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Shenmue II - More than Just a Game
By Adam "OMEGA" Arnold
Simply put, Shenmue is an experience. It is an epic that starts with the death of a young man's father, which leads him on a path of self-discovery and of revelations. Shenmue is the handiwork of Virtua Fighter's creator Yu Suzuki and is nothing short of an experience that is easy to become immersed in.
Chapter one begins in the city of Yokosuka, Japan on December 3, 1986, Ryo Hazuki begins his long journey for vengeance against Lan Di for killing his father. He stalks the streets of his hometown in hopes of finding some clues that may still be around. All the while, Ryo must hone the martial arts skills that he's learned and gain new ones as he progresses. He makes a number of allies along the way and even gets a job as a forklift driver so he can learn more about the local gangs causing trouble at the shipping docks. But when the very men he is trying to find kidnap his close friend Nozomi Harasaki, he realizes that things are a lot more dangerous than he once thought they were. He manages to save his friend, but at a price.
When Shenmue was released in the United States, it went up against another game which employed day and night cycles, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. When pitted against Nintendo's time travel adventure, Shenmue's worst flaw became apparent... that time moved way too slowly. The player would literally have to waste time by training in a park, playing any of the various games, or just stand in one spot until something happened. Sure, this made the game even more of a life-sim, but it did make it very tedious.
Another point that was criticized was the frequent use of QTE's (Quick Time Event) in which a player would have to press a button within a given time to advance the action of a scene just like in the old Laserdisc games Dragons Lair and Space Ace. If you pressed incorrectly, then you would lose and the QTE would start over until you got it right. Sure, this was a lot better than just watching a cinema, but it did get old after a while because the Free Battle system allowed for more freedom.
Luckily, both these problems have been solved in Shenmue II. If you happen to need to wait for a certain time you are given a menu with the choice to continue as normal or to 'wait' which instantly advances the time to the big event. Also, QTE's have become a bit more intuitive with the addition of a new thing called Command QTE (CQTE), which happen at key moments in the game. The action literally stops, an image of the controller buttons appear on the screen and a series of actions are displayed and the player must press them exactly. Get it incorrect and you may end up dead. The key to winning these is to know the button layout and how they relate to fighting moves. Also, it pays to save the game often because soft resets are often required because they're aren't infinite retries in this game.
Chapter 2 develops as Ryo arrives in Hong Kong in hopes of finding Yuanda Zhu, the person who sent his father a letter warning him of danger. His journey is one of self-discovery and exploration that may or may not lead him to rethink his desire for vengeance.
In many ways, chapter 2 is a lot like the first chapter in that Ryo must find out information by talking to people, exploring the city, and doing various fetch quests. Yet, in the end it does go beyond that, in that Ryo ends up training both his body and soul at a temple by doing some rather unique things. If you though the fork lift races were unique, just wait till you see Ryo carrying books at break-neck pace and then trying to catch falling leaves from a tree.
As Ryo's time in Hong Kong comes to a close, he sets off for the mountain top city of Kowloon where Chapter 3 and the entire third disc is spent. To say the city is big would be an understatement because it is utterly humongous. One can explore each and every skyscraper floor-by-floor and room-by-room. Some of the interesting things that occur include getting to listen to a series of taped conversations in order to find clues to finding kingpin Don Niu's girlfriend Yuan and then trailing her as she makes her rounds collecting dues. Let's not forget that this is the most action intensive chapter of Shenmue to date, because you have to beat a number of street fighters in hand to hand combat in order to gain access to the final area of the chapter which involves traversing your way up a skyscraper floor by floor.
Then we have a change of pace in chapter 4 as we get some major plot development. Ryo's journey takes him to Langhuishan, Guilin where he must trek through the mountains to Bailu Village. During this journey, Ryo rescues a girl named Shenhua who ends up being the person who has been haunting his dreams. As the two journey back to her village, the origins of the mirrors becomes apparent and the story takes a rather interesting turn.
Chapter 4 is literally four hours of heavy character development and plot advancement set against one of the most stunning forests ever created before in a game. The atmosphere presented is exactly like that which you would get from walking through the mountains and being able to look in every direction and see all the wonders of the wilderness. To amplify this experience is the simple fact that Ryo is traveling with the game's heroine who has finally made her appearance and all that you'll want to do is make the most of these precious hours together where you get to know each other better.
