Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: December 5, 2002
If you owned a Dreamcast, you knew about Shenmue. As one of the largest Sega releases, you couldn’t escape it. It wasn’t universally appealing, as its goal of creating a real world in a console adventure framework led to some repetition. For the adventure loving crowd and those who enjoyed a good story, though, Shenmue was a breath of fresh air that let them explore freely without rush or constraints. It also managed to be a successful hybrid between an adventure, action and fighting game, making it unique – a rare thing in the console world.
The original Shenmue ended with Ryo Hazuki trailing his father’s killer to Hong Kong. For those that missed the first outing, a DVD has been included that’s brimming with game footage to bring you up to speed on the major plot points, while dispensing with some of the more mundane details involving kittens and collecting toys. Once you’ve viewed this recap, you’re pretty much ready to hop straight into Shenmue II‘s story, which starts with Ryo stepping off the freighter and onto the shores of Hong Kong.
Little has changed in the way Ryo interacts with his world. You use either the digital pad or the left analog stick to control his movements, while the right stick lets you look around. You can still zoom in to examine certain objects, such as the many maps scattered about the quarters, and once your focus has locked onto an object, you can either interact with it or zoom in further if tiny details are needed. While you’ll still have to use the first-person mode to progress through the story, there’s less hunting for tiny details and rummaging through drawers than there was in Shenmue, which may come as a relief to anyone who plundered the incredibly detailed but next to useless world of the Hazuki kitchen.
When you begin your travels, it’s easy to find yourself lost in the twisty streets of Hong Kong. Luckily, several new solutions to this common problem have been introduced for Shenmue II. The pedestrian crowd, for instance, is much more helpful in guiding you about the city. Locals will point you in the right way and give you directions to get to the next quarter or any specific place in the vicinity that Ryo might need to find. Quest givers are more specific than they were before, and as an added bonus, some walking characters will have enough time to lead you to your destination, throwing Ryo into an autopilot mode as he follows them.
The street maps are still there as well, but vending machines now dispense hand held copies of the geography. Once you pick these items up, you have a mini-map that’s on the screen at all times, the surface of which may be annotated with Xs of various colors, allowing you to mark potential job sites, gambling sites and quest areas in different colors, should the mood strike you.
Speaking of work, gambling and so forth, now that Ryo’s left home he won’t benefit from a daily allowance. He starts the game with a generous allotment of cash, but early in the plot he ends up losing it all. This leaves you in a bit of a predicament, as it costs money to stay at the guesthouse that will serve as your initial base, and you have none of it. Luckily, Ryo befriends Joy, a resourceful, motorcycle riding local who shows him where to earn some cash. From that point on, you can ask any of the locals about work or the location of gambling houses or pawn shops.
As it turns out, all those miniature figures you collected from bubble toy dispensers in the first game have a purpose. Pawnshops will pick them up individually, but the collections are far more desirable. Since the shops will pay big money for the hard-to-find collections, you have an incentive greater than personal satisfaction to try your luck at buying the mini-figures.