- Original release year: 2001
- Consoles: Dreamcast, XBox
Picking up right where the original left off, Shenmue II begins in early 1987 (the date is dependent on when you completed Shenmue 1 by, in terms of its in-game time – if you’re playing the Dreamcast version), with Ryo departing from his ferry in a port in Hong Kong. From there, Ryo continues to his investigations into Lan Di’s whereabouts and to the secret meanings behind the two mirrors.
The difference between Shenmue 1 and 2 is like night and day. Don’t get me wrong; the games have the same engine, the graphics are, more or less, the same and you are still on your quest to find Lan Di and avenge your father’s death. The real difference in the second part of Yu Suzuki’s epic saga, is the world you find yourself in. Shenmue 2, in a stark contrast to the first game (set in a small town in Japan), is set in a realistically large Hong Kong, full of unknown dangers. Like Ryo Hazuki, the player never feels quite safe. The game successfully make you feel like a ‘foreigner’ in a large, daunting and unknown area of the world. The game world is at least six or seven times the size of the first Shenmue game.
A lot of people complain that the original Shenmue was a little boring and that the pacing was too slow. Once you have played Shenmue 2, it makes sense within the context of the story. The first game almost acts as an introduction chapter, but Shenmue 2 is when the story really unfolds. It’s action packed, with more hand-to-hand combat and has a far larger scope. To achieve this, some of the high levels of detail have been cut back, in terms of interaction, but overall, for many people, it’s worth it for a larger and more action oriented game.
Still, one of the most beautiful moments of the game, is the final chapter (and final disc, if you’re playing the Dreamcast version which was on 4 discs, compared to the Xbox’s one disc), when Ryo reaches the outstanding location, Guilin, with its dramatic landscapes. It is at this point, when Ryo finally meets Shenhua (who had only appeared in Ryo’s dreams up until this point), a young girl who grow up in the deep wilderness of China. During the segment, Ryo and Shenhua’s relationship grows, as the game reaches its conclusion – apart from it’s really not so much a conclusion, as a complete cliffhanger. As I mentioned yesterday when reviewing the original Shenmue, Shenmue 3 will finally see the light of day though and we will finally find out what happens to Ryo after Shenmue 2.
In addition to the main storyline, there’s a lot of additional side-quests that are easy to miss if you blitz through the game. Like the first Shenmue, you should take your time to really explore the game world and immerse yourself in the experience. Take your time to speak to acquaintance Fangmei, and your friendship with her may develop to a point where you will find yourself talking to her daily, learning more about her. Eventually, you may just buy her a birthday present and join her for her Birthday celebrations. You may discover other friends along your journey, find yourself in different fights and can even take part in a duck race… It’s these moments that really make Shenmue 2 a special game. Here’s hoping it’s something they develop even further with Shenmue 3.
In retrospect, I’m a little disappointed with this review. Articulating effectively what makes Shenmue such a special, amazing experience is a tough job. Putting into words, how Shenmue captivated me from the moment I launched the game back in the year 2000, how Shenmue 2 impressed me, in some ways, even more so upon its release, is not easy!
If you’re interested in ‘backing’ Shenmue 3 and pre-ordering a copy of the game (as well as a whole host of other rewards), you can do so, for a limited time, over at the official site: https://shenmue.link/order/