As with the first game, Shenmue II contains a large number of distractions to keep you enthralled in Ryo's world. You can still go around collecting capsule toys out of vending machines, give Ryo a break by letting him have a drink from a vending machine, you can play darts in a number of bars, slot machines are still around and so are all of the previous games classic video games such as Space Harrier, Outrun, and Hand-On, though that last one may take some time to find. In addition to those three games, Afterburner 2 has been fully emulated and added to Shenmue II. The catch is you've got to wait until you get to disc 3 to play it, but once you've played any of these games once they become available to play for free on the 4th Disc along with a summary movie of the first game and various other extras that are similar in nature to those that were on Shenmue's Passport Disc.
On top of all this there are now a ton of new mini-games that allow you to gamble such as the game Lucky Shot where you drop balls at the top of the board and hope they end up in a good space at the bottom. Then there is Roll It On Top, which is basically a dice game where you have to beat the banker by getting a higher number than them. Finally, there is Big or Small, which is sort of like Blackjack only played with dice. Let's just say the serious money is in Big or Small, because you can double or even triple Ryo's cash in a matter of minutes. Oh, and let's not forget the arm wrestling contest and even the street fights which are all rather challenging.
Once you've completed Shenmue II, as with the first one, you can save your game and then access a number of extras on the 4th Disc, which is a game disc that also serves as a passport disc. One of the cool bonuses is the inclusion of a short production video that shows exactly what Shenmue might have been like had it been released on the Sega Saturn. This video shows a number of key scenes from both Shenmue and Shenmue II that were completed prior to the Saturn's death. To top everything off is the fact that Ryo looks like he is a little kid and he lacks his trademark jacket. There are also some other promotional movies and art work available on each of the game disc when you insert them into a computer and browse the 'omake' folders.
With the slow painful death that the Dreamcast was suffering at the time, the day that Shenmue II's U.S. version was canceled came as both a shocking realization and as a time of mourning for fans everywhere. Sure, there would be a Shenmue II coming to the Xbox in the fall of 2002 that would be much better than the Dreamcast version, but a whole year is a long time to wait when the European version of the game was still coming out for the Dreamcast. Orders flooded online import sites well in advance of the game's release date, so many in fact that several sites had to increase their orders.
For the curious, the PAL version of Shenmue II is fully subtitled in English and can auto-recognize if a TV's display setting is PAL (European) or NTSC (U.S. and Japan). So if a TV is NTSC, the game will boot-up in NTSC and it doesn't require a signal converter. Call if a gift from Sega if you will, but it's a welcome feature considering all that is need to play Shenmue II on an American Dreamcast is a simple boot disc such as the import player DC-X or the Dreamcast Gameshark. The only problem is that American and Japanese saved games from Shenmue won't work with the European version of Shenmue II but there is hope because you can try to convert your save using one of the length process found on various message boards or just download a PAL end game save. It may be a big price to pay to not be able to continue your own adventure, but don't let it spoil the enjoyment you'll get from one of the best Dreamcast games.
|SHENMUE: CHARACTER DOSSIER
Ryo witnessed the death of his father at the hands of Lan Di and ever since he has been on a quest for vengeance. He is skilled in martial arts and can pick up new skills quite easily, but he does lack patience and often has a short temper.
Shenhua's name is also the name given to the blooms that appear on the Shenmue tree that grows outside her home in Bailu Village. She was orphaned when she was very young and taken in by one of the villagers who she thinks of now as her father.
Joy is a rather mysterious red headed biker chick who has a number of connections with the local gangs in Hong Kong. She seems to have a crush on Ryo and helps Ryo a number of times. Yet, there seems to have been something in the past between her and Ren.
Also known as Master Lishao Tao, Xiuying is embodies a number of attributes including intelligence, beauty, and skill. She is the leader of the Man Mo Temple in Hong Kong and is quite the martial arts master with her own special move, the Counter Elbow Assault.
Ren is the leader of the gang known as the Heavens that resides in the Beverly Hills wharf area of Hong Kong. Ren is very set in his ways and has little trust in other people. Still, he does know when an opportunity to make money comes his way.
Lan Di is a major player in the organization known as the Chiyoumen. He killed Ryo's father, Iwao Hazuki, with a single lethal blow. Lan Di currently has the Dragon Mirror and wants nothing but to get the other one for his own purposes.