Shenmue II
System: X-Box
Publisher: Microsoft/Sega
Developer: AM2
Released: October 2002
Genre: Action/Adventure/FREE
Capabilities: Memory Unit, HDTV Progressive Scan Compatible

The American version of Shenmue II is finally out on the X-Box!
It took another whole year to get it hear, but the effort paid off a truly great sequel.
The pics above are from the Dreamcast version of the game.
Picture Credit( &

Review Written: November 23, 2002

Every gamer has one game that touches them deep down inside. They’ll proclaim it as the greatest game ever. They’ll say it’s their favorite of all time. They’ll say it delivers a one of a lifetime experience. The best! Shenmue II is my gaming Nirvana. I can now say I have played the best game ever, and had a one of a lifetime experience. Screw the silly futuristic sport of blitzball. Watching bouncing cars from the outside with a hooker in it goes right up in that league too. Why settle with these aforementioned cases when Shenmue II features you controlling human life?

When I got the original Shenmue on Dreamcast two years ago, I had no idea what I was in for. I was blown away by the experiences I had as I controlled Ryo Hazuki. I heavily anticipated the second release in America that was supposed to happen a year ago on the Dreamcast. However, Microsoft’s deep pockets got to Sega and convinced them to release the American version on X-Box. I was seriously ticked off that the game got delayed another year, so I imported the European version and completed it in quick order.

Even though I already completed Shenmue II on the Dreamcast, I still wanted to get my hands on the X-Box version as soon as possible. The extra features, slightly enhanced graphics, and the inclusion of English voice acting wanted me to experience Shenmue II one more time. I’m disappointed that the major media has been criticizing Shenmue II for mostly the weak voice acting and not taking advantage of the X-Box hardware to the highest degree. I’m still persistent that this isn’t the case, and that the media is either biased, or inane Final Fantasy marks. Let’s see if all this work paid off for Sega.

Shenmue II is focused around the young Ryo Hazuki. The first game was set in Japan in 1985. Ryo vowed to get his revenge after witnessing the mysterious Chinese kingpin Lan Di murder his father right in front of him. The conclusion of the first Shenmue left off with Ryo hot on the trail of Lan Di going back to China. This installment starts off with Ryo landing in Hong Kong as you continue to hunt down the man who murdered your father. Shenmue II consumes of chapters two through four of the announced twelve chapters in the Shenmue saga. Shenmue’s future is up in the air right now depending on how well this version sells.

One slick feature in the Dreamcast version of Shenmue II was the ability to use your old save from the first game so you can transfer all the money you earned, and keep all the miscellaneous items you bought from the last game too. Obviously, you can’t do that with the X-Box version due to the first version not coming out on X-Box. However, there is a bonus DVD containing the formerly Japanese-only theatrical release of “Shenmue: The Movie I.” It’s about 90 minutes of all the English cut scenes from the original Shenmue. This is a great bonus, and I suggest that you watch this movie so you can get an interesting perspective about the first game in case you missed it. If you don’t feel like sitting through a 90 minute presentation, then there’s a cut down 20 minute “digest movie” that can be found on the game disc. I’m still baffled at the fact that cut scenes from a video game can be assembled as a movie in Japan, but I guess that’s the way it works overseas.

Everything still controls the same as it did in the first Shenmue. You’ll adapt to the X-Box S Controller in no time. This is due to the similar button layout of the Dreamcast controller. You couldn’t move with the control stick in the first game, but now you can in the sequel. It’s a nice change of pace after all the faulty responses you get from moving around with the control pad.

The interface during game play is similar to that of the N64 Zelda games where certain action icons are located onscreen over the X-Box controller button layout. Game play is still identical to the original where you jot down clues in your notebook you get from questioning the people that populate Hong Kong. During your quest, you’ll run into many battles and events which I’ll discuss later on.

