Shenmue II (Dreamcast) review
"... this feels like the Shenmue adventure the first game failed to deliver. One of the swan songs of the Dreamcast..."
Shenmue II (Dreamcast PAL version): An Epic Sequel Delivering on What Was Promised for the First Shenmue Game
A sequel to a game that was considered revolutionary, but some considered to be rather tedious and seem like a tech demo. Shenmue II learned from its mistakes in the first game, and delivers a much more action packed, and better paced experience, with several quality-of-life improvements.
Work for Shenmue originally started on the Sega Saturn in 1996, and it was conceived at some point as Virtua Fighter RPG by, Virtua Fighter series creator, Yu Suzuki. Eventually work was shifted towards the more powerful Sega Dreamcast, and the first game was released on the Dreamcast in 1999 (JP) and 2000 (EU, NA) to critical acclaim, although some reviewers at the time, for example, Frank Provo, writing for GameSpot (US) in 2000, noted the problems it had that kept it from being what it was hyped up to be. In my own review of Shenmue I for the Dreamcast, I noted the slow pacing, the inability to save anywhere outside of the protagonist's (Ryoís) bedroom, the clunky controls, the different game styles, like forklift racing, that do not work well, the lack of direction, general tediousness, and lack of story progression. These were all elements that prevented the first game to truly be a more mainstream action-packed and fun game for many gamers in my opinion.
The first Shenmue was the prologue of the story where Ryo Hazukiís father gets killed in his dojo in Yokosuka, Japan by the main antagonist of the series, a high-ranking member of a Chinese cartel, Lan Di. This prompted Ryo to try to find Lan Di to exact his revenge. The last game leaves off with Ryo heading for Hong Kong, in the hopes of finding Lan Di, and itís where this game picks up the story. Originally there was supposed to be a game or part of one about the story of Ryoís trip to Hong Kong on a ship, instead that was released as a manga. The second game starts of with Ryoís arrival in Hong Kongís harbour.
This game was never released on the Dreamcast in North America, the Dreamcast version only saw a release in Japan, and Europe in 2001. It was released in North America on the original Xbox a year later in 2002, however, since there was no version of Shenmue I for the Xbox, the save file from the first game could obviously not be imported. The Dreamcast PAL version has Japanese audio with English subtitles.
The game makes important changes to the gameplay in the first game. Iím guessing that the team that worked on Shenmue I learned what worked and what didnít, based on reviews and feedback, as the first game was so experimental. They tweaked the gameplay to improve on what the original had fault with. Finally, you can save anywhere in the game. You donít have to trek all the way back to your room for that. Also, you donít come back to the same bedroom every day, with the same routine boring routine, for a refreshing change of pace. Additionally, waiting for important appointments or events is much better now thanks to the ability to fast forward in time for that event. Previously the game had a game time that you could not fast forward in any way, even if there was little to do while waiting for an event. Instead of having to explore for yourself of where you have to go, this game has a much better sense of direction, with people that you talk to guiding you where to go, just go around and ask them. Oftentimes they will even offer to walk you to a location you are looking for. All of this really helps with the pacing of the game.
Itís true that you donít have the small town feel of the first game, with characters that you get to know and converse with as in the first game, but still overall I feel that the improvement in pacing and direction more than makes up for this. On the other hand, the world of Shenmue II with its initial setting in Hong Kong (for the first two discs), which then moves on to Kowloon (third disc), and finally Guilin in China (fourth disc) is huge and beautiful with plenty to explore. The game feels vast and does have its well-hidden secrets, for those that like exploration in their games.
The gameplay is still similar to that of the first game. Much of it has to do with talking to people figuring out clues of how to find Lan Di, and about the mirrors that Lan Di wanted to get from the Hazuki dojo. Aside from that you have your QTEs (quick time events) which are much like in the first game. If playing through emulation or with circle D-pad that can help to mess up inputs making it difficult to do some of the QTEs. Some of them can also be a bit too fast, but if you do them enough you can memorize many of them. Remember to save when doing long QTE sequences. Outside of that you still have places to practice your martial arts moves, and this game, thankfully, has a lot more action and fighting than the first game. The way the story unfolds it feels at times like youíre playing a Kung Fu action film.
The QTE based work is done to earn money, and in exchange for stay, for example, moving boxes at the warehouses, or moving books in the library. These can be a bit tedious but donít feel as unfair as some of the tasks in the first game. Although there are times when you need to earn a lot of money, for example, come up with $500 to meet Ren, and depending on how you want to achieve that goal this could take a long time. However, there are tricks to do this quickly. For example, some gambling games are based on chance. You can play them, and if you win, you save, and do it again which could end up earning you a lot in little time. If you lose, donít save the game, reset it, and start over. This can make this task take 30 minutes instead of hours and hours. There are also many other tips that can help this game to speed along. One of which, that fans from the first game may like, is that you do get your bag stolen at the start of the game, so you may want to buy stuff at the outdoor stall nearby to help you keep some of the value. A lot of the minigames themselves however, based on gambling are honestly tedious.
