Shenmue II – XB – Review

When we last left Ryo
Hazuki, the young Japanese school boy hero of the Dreamcast’s Shenmue, he was
hot on the trail of Lan Di–the leader of the Chiyoumen Chinese criminal
underground–who killed his father right in front of him.  In his search to find
Lan Di, Ryo discovers that his father had a questionable past and that he was
also the guardian of two mysterious mirrors–the first Lan Di obtains after
killing Ryo’s father and the second one–the Phoenix Mirror–Ryo finds hidden in
the basement of his dojo.  After fighting a gang called the Mad Angels, Ryo
discovers that Lan Di has already left for Hong Kong.  Gamers can view the story
in the DVD movie included with this sequel about a young man’s quest for revenge
. . . and it is highly recommended that gamers watch it before playing the game.


Back in its day, Shenmue
was a half-RPG and half-fighting game that impressed gamers with its open
anything, knock on any door and talk to any person that you just happen to
stumble upon in the street.  You can still buy anything you want–from a can of
soda (any flavor you want) to tiny capsule toys you find in those vending
machines.  You can even play 1980s arcade video game classics such as
Afterburner II, Outrun, Space Harrier and Hang On or play a quick round of darts
and other assorted mini-games.


Still, while fun as the
mini-games are, Ryo’s mission is to find his father’s killer and the streets of
Hong Kong is just too massive to find one man.  Once again you are to follow
lead after lead looking for people that know other people who might have an idea
where the Chiyoumen hang out.  Of course, there are a number of things that get
in the way.  For one thing, Ryo’s cash flow is limited so he must find ways to
earn money (e.g. get a job, gamble or fight for it).  Secondly, the day quickly
turns into night in this world and sleep is a necessity.


This time, however, Ryo
gets a little help from people he befriends during his long search.  He meets an
assortment of characters that aid him on his quest such as Joy, a wild young
girl on a fast motorcycle that gets Ryo his first job lifting crates at the
docks.  Then there are the martial arts masters he meets throughout the game who
teaches Ryo new moves to add to his repertoire of moves he learned back in the
first game. 


While not a fighting game
per se, Shenmue borrows its fighting controls from the Virtua Fighter games with
different punches, kicks, grappling holds and a wide variety of combos.  On more
than a couple of occasions, Ryo must battle multiple enemies.  Thankfully you
can turn to your move scrolls to remember how to execute a specialty move you
just happened to have learned.


And making its return are
the Quick Timer Events (QTEs for short) that are implemented by pressing the
corresponding button or directional pad when the game quickly flashes the symbol
on the screen.  Usually these events occur during a chase or a quick fight and
the outcome of the event moves the story forward. Take to long or press the
wrong button one too many times and you’ll have to start all over again until
you get it right.  Strangely enough, there are no scenarios for failed QTEs so
there is no limit to how many times you attempt it.


There are just a few
things that really hinder this game from being the perfect game.  For one thing,
the pacing of the game might not agree with certain gamers that want to keep the
truly fascinating story moving.  Gamers might find that they wouldn’t have
enough time to reach area X in time before Ryo decides to call it a day.
Secondly, the camera sometimes does not do a good job of tracking Ryo when he is
up against more than three opponents in a tight space. 


The graphics are
surprisingly similar to the Dreamcast version with very little in Xbox
enhancements, but that doesn’t mean the graphics are bad at all.  In fact, there
are characters and places that look simply amazing.  Each character you meet off
the street (and there are literally more than a thousand characters) has his or
her own distinct facial features.  Gamers who have never played the game will
love the heavily detailed city and watching all those people go about their
business.  And there are cut scene animations that are wonderful to watch.