There have been a decent amount of improvements and additions to the game play in Shenmue II over the original. One major complaint from the last game was all the time you wasted waiting at a certain location for a specific event to occur. Now Ryo has the option of fast forwarding until the given time once you get to that location. Even though you have a whole city to explore and interact with in order to kill the time, this new addition is a handy inclusion for all the impatient gamers. Another nitpick was when you were in the middle of a certain quest and the time hit 11pm, you’d automatically be transported home and would have to backtrack to that same location all over again. The developers at AM2 heard our feedback on that and included an option where you can automatically go back to where you were last night.

The three main ways you played the first game are still in tact in Shenmue II. The one you’ll be in the most is Free Quest, where you’re simply walking around and exploring the many environments in the game. The second kind of game play is called Quick Time Event (QTE). These happen a lot during game play and will often surprise you during cut scenes where a random button will pop up and you must press it right away in order to pass a certain scene, or to keep the chain of events alive. Sometimes these can get intense, and the slightest slip up will make you start it all over again. Shenmue II introduces Command QTE’s. They are exactly like regular QTE’s but including a couple of buttons to be pressed in sequence with control pad commands. These aren’t all that common, and you’ll have to be on the lookout as they’ll most likely catch you off guard each time.

The final part of game play is called Free Battle. It’s the main fighting engine used in Shenmue II, and it’s quite similar to the one found in Virtua Fighter. You still have a great variety of moves at your disposal. My favorite is the Tornado Kick that Tom taught you in the original game. You’ll learn more moves later on, and it’s worth mentioning the X-Box version contains a few exclusive moves over the Dreamcast version.

Hong Kong is a gigantic in comparison to the world in the first Shenmue. As a matter of fact, it’s about ten times as large. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting lost trying to find where to go. You can still ask the various non playable characters (NPC’s) for directions of where you’re heading. There are two new features to make path finding much easier. First off, you can buy maps and mark navigation points on them by pressing B anytime during game play. Second, some of the NPC’s you ask for directions will actually lead you the way. You have the option of following them in first person mode until you get to your destination. I recommend following the little kids because they’ll sprint to where you’re going instead of taking their sweet time like the elderly.

Now that Ryo doesn’t have his aunt to rely on for a daily source of income anymore from the first Shenmue, you have to go out and earn a daily living. You’re in luck, because there are several ways to earn money in Shenmue II. You can now go to pawn shops and sell the miscellaneous Sega-themed trinkets you buy at vending machines. Ryo can get a job by lifting cargo at a dock. It has the same goal of your job in the previous game, but its more work since you don’t have a forklift to help you out. You can also run a Lucky Hit gambling stand, and earn half of your winnings you make off your countless victims. There are other ways of gambling such as participating in arm wrestling and street fights. The arm wrestling is especially challenging because you’ll be mashing the A button to gain momentum, but then must press a control pad direction when prompted to so you can gain leverage.

One of the great extras from the last game was to play classic emulated Sega games at the arcade. It was a great way to take your mind off the main quest ahead of you. Space Harrier and Hang-On from the previous game return to the arcades in China. They are joined up by two more classics of Shenmue creator, Yu Suzuki. The new arcade games are Outrunner and Afterburner 2. There are also other types of games to be found in the arcades like Darts, and a QTE-themed boxing game. If you hate wasting all your hard earned money in the arcades, you’ll be glad to know that after you play each mini-game for the first time, you can play them for free off the “Shenmue Collection” option from the main menu.

Some of the other new features in the X-Box version of Shenmue II make an impact on the graphics. One of these features is the ability to take snapshots anytime during game play. You can store up to a couple hundred photos in your photo album and they are memorable to look back on when you highlight the important moments during game play. Another new feature is the ability to filter the graphics into one of several color schemes by pressing the white button. You can give the graphics a black and white makeover, or just limit the color palette. It’s not that important of a feature, with its only important use resulting in some sharp looking snapshots.

I’ve been reading a lot of people heckling the graphics for not being X-Box caliber. First off, these people have to understand this game is a port of a Dreamcast title, and not an original X-Box title. These visuals were state-of-the-art for the Dreamcast, but I know they won’t cut it for the X-Box. The textures for the buildings and other objects that surround you do have a bit of a bland look compared to most X-Box games out there.