I found the fighting to be enjoyable especially after building up some basic techniques (Iím a fan of fighting games). I havenít played a lot of Virtua Fighter, but I like the fighting in Shenmue II better than what Virtua Fighter Iíve played. There are also some puzzles in this game which can become a bit tedious, but most of the game is fairly doable and not too unfair. Honestly this game would have been even better if it were possible to unlock a fighting game mode at the end of the game, since the fighting really shines.
Again, from the gameplay perspective the QTEs, when executed poorly, can be one of the worst and most frustrating parts of the game, especially when they are so fast, or you are using a D-pad which may register wrong inputs easily. Though overall considering how the story progresses, being full of action and variety, the gameplay is fairly balanced and solid.
Graphics, Music and Tone:
Aside from the fighting, I think this is where this game really shines. For a Dreamcast game the graphics here are amazing, on par with the Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2. Hong Kong is a beautiful, vibrant, sunny, varied, and a bustling metropolis that is a pleasure to explore. Itís a lot to take in, all of the streets, the Harbour, the Warehouses, the shops, the mall, the different districts, parks, etc. It almost makes you feel like you are travelling there. When Ryo comes into Kowloon by bus, and it goes into an aerial view of the bus coming to Kowloon it reminded me of travelling and made me feel like I was on that trip.
Kowloon is also huge and beautifully designed, there are lots of malls full of shops and people.
The relationship and chemistry between Ryo, and the badass Ren works very well, considering their different personalities, with Ryo being the straight man, honorable, righteous and honest, and Ren being cunning, sly, and artful. Itís sort of an unwilling or unlikely partnership reminiscent of a Kung Fu buddy film. Ren is always doing stuff on the sly and has tricks up his sleeve. One of the most memorable parts of it for me are when they are roaming through the floors of the building, running from the cartel men in QTEs, and fighting in fast paced action, this exemplifies what I described above. The other characters are important in the story and memorable as well. The story of Shenmue does also move along quite a bit, much more than in the first game, and we learn about Ryoís father and his relationship to Lan Di.
The final fight on the roof on the third disc seems like the end of the game, but in the fourth disc, with new clues to Lan Diís whereabouts, Ryo is headed for Guilin, China, where he finally meets Shenhua, a main protagonist of the game. Most of that part of the story involves them wandering through beautiful surroundings on the way to the village, talking to each other, and participating in QTEs.
I have to say that while I really enjoyed the story and action in this game the ending with Shenhua seemed rather strange to me, as it implied, she had some magical powers, which doesnít really seem congruent with the rest of the game. It did leave me wanting to see the conclusion though.
I really enjoyed the music of this game more than that of the original. It had less of the traditional music of the first game, and more movie-style thematic music. A lot of the music was appropriate depending on the nature of your current actions, for example, when the situation was tense so was the music.
This game improved on the original in many ways including the ability to save anywhere, fast forwarding to important events, much more direction, guiding you where you need to go, becoming faster paced, and being loaded with action. It is filled with QTEs which can get frustrating if they are too long but is also filled with many 3D fighting sequences which are very enjoyable if you like 3D fighting games. The world of Shenmue II, namely, Hong Kong, Kowloon, and Guilin are huge and detailed with tons to explore, many side quests, mini games, and well-hidden secrets, and beautiful scenery to look at and wander around. A lot of the game feels like a Kung Fu buddy action film starring Ryo and Ren. The chemistry between Ryo and Ren is great and they make a great team. There is quite a bit of story progression, and we learn more about Ryoís father and Lan Di. The music is very good as well, although some of the jobs, mini-games, and tasks you have to do can be frustrating and tedious. If you donít know some of the tricks to make money fast, etc., in this game, the parts when you need it can become tedious. Overall, the positives of this game really outweigh the negatives, and this feels like the Shenmue adventure that the first game failed to deliver.
One of the swan songs of the Dreamcast (although that might more properly be Rez), this game is a must try for those that are into action games, along with life, and social simulation. I would personally recommend that casual gamers just watch Shenmue the Movie, which is a film based on the enhanced cutscenes of the first game (included in the original Xbox release but available now on YouTube), instead of playing the first game, and just play this game to have a more enjoyable experience. A must play Dreamcast title, and an interesting part of gaming history.
Overall: 9/10 Amazing
Honest Gamers Score: 4.5/5
Community review by Tailz (June 02, 2022)
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