From the opening theme to
the closing credit music, Shenmue’s score is both beautiful and very moving. 
You know you’re playing a true epic by the lush score that follows throughout
the narrative or when Ryo gets into a fight. Every moment and character seems to
have its own theme music, putting a personal touch to both people and locations
of interest.  It really is a wonderful soundtrack.  The voice acting, on the
other hand, is a different story.  Aside from Ryo’s stating of the obvious or
repetitive remarks, the Japanese to English translation is still a little rough
in spots.  Still–and this is the most impressive part–there is an abundance of
background noises that correspond to the area you happen to be in such as
chattering people at the cafe or the pigeon’s flapping their wings at the local


Shenmue II is a sweeping
epic with a story that will hook you with its great characters and Ryo’s
transformation from schoolboy to a man with a destiny he cannot comprehend.  And
while the game still suffers from some of the same ailments that plagued the
first game (day turns into night too quickly while you’re doing something
important and there are too many unanswered questions and leads that go
nowhere), this is an adventure gamers should not miss at all. 


Scoring Details


 Gameplay: 8.6
This is definitely a case of: If it
isn’t broken, why fix it?  The controls are simple enough and there is an icon
for everything from opening a door, examining objects and asking about specific
topics of interest.  The fighting mechanics are even a breeze, although there
are certain combos that require plenty of practice in order to execute
correctly.  Otherwise, Ryo’s fighting style is similar to those seen in most
arcade fighters.


Much of the game, though,
is investigation.  Ryo finds himself combing Hong Kong for clues and more clues
lead to more clues until you feel that you’re pretty much going in circles.  If
you miss your window of opportunity at any point in the game, that’s okay, you
can always accomplish a task the next day. 



Graphics: 8.0
There is not much that sets this
sequel apart from its Dreamcast original and that is saying a lot since the
first Shenmue is simply gorgeous.  The character details in this game are simply
amazing, with certain characters looking better than others.  There are
characters with distinct facial features such as moles, wrinkles and other
physical characteristics that make up a person.  It’s great to see that not many
characters look identical to one another.  Yet sometimes a character movement
might seem stiff and a bit awkward.


Yet the cut scenes in the
game are true eye-candy with its fluid animation and vibrant use of color.  With
the night comes a soft “dreamy” glow that comes from the streetlights, making
the heavily detailed city a dream-like quality.  There is much to see in this
city that seems so alive thanks to the moving people and the busy shops. 


Sound: 8.4
High praise should go to the musical
score that is, again, one of the game’s highlights.  Not only does it give the
impression that you’re playing an epic, but its sometimes cheerful and sometimes
sad melodies give the story its own personality.  Almost every character has his
or her own music; for example, Joy has a heavy metal theme song that follows her
around.  Gamers will suddenly know when a character is coming just by the music.


The voice acting, sadly,
does not make quite the impression the rich score does. The rough translation
from Japanese to Chinese makes for awkward conversations and is sometimes
delivered in an unintentionally funny manner.    


Difficulty: Medium
As you progress, battles become
harder, especially when you’re up against a boss (unfortunately, Ryo does not
face off with Lan Di).  QTEs can also be quite difficult at first, but since you
can do them over again, it is just a question of memorizing the button
sequence.  The game’s biggest difficulty comes from tracking down each lead.


Concept: 8.9
Aside from the fact that the Hong
Kong featured in this game is fully-interactive and seemingly alive (shopkeepers
go about their business during the day and then close up their shops late at
night), gamers will be hooked by the story.  We’ll see the shaping of Ryo the
young man who is consumed by his hatred and how it affects those around him.  In
this game he discovers the secret behind the Phoenix Mirror and we learn more
about Lan Di and his ties to Ryo’s father.


There are new features
presented here such as the ability to take snapshots of favorite scenes in which
you can view them in a scrapbook.  And you can also play any mini-game you just
happened to have played during the course of the game in the main menu.  It was
also great that they included a DVD of the first Shenmue so first time gamers
can be introduced to the characters and the story that lead up to the events of
the sequel.


Overall: 8.7
With it’s mixing of genres and
brilliant story, Shenmue II is an unforgettable experience gamers should not
miss.  Although far from perfect, the game’s lengthy quest is a worthwhile
journey to take on even if you’ve never played the original.