Shenmue II


   Everyone has a legacy they want to leave. Whether it is taking the next step in interactive entertainment or avenging the death of your father, we are ultimately remembered by what we do and leave behind. In 1994, famed designer Yu Suzuki and Sega's AM2 team began designing an epic series of games called Shenmue. More than just telling a story and providing a worthwhile gaming experience, this series was to be Yu Suzuki's most ambitious, a totally immersive world where players could do anything they choose. Will you proceed with the story today, or simply live a normal life, get a job, and play some darts? This new take on the player-driven story first bore fruit in 1999, when Shenmue, the first chapter of sixteen, was released in Japan for the Sega Dreamcast.

   Yu Suzuki's magnum opus continued on September 6, 2001, when Shenmue II was released in Japan, with North American and European versions forthcoming. But American Dreamcast fans were devastated when Sega announced an exclusive contract with Microsoft at the Fall 2001 Tokyo Game Show and cancelled the U.S. Dreamcast version. Instead, Shenmue II will appear in North America solely on the Xbox. American Dreamcast owners found hope, however, in the European release on November 23. Despite hurdles in importing, such as regional lockouts and differences in television signal, savvy gamers can still enjoy the Dreamcast's zenith and continue their story without needing to buy an Xbox (for now, at least).

Trouble on dagger heels
Welcome to Hong Kong

   Encompassing chapters two, three, and four across four discs, Shenmue II rejoins Ryo Hazuki as he arrives in Hong Kong. Having recently parted with Master Chen in Yokosuka, Ryo carries with him the mysterious Phoenix Mirror and a letter to Lishao Tao, an elder master for Ryo to contact. He is also looking for Yuanda Zhu, the source of a mysterious letter to Ryo's father in the original. But despite being suddenly dropped in a foreign city, players are not left wandering for long. Shortly after his arrival, Ryo is robbed by a clever gang of thieves, leading the now-penniless hero to meet Joy, a sexy, bike-riding resident. She introduces him to the Come Over Guest House, the first of several places Ryo will call home before the credits roll. Other key characters Ryo will encounter on his journey include the sneaky leader of the Heavens gang, Ren Wuying, and Xiuying Hong, the graceful but deadly master of the Man Mo Temple in Wan Chai. Shenmue II also features the long-awaited introduction of Shenhua, a warm-hearted young woman from China's Bailu Village, and a key character in Ryo's future.

You've been sad for a while
It's a nice place to visit

   In addition, the variety of locations that Ryo traverses is awesome. AM2 boasts that Shenmue II is ten times the size of the original, a claim the title definitely fulfills. Beginning in urban Aberdeen area of Hong Kong, Ryo's search for Lishao Tao also takes him to nearby Wan Chai, a more traditional part of town filled with temples and antique shops. The content of the game's first two discs alone, which comprise chapter two, are the size of the original Shenmue. The story maintains the same slow pace as the original game until chapter three, when Ryo changes location yet again, this time to the highrise city of Kowloon, and finally deep into the Guilin region of mainland China. By combining multiple pieces of the saga, Sega has both extended the play time immensely and enriched the content with variety and intrigue.

   Shenmue II's strong visual presentation highlights the scope of its environments nicely. AM2 has pushed the capabilities of both the system itself and the original graphics engine, which is reused here. The tweaks allow it to render the minutest of details, from the slowly rocking houseboats beside fire-lit ghettos to the swinging banners and buzzing insects on the streets. The engine's limitations occasionally result in noticable slowdown in crowded areas, as well as the eerie effect of townspeople fading away in the midst of a crowd. When Ryo leaves the bustling metropolis behind, the grandeur of the forests and mountainsides shows off the high polygon counts and amazing draw distance the engine is capable of. Overall, the world of Shenmue II remains top-notch visually, with the same awe-inspiring vivacity that impressed gamers in 1999.

So much for being subtle
Is this the end...?

   To navigate these jungles, urban and real, players use a refined set of controls almost identical to the original Shenmue. Basic movement is accomplished by using the directional pad, with a side trigger to run and the analog pad to look around. Running has been made a bit more intuitive, as Ryo slows down slightly before hitting a wall, which helps greatly with cornering and negotiating tight spaces. Another new feature is the map; Ryo can purchase area maps in various places in each city, which display conveniently in the lower-left hand corner. Even more handy is Ryo's ability to mark the map anywhere along his way, making it easy to remember places of interest. Further aiding the navigation through town is the ability to follow characters. If Ryo is lost, asking a few nearby townspeople will usually turn up someone willing to take him to his destination. Although some characters move deathly slow, this addition will usually keep players from wandering lost.

