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Shenmue II


 Written by Daniel Pelfrey  on July 12, 2001

First Impressions: -MORE OF- Ryo: Do you remember the day? Lady: Oh yes, that Ryo: Thanks a lot, old bag

When last we saw Ryo, he was headed towards Hong Kong at the end of Shenmue (Chapter 1) after the man who killed his father. This ending was not really a cliffhanger, since everybody knew that Shenmue is a 16-chapter epic from Sega gaming god Yu Suzuki. Suzuki-san has made no secret that this is going to be something epic, something new, and in order to bring his full vision to fruition, it would have to take place over several games.

Coming this fall, Shenmue II will bring more chapters (2-6 respectively) of this epic quest to a Dreamcast near you. Landing in Hong Kong, Ryo is lost, having lived his years in a provincial Japanese town. Having actually been to Hong Kong, I can safely say that it is easy to get lost there. It will be no different for Ryo.

Hong Kong being the hotbed of every activity known to man will provide Ryo with the information needed to track down the crime syndicate that Lan Di is a part of. Lan Di (you should remember from Chapter 1) is the reason for Ryo's journey. Of course, Ryo was not able to get out of Chapter 1 unassisted, so naturally, this next installment will provide Ryo with a bevy of assistants, some overtly helpful, and some, well, lets just remind you that even the thugs in Chapter 1 helped move the plot along.

The neighborhoods should be more varied this time around. There are reports that Ryo will find himself not only in Kowloon with it's towering buildings and steep hills, but finding refuge in a Japanese community as well. This will be particularly useful in finding people to help Ryo get acclimated to his new surroundings.

Where the first installment may have felt more like an interactive movie than a game, (I thought so, but still loved it) the upcoming continuation looks to address the issue by incorporating some control schemes more familiar to gamers. A new control scheme looks to allow the player to access a map (or not) if he so wished or converse (again- or not) with somebody by separate button commands. A much larger change though will be the chance to select a topic to talk about with other characters in the game, if you're played the original, then you know this is a much appreciated feature.

Time is finally on your side as well, since many gamers complained about having to wait 20 minutes for the ?real game time? clock to turn the appointed hour for a pre-selected event to occur. God-like powers are now bestowed upon the player, making time pass by like nothing has happened. Actually, nothing will have happened, since the time just magically passes by. You will have the option of either heading directly to the appointed, well, appointment, or not, and heading off to play one of the new mini-games.

Ah yes, the mini-games. Some of the more enjoyable, and time wasting events of the original Shenmue. Ryo would spend hours at You Arcade playing Hang On, or Space Harrier (at least my Ryo did). Again, mini-games will be an important part of Shenmue 2, because after 20 straight hours of trying to find your father's murderer, you just have to go and do some gambling. Details are sketchy right now about what will be included, but you can expect to see some of the vending machines as well as a pachinko machine to suck your money away from you.

Also remaining is the FREE (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment) battle system that frustrated some gamers. While retaining the essence of the original, the combat system is getting a slight overhaul. Expect more random encounters, as well as a changing interface. Unlike the first chapter, if you mess up the FREE encounter, you may not get a second chance to get it right. While there still may be a certain amount of reflexive button pressing, don't expect it to be the same way every time.

Mapping should also be a much more pleasant experience with the presence of a map in a lower corner of your screen. Previously, Ryo would wander around in circles finding the same street map on the same post over and over again if the player wasn't careful. Now, with the new mapping scheme, you will always be able to tell where Ryo (you) have been. Other maps will still be a necessity, since knowing where you have been, and knowing where you are going are still two different ideas.

There was a lot said about Ryo's relationship with Nozomi in Chapter 1, and many gamers felt, well, frustrated at the lack of any real romantic spark between her and Ryo. With her out of the picture, that leaves the ?love interest door? wide open. We of course have the mysterious girl in Ryo's dreams that eluded him in Chapter 1. Now, reportedly, we finally will get the chance to meet her. But she is not going to be the only one Ryo will have his eye on. Most gamers have their eye on Joy, the redheaded hottie who looks to be nothing but a love interest. It's unclear so far how she figures into the story. There needs to be, of course, somebody to show Ryo the ropes of his new home (if only temporarily) and that comes in the form of Kaoru. She appears to be a little young for Ryo, but should provide a lot in information that will be vital in the completion of the quest.

Unfortunately, the quest is not going to be completed in this installment. Shenmue II will bring us less than halfway to completion of the planned story. This brings us to the next area of concern for many gamers: Where will Ryo be after the Dreamcast is dead? AM2, the development house headed by Yu Suzuki that is bringing this story to fruition, previously has been working on PS2 versions of games, most notably Virtual Fighter 4. It was only natural to assume then that Shenmue III (and possibly IV) would appear on Sony's console. Now, recent rumblings have Suzuki-san eyeing the big black console being provided by Microsoft for future development.

But, will gamers play a Shenmue Part III regardless of console, if they have not played parts I and II? Most likely not. It's no secret the first game did not sell according to expectations. With the death of the Dreamcast, Part II might not sell as well as hoped either. That leaves a partly finished epic in mid production without any outlet for completion. Regardless of the platform (or platforms) Shenmue does eventually land on, we can probably expect to see a compilation (like the recent FF: Chronicles) of Parts I & II released sometime before part III hits shelves. With both the PS2 and Xbox having DVD as the media of choice, the capability to store both games on a couple of discs is there.

So, here is what I predict - Shenmue II will be released and people will love it. It is of course one of the best stories to come around in a long time, regardless of medium. The fact that this comes to us via videogame makes it all the better. After Shenmue II is released, there are two scenarios that I envision:

Scenario 1
Shenmue II released (fall 2001)
Shenmue Chronicles (summer 2002)
Shenmue III (Fall 2002)
Scenario 2
Shenmue II released (fall 2001)
Shenmue Chronicles (fall 2002)
Shenmue III (fall 2003)

Final Thoughts
Of course, we all hope for Scenario 1, but I actually expect to see Scenario 2, since this truly is epic in scope. Something this big can't be churned out like a franchise. Even though this is a series of games being released over multiple years time, it is all one story. A story that has captured the minds and hearts of many Sega gamers. A story that hopefully will be able to elevate past the tale of its parent company (Sega), and shine on to the end.

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