The strongest thing the graphics for Shenmue II has going for it is the character models. Naturally, the main cast is the ones that have the most amount of detail to them. Ryo has a much sharper look to him than the model of him from the previous game. The other main characters like Ren and Joy also have a unique look to them that separate them from the NPC’s in Shenmue II. I’m use to most single player adventure games toning down the detail on the NPC’s, but that’s not the case here. One can only wonder how the developers at AM2 can come up with so many different character models and give them all their own unique set of animations. Start to converse with any NPC and notice how their mouths are animated to closely match the speech in the game. Not too shabby for a Dreamcast port.

Believe it or not, the developers actually did improve some of the bugs found in the visuals of the Dreamcast version of Shenmue II. The all-too-often slowdown that occurred when running across heavily populated areas is nowhere to be found in the X-Box version. Everything also has a slightly more polished feeling to it so it doesn’t feel like everything was cluttered on the screen like before. The loading times are also improved, and are about two to three times as fast as its Dreamcast counterpart.

I’d be lying if I said the voice acting was going to win any awards. Wait, I take it back. I’ll slap it with “The House of the Dead 2 so bad its good award.” It seems I’m the only one to put that perspective on Shenmue II’s voice acting so far. Granted, the featured cast of characters has stellar voice acting as you’d expect, but it’s mostly the NPC’s where the problems arise. Some of them have fair voice acting, not the greatest stuff in the world but it gets the job done. However, there are numerous cases where the voice acting is too laughable to take it seriously. For example, I started a conversation with a middle aged white man, and his voice sounds like it was done by Mr. T himself! I could barely hold myself together for that scenario, and then there’s a guy dressed like a bad ass who sounds like a hoarse Steve Urkel. For people who think voice acting for NPC’s is the most vital thing in the world (which is the impression I got from the other media), then you have the option of disabling the voice acting all together and only having subtitles.

The Japanese themed musical soundtrack from the first Shenmue will always be memorable for how well it was done. All of the tracks perfectly fit the atmosphere of the game. AM2 strikes again with another great musical score in Shenmue II. At first I wasn’t too fond of the Chinese themed tracks, but after a while they started to grow on me. Just like the original, they match the atmosphere of Hong Kong and help set the tone during game play. The type of music will appropriately change as you progress into different situations. For example, there is easy going music while you are in Free Quest mode, and more frantic fast paced music occurring during QTE’s and Free Battles.

Like I mentioned already, there are plenty of things to do in China so you can take a break from avenging your father’s death. You can gamble at special pachinko boards, participate in street fights and arm wrestling contests, or play classic Genesis games in the arcades. There is also a unique slot house that operates as a casino where you can buy tokens and increase your earnings by your luck of matching the slots. As I said above, you won’t be wasting all your money playing the mini-games because all of them are unlocked to be played for free whenever you try them out for your first time in Shenmue II. Also, the included DVD of the cut scenes from the first game is also worth checking out.

One of the main drawbacks of the first Shenmue game was its short length. I easily completed the game in ten hours my first time through. That isn’t the case here. I’m eager to inform you that you’ll spend roughly 35-40 hours trying to complete Shenmue II your first time. The last several hours of game play is a special aftermath of sorts, and it’s a one of a kind experience that I guarantee you won’t find in any other game out there. I don’t want to spoil anything, but rest assured you’re in for a major turning point in the Shenmue saga.

The saga continues……

Shenmue II is my Final Fantasy. My Metal Gear Solid. My Halo. My favorite game ever. My ultimate gaming experience! Don’t be fooled by the critics mostly slamming the non X-Box caliber graphics, and B movie voice acting, because that’s where the complaints end. If you’re a fan of the first game then don’t delay and get this game now if you haven’t already. People who haven’t played the first game don’t know what they’re missing out on. Once you give this game a chance, you’ll be hooked! Shenmue II is an unrivaled experience that should be in everyone’s X-Box collection.

Score: 10/10

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