The Dreamcast’s swan-song?
Finally, the wait is over. Yes, tired Dreamcast owners rejoice, It’s Shenmue II! After all of Sega’s ummming and ahhhing about it’s release, it has finally hit our shores. For all of you wondering what all of the fuss is about, where have you been? Shenmue was the most awesome game on the Dreamcast, so this should be even better, right? Well…. sort of.
The plot is simple, you play Ryu Hazuki, a young Japanese man who is on a quest for revenge against Lan Di, a nasty piece of work who killed Ryo’s father. The only leads that Ryo has is a letter from an address in Hong Kong and a mysterious Phoenix Mirror. Not a lot to go on by any means but Ryo seems rather peeved about the whole affair and will stop at nothing until revenge is his. Fair enough. I wouldn’t try to stop him, he lives in a Dojo! Anyhow, Shenmue II picks up where the first one left off. Ryo arriving in Hong Kong, very alone and with only one lead; the letter from Hong Kong. Go to it Ryo!
There have been several changes to the format this time around. Firstly, there is no dubbing. Gone are the English Voice overs of the original, the speech is all Japanese with English subtitles. Many may feel this is a bad thing, I however, think that it is an improvement. The game feels even more real now, I mean, the game is set in Hong Kong and China. Do they all speak in English? Nope. It all adds to the incredible sense of realism that the game emits.
Realism. Shenmue II positively oozes it. When it rains you just want to go for a walk in it, just to experience each drop and sound, then, when you go walk about in Wise Men’s Quadrant and the Jumbo flies overhead, you can’t help but be amazed. The graphics are that detailed and the sound is just awesome, I haven’t seen a game that comes anywhere near it, maybe GTA3 on the PS2, even that isn’t in the same league.
However, these features were all apparent in the original, so what has been improved? Well, Shenmue II is roughly three times bigger than the original with backdrops including Aberdeen (In Hong Kong, not Scotland, duh!), Kowloon (a high-rise city outside Hong Kong), and rural China. Each scene is very different, Hong Kong is an airy cityscape with plenty of open-air shops and markets, Kowloon is a claustrophobic high-rise town, the towers are just huge, most shops are in the high-rises themselves, making the area immense. Finally rural China is just that, rural. Lots of fields and forests and whatnot. So there are plenty of places to roam, showing what a huge game it is, just how they packed it all on just the four GD-Roms is amazing.
The controls have changed this time too. Don’t worry, they are just as easy as the original system, this time however there is a button for talk, one for use and one for Diary (where Ryu keeps his notes). The new system works better than the original and still remains just as simple. The Battle system controls are the same, they work just like Tekken or Virtua Fighter, with simple combos and button presses unleashing punishing attacks that would leave Jackie Chan cowering in the corner (more on the moves etc. later). The Quick Timer Events are the same as the original as well (when the button flashes on screen, press it on the pad), although this time there are complicated combos that have to be timed correctly, both in and out of combat! That had me swearing quite profusely. Just when you think you have beaten the life out of someone, WHAM! They thump you from behind because you missed pressing left,left,left,up,down,left,a,a,b,b,left,x in three seconds…. well okay, not quite, but it can get a trifle annoying.
The Fighting in Shenmue is very important, after all, your Father did run a Dojo. Ryo’s fighting style is primarily Jiu Jitsu and he does actually take up the correct stance and perform several Jiu Jitsu throws, however most moves are made up, but they look real and that’s the idea. The combat is fluid and very impressive (the Iron Palm Strike brings tears to the eyes when seen in action), I found myself getting into fights just so I could kick more arse. It’s superb. Moves can be learnt by talking to people who will teach Ryo the move, or the use of move scrolls, which can be bought or are received as gifts, once opened, Ryo learns the move and it is added to his moves list where it can be learnt by the player (most moves are simple double button presses like A+B+left, easy stuff), once learnt they move can be used in combat. If used enough, Ryo will master the move and it will become very powerful, even leading to a different outcome of move, for example, a Demon Drop normally leaves you with your back to your opponent, when mastered, Ryo spins around to face the adversary. This means that you will find yourself entering street fights so that you gain these extra skills.
Of course, if you should get bored of following the plot, there are plenty of other things to do, after all this is Shenmue! Why don’t you go and waste some money at the arcade? You can play Outrun, Hang-on, Afterburner and Space Harrier, all arcade perfect! Or perhaps Darts? No? How about starting a collection of capsule toys? There are thousands to collect in Shenmue, Virtua fighters, Sonics, Robots and ships and stuff… it’s quite worrying really, collecting toys in a game… Oh well it has to be done, after all the bloody things are everywhere (yes, I am proud of my entire collection and yes, I am very sad indeed). Then there is the gambling, dice games and a pinball-style game called ‘Lucky Hit’. Dice games are simple, place a bet and roll the dice, easy money, unless you lose. Just pay attention to the rules and you will be fine. As for the Lucky Hit, all you have to do is drop a ball at the top of a nail filled board and if it bounces into a winning slot you’ve won! It’s all down to luck, really.
However if you get really, really bored, you could get a job! Hey, Calm down! I meant in the game, not in real life! Heaven forbid. Come back and sit down again. That’s better. Anyhow, Ryo can get a job at the docks lifting crates and boxes, although its rather boring, the pay is reasonable (more money for toys). I personally recommend getting a job at one of the lucky hit stands. Its easy, you just call people over and play best of three, three balls, you get the most, you win. Simple. Also you get to keep half of what you earn, which if you are good at lucky hit, can be a hell of a lot. Pick stands carefully though, some are more difficult than others.
So then. What Do I think of Shenmue II? Well, a little disappointed to tell you the truth. Don’t get me wrong it is an awesome game, one of the best on the Dreamcast. However I was expecting four sequels at the least. I feel slightly cheated by Yu Suzuki and Co, I wanted Shenmue to span huge boundaries, never crossed before… but alas it was not to be, the series moves ever onwards and upwards, now to be on the X-Box, leaving Dreamcast owners in the darkness thinking, “Why did we buy this, it’s the Saturn all over again!”. Well looks like Mr Gates will be receiving a visit from Ryo. By hell he better be ready...
An awesome, but slightly bitter farewell to the Dreamcast.