Import Review: Shenmue two ? say that five times fast.
As you are surely aware, a couple months ago Microsoft inked a deal with Sega to bring Shenmue II exclusively over to the Xbox. So sadly enough, the Dreamcast didn't get to go out with that final bang that we were all hoping for, and one that the system definitely deserved. Unless, of course, you go the route of importing, a tried and true way of getting games that never make it to our shores. In this review, I will not only go over the game's overall quality, I will also offer my input (what good it is) on whether or not you should go the import route, or just wait. Without any more delays, let's get this party started!
Ahh yes? life as one Ryo Hazuki. Never having to bathe or change cloths, having hot chicks constantly hitting on you, you're a master of kung fu (or whatever it is he uses, my expertise in action), and most importantly, you star in your own videogame. Aside from your father being murdered by the infamous Lan Di, which sets off your adventure of revenge, your life couldn't be any better. If you remember where the original left off, you will recall Ryo boarding a ship to Hong Kong, China, and this of course is where the adventure begins in Shenmue II. In truth, Shenmue dos is not exactly a sequel per say. It's more like the continuation of one massive story, so the game plays exactly like the first, along with a fare share of improvements.
Shenmue was never a game of amazing gameplay, that's no secret. It seemed as if Yu Suzuki put immersion and just the general idea of taking control of this character's life at the forefront. And that is exactly what makes the game work so well. I find it hard to stop playing just for the simple fact that I want to see what happens next. That's not to say the game contains no gameplay, though. Actually, like in the first, it comes in three forms: Free Quest, QTE (Quick Timer Event), and Free Battle.
Free Quest is where the majority of your precious time will be spent, it here that you move about the massive city (more on this later), talk to the locals, play games, and basically just progress. Not only that, but this mode has been the most improved, in the most part it's in the all important communication category. In the original you pretty much had one choice -- you could only talk to people about your latest clue in the game. Now, however, depending on how many clues you're working on, you can ask a person something in up to four different categories. Say you're looking for a person and a place at the same time, when you walk up to a NPC and try to talk to them, a selector will pop up in the upper left had corner of the screen that gives you the option to talk about the person or place. In general, there is now a little freedom in what you want to talk about.
Additionally, there is now a talk button dedicated entirely to the money aspects of the game. This time around money isn't given to you as a daily allowance, and to make matters worse, when you first arrive in the city you are jacked and lose all your dough. So, if you wanna sleep at a motel, buy something to drink, play videogames, or if you just need money to get important information, you have 3 choices. In the same fashion as you receive general information, now when you use the money button you will be given your choices: Pawnshop, Part-Time Job, or Gambling. Depending on which you choose, whomever you are talking to will either direct to the nearest pawnshop, gambling place, or tell you where you can get a part-time job. As you can see, a lot has gone into the communicating portion of the game, and it is definitely for the better. And thankfully that go anywhere, do anything freedom is still intact.
Next we have the QTEs, or Quick Timer Events, the portion of the gameplay that requires ?quick? reactions, not to mention your utmost attention. For those of you who are staring at the screen with a black expression on your face wondering what the hell I'm talking about, my guess is you've never played the original. It's simple actually, they are set events that usually involve you chasing after someone or getting in a fight. During one of these, a button will flash on the screen at a certain point and you have a split second to react and hit whichever button it is. This continues until the QTE is over or if you miss too many button presses and fail. Not to worry though, just like in the original, if you fail it will start over from the beginning until you complete it successfully. The only improvements I noticed in this aspect of the game is that in very important cases you will actually have to perform some fairly difficult D-pad/face button combinations. Overall, while the QTEs can be intense, they are also very fun to watch. Especially the cool ways Ryo takes out his enemies. He's one bad mother? shut yo mouth! What? I'm just talking about Hazuki.
Now that I got that Shaft reverence out of the way, let us talk about the Free Battle mode. This is the portion of the gameplay where you do your real-time fighting. Equipped with a dodge, kick, punch and throw button, you whoop up on your enemies, usually many of them at a time, with a variety of martial arts moves. In essence, this is exactly the same as it was in the original, except for the fact that at certain points you fight in a quasi-first-person view. And once again, like the original, you'll meet many new friends that will ether teach you a new move or give you a move scroll. And scrolls are still for purchase.
But with all the gameplay enhancements aside, Shenmue II offers much more than the original. Like I mentioned earlier, the game is much larger than the first, both in terms of the games environments and the actual time it will take to complete. For starters, the first game only contains, I believe, four mostly small areas. Compared to Shenmue II, that is nothing. There are many main sections in the game, each of which are divided into many subsections. Not to give away any spoilers, let's just say the game gets even bigger and more extraordinary after disk 2. Believe me, the sheer size of the game alone will impress you and you'll find yourself getting lost on a number of occasions. But it seems as if AM2 was ready for this, so each area of the game has a map you can purchase that will aid you throughout each area. There's even the option to mark special areas of each map with different color Xs. I found this to be a nice touch. Even more helpful, though, is the inclusion of a follow feature. Ask a NPC where a location is and they'll more than likely tell you to follow him/her to the desired spot. This really comes in handy when you first arrive in a new locale and have no idea where anything is.
Shenmue II comes in spanning four jam-packed GD-ROMs, so expect this one to last you a long time. On average, I'd say each disk takes between 7-10 hours to complete. In all, we're probably talking about 28-40 hours total playtime, about as long as any respectable RPG. Mind you, the game has a special feature where you can make the time pass quickly when waiting for appointments and such, so most of your playtime isn't wasted staring at a wall. Note, this is another one of the big complaints from Shenmue that has been alleviated. However, the game can last you much longer, especially with all the games available for play. You could spend hours just playing through arcade perfect ports of Hang On, Space Harrier, and new to the series, Afterburner. Gambling will probably eat up a good chunk of your time too. Off the top of my head I counted 5 different types of gambling, all which are very useful when you are in dire need of money.
It took awhile, but we finally arrived at the visual portion of the show. After playing my Xbox for almost 2 months straight, as you can imagine, the DC graphics are? how shall I put this? Lacking. But after a few hours that memory of the Xbox's beauty wore off and I was totally immersed in this fantastic looking world. Never have I seen so many people littering the streets, there has to be hundreds and hundreds of individual people going about their daily lives right in front of you. Then you have the countless businesses, apartments, and skyscrapers. Everything in the game is nicely detailed and very colorful too. In a word, the world of Shenmue II is overwhelming. The only real negative aspect of the visuals is a pretty big disappointment. When in a situation where a lot is going on, there can be some pretty substantial slowdown. Unfortunately, it's so bad at times that this cannot be overlooked. Although, to this day it still amazes me what the good ole Dreamcast can do. And I must say, I can't wait to see how this is going to look on the Xbox.
At the time of the game's conversion, the DC's demise had already been planned. So, instead converting all the voices over to English, as in the original, the developers opted to go with the original Japanese talents, with English subtitles. I have to admit, though, I do miss the English voices, but the game works just as well like this. On the music side of things, like in the first, expect to hear a lot of oriental type tunes, which I personally enjoy.