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Shenmue II (Dreamcast)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168604)
Written on  :  May 04, 2004
Platform  :  Dreamcast
Rating  :  3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars

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Same great stuff, but more of it. Much more!

The Good

Don't you love it when they make a sequel that not only corrects the mistakes of the predecessor, but takes all the good things it had and increases them two-, three-, and tenfold? Well, that's exactly what is going on in "Shenmue II". It picks up the story exactly where it ended in the first game, with Ryo leaving to Hong-Kong, and describes the adventures he experiences in this huge city on his ultimate quest to avenge the death of his father.

Everything that made the first game great is back in this chapter: the free-flowing, intuitive gameplay, the large immersive world, the nerve-tickling action. "Shenmue II" is basically the same as the first game, only with a more detailed story, more gameplay, cool new characters, and a way larger game world. As a result, "Shenmue II" is a more exciting game than its predecessor, with more suspense, variety, and atmosphere.

No matter what aspect of the original "Shenmue" you take - "Shenmue II" tops it, even in such insignificant areas as minor gameplay elements. For example, now you can fast-forward the time if you are too early for an appointment and don't feel like doing anything. Or, you can now save anywhere you like. But those small changes are nothing compared to the improvements "Shenmue II" makes.

"Shenmue" already had some interesting and memorable characters, but "Shenmue II" has many more, some of which are downright brilliant. Ryo finds more friends and more enemies in Hong-Kong than he did in his hometown Yokosuka. Among the people who help him on his quest are the beautiful and mysterious Chinese martial artist Xiuying, the careless "motorcycle-girl" Joy, the little Wong, the simple peasant girl Shenhua, and the absolutely cool "thieving scoundrel" Ren. The foes include such colorful figures as the "bitchy" Yuan or the incomparable Dou Niu (which means "big ox" or "bull fight" in Chinese). Unlike in the first game, where the characters Ryo meets bear little importance to the story, in "Shenmue II" some of them are directly connected to it.

The story is also more complex and at the same time more concentrated now than the introduction part of it we saw in the first "Shenmue". Ryo learns more about the identity of his father and the reasons Lan Di had for killing him. The appearance of Shenhua in the final part of the game prepares the ground for the third and seemingly most important chapter of the series(which is yet to be released). The fighter girl Xiuying conceals a traumatic past, which is in a certain way also connected to Ryo's quest for revenge. The game touches some moral issues, of which there was no trace in the first game: is revenge really justified? Isn't it rather an endless cycle of violence we must break in order to find peace?

The game world of "Shenmue II" is a true marvel. Hong-Kong is much larger than the Yokosuka of the first game, and the cool part is that you are not restricted to small areas, but can wander around any district, even if you have nothing to do there. As if exploring Hong-Kong weren't enough, the game takes you to new locations in the third and fourth parts. By the way, "Shenmue II" is also considerably longer than the first game.

The graphics, that were already fantastic in the original "Shenmue", are even more amazing here, since there are many more locations and characters, which are all presented with unique style and attention to detail. Once again, all the characters have faces, figures, clothes, voices, and manners of speech. The dialogues with "random" characters are more complex and versatile. There are hardly any generic phrases, each character replies with his or her own words and phrasing. It is simply incredibly to wander around Hong-Kong or Kowloon and to realize you can talk to anyone of the people walking along the street, see a different face every time and hear a different response to your questions.

The gameplay was also expanded. You have more freedom as to where to go and what to do. Like in the first game, you'll have to get quite a lot of money in order to progress in the game. But this time, you are not forced to earn it the usual way, working hard, pushing crates at the dock, etc. You can as well gamble at the many available locations, and win fighting tournaments for money prizes.

The ultra-cool Quick Time Events are back, but there are now so many of them that they become an integral part of the gameplay. Those nerve-tickling, suspenseful arcade sequences provide enormous fun, especially because they are so cinematic. Basically, you watch an action movie sequence and try to influence its events from time to time. Press a wrong button and you'll make a wrong move. Make too many wrong moves and you'll have to restart the sequence. I can't describe enough the tremendous fun those Quick Time Events are - you have to play through them yourself in order to see. Some portions of the game are almost entirely based on those events. I'll never forget how the handcuffed Ryo and Ren escaped Dou Niu's prison, madly running away, avoiding guards, and jumping over gaps. The greatest part of those Quick Time Events is that they never turn into simple platform action or anything of the kind. You don't control the running and the jumping of the characters - you just have to quickly lead them onto the right path and make them perform the right action. This way it is always possible to maintain the illusion of watching a movie, at the same time participating in the gameplay.

There are also more fights in the game, more moves to learn... well, you got the idea. There's simply more of everything that was good in the first "Shenmue".

The Bad

I have the English version of the first "Shenmue", but the second one wasn't translated, as far as I know (at least not the PAL version I have). Pity it wasn't the other way around. Japanese talk English to each other, but Chinese use Japanese? Hmm... It really disturbed me quite a bit to hear all those Chinese speak perfect Japanese. It also didn't add at all to the feeling Ryo was abroad. It could have been nice if there were more communication problems between Ryo and the Chinese, like it certainly would have been in real life.

The ending of "Shenmue II" seems to take the game into a new direction, which I'm not sure is a welcome change. I suppose it has been the plan of the series' creators all along to include supernatural elements into an otherwise absolutely realistic story. Ryo had strange dreams, there were the two seemingly magic mirrors, and an ancient prophecy about to be fulfilled. But the ending of "Shenmue II" is the first time we witness a supernatural event. I didn't like that part so much. I think the game was already fine without it, and didn't need to demonstrate stuff that would have been more appropriate in a fantasy RPG. Also, it is a shame that the ending leaves us in a total suspense, much more so than the first game. If "Shenmue III" will never be released, this ending will simply have no meaning and will leave the fans of the series angry and puzzled.

The Bottom Line

I think I have never had as much fun with a game as I did with "Shenmue II". It has all the greatness from the first game, with more concentrated storytelling, richer gameplay, more fights, more nerve-tickling quick-time events, many more characters, a much larger world, some of the minor gameplay issues ironed-out, and generally more fun. This game is the ultimate cure for gaming depression and frustration. Now, forgive me for being sentimental, but... "Shenmue II", I love you!