddling with the analog sticks on a number of occasions, waiting for Ryo to move but get the camera swirling all over the place instead. The four buttons are displayed at the bottom of the screen and an icon will appear on the button to indicate the performance of a task. When you approach a closed door, the X button icon will have a door picture at the bottom. No prizes for guessing which one you have to press to open it.
You can also converse with the public to gather clues and information. Some of them will be unhelpful while others may even take you to where you need to go, without question. If you need to earn cash, you can ask people about pawnshops and where to get a job. When you are looking for a number of things at once, you can choose from a few options. It depends on what you are looking for and how many questions you need answering. Occasionally, you will get a few clueless people who are no help at all but the majority of the public will be a great help.
Shenmue II suffers from a handful of problems that really strike a blow to the overall score of the game. On a few occasions, Ryo will have to earn a considerable amount of money to bribe some gang leaders or enter an underground fight. To earn cash, you will have to play and replay those dull jobs like crate lifting and Lucky Hit. However, since Lucky Hit usually leaves you with no earned money due to the random way the game flows, the only safe way to get a decent cash flow is to play and play the crate lifting game. It is an easy game but it’s very repetitive, it can only pay out $60 a shot so you’ll have to do it eight times to get your desired target. You’ll be crying yourself to sleep.
Remember, Shenmue II was originally a Dreamcast game so when you first load it up on Xbox, it won’t look too hot. However, the main characters are lavishly detailed, each one of them is visually bursting with personality. The quiet determination of Ryo. The laid back “I don’t give a crap!” attitude of Ren and the pure innocence of Shenhua are portrayed brilliantly with the intense visual display. After that, it goes remotely downhill when it comes to members of the public. These people are rather basic and make Hong Kong look like Deliverance. Mainly because you will see about three people who look identical in the same street. The details on most of the public are rather wooden and although you’ll find one or two exceptions, (like the guy who can’t put the shop sign up) the majority of it is basic.
The same thing goes for the voice acting. The voices of each character suits him or her perfectly, even the annoying voices of Wong and Dou Niu fit their characters well. Wong is a kid and is unfairly doomed to have an annoying voice as most child characters do and Dou Niu’s booming voice is rather comical at first but his deep and, lets face it , rather annoying voice gets really tiresome the second time he opens his big fat mouth. The “helpful” public are split into groups: old men have the same voice. Old women have the same voice. Hot girls have the same voice. All of the tough guys have the same voice. It is annoying but you just live with it.
The mixed bag of graphics and voice acting doesn’t really hold back the greatness of the overall product. As I said before, it is a combination of small elements to create one awesome feature. Shenmue II may be an expensive rarity on the Dream cast (even more so if you’re American, imports only.) but it is a lot easier and cheaper to stick on your Xbox. However, when this greatness has passed you and you stare triumphantly at the end credits, many of Ryo’s questions will be answered.
Some will never be.
Community review by goldenvortex (June 23, 2005)
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