   One final gameplay improvement worth mentioning includes the new Wait option. In Shenmue II, rather than being forced to kill time or just set the controller down whenever Ryo needs to wait, an option appears to wait until the appropriate time, passing hours by in a few seconds. While this removes a bit of realism from the game, it keeps the player engaged and the story moving.

I was in a videogame...
Beautiful, but repetitive

   Quick Timer Events (QTEs) and the Free Combat system return in Shenmue II with some minor tweaks. QTEs, a story-based sort of mini-game that tests a player's reflexes by linking scripted movements with quick button pressing, are more frequent and more logical than the original. Better integration and a wider variety of situations makes the QTEs more natural and challenging than the former's detached, combat-oriented style. New to the QTE system are multi-button QTE combos. Reserved primarily for dramatic emphasis, these brief sequences can be likened to faster versions of Auron's Overdrive in Final Fantasy X, and usually result in similar cinematic aftereffects.

   The Free Combat system features an improved camera and a greater emphasis on group combat. Though Ryo always fights alone, facing down groups of five or more assailants (and emerging victorious) is not uncommon. The discovery of new moves is also well-integrated into the story, and Ryo learns a number of useful techniques as the plot develops. This makes it all the more unfortunate that Ryo no longer has a dojo to practice in, and can only improve his moves by fighting for money. Although it is possible to improve, most players will just find a few useful moves and stick to them.

   Another improvement to the original title is, ironically enough, the lack of Japanese facing the player. In the original title, signs were almost exclusively written in Japanese, leaving English speakers to wander aimlessly, pausing frequently to focus on signs to decipher their meaning. Shenmue II, however, features English writing on nearly all important buildings and signs, as well as English versions of papers and notes that Ryo comes across. The voice acting is still in its original Japanese, but is accompanied by a decent translation, albeit too literal at times. On the other hand, the Japanese voices are extremely well done, with more emotion and realism than was often present in the original's English rendition. The characters' mouths are also quite well synched to the voices, further adding to the cinematic presentation.

Put out my flames with gasoline
A Kasatka?!

   Fans of Shenmue's music will also be pleased. The game's titular theme, as well as memorable songs like Shenhua's and Nozomi's themes, return to the center stage. Shenmue II also brings with it a number of original well-written songs to fit the mood of the game's exotic settings. These range from tradition Chinese strings and piano solos in the Guilin mountains to heavy metal and electric guitar in the rundown fight clubs of Kowloon. While some tunes may be forgettable in the end, none are poorly composed or noticably out of place.

   Sadly, as with the original, Shenmue II is not a perfect game. Repetition plagues certain aspects, particularly the money-making mini-games; unless you know the right places to gamble high dollars, you may very easily spend three hours or more in a part-time job at a pachinko stand to earn money. Where the original title had players shuffling crates around with a forklift ad nauseum, Shenmue II introduces the tedious book-carrying job, as well as ascending highrise buildings via closed stairwells and elevators that only shuffle between two floors. These tasks quickly become painfully monotonous and are not very well integrated into the story itself. The book-carrying job, for example, seems to have no point whatsoever besides killing time.

Nothing to lose
And leave it all behind

   The story itself shares some of the original's drawbacks as well. While more active and exciting than the slow-paced original, looking back at the game overall, it's remarkable how little is accomplished story-wise. The later portions of the game hint that this series may be far bigger than players first expected, but as with the first Shenmue, player spend a great deal of their time looking for ultimately irrelevant things like Huang the Wiretapper and the best place to hear a school bell chime.

   In the end, the flaws do not ultimately tarnish Shenmue II's impressive shine. Ending at a much more satisfying point than the original, it nevertheless leaves you hungry for more. Shenmue II reveals the true scope that the series encompasses and how this story is still just beginning. If it continues to be composed of ambitious, engrossing and entertaining titles like Shenmue II, Yu Suzuki's legacy may be best remembered for the Shenmue series.

Review by Nathan Mallory, GIA.
Shenmue II
Developer Sega AM2
Publisher Sega
Genre FREE
Medium GD-ROM (4)
Platform Sega Dreamcast
Release Date  09.06.01
European Shenmue II available for preorder at
337 screenshots
7 Kauro character renders
15 images from GDC
Story Yu Suzuki
Screenplay Takao Yotsuji
Free Scenario Director Shin Ishikawa
Full game credits