Ryo Hazuki: The Legend Continues
The son of Iwao Hazuki walks out of the past. Many years have gone by since his father was killed at the hands of a mysterious and powerful man and the dutiful son resumes his quest to exact revenge. Now, in a land far away from home, he wanders in search of answers and the truth. Along the way, he faces new challenges, meets new friends and gains new enemies. The path that he travels is long and difficult, yet he endures. He is Ryo. He will help you.
After what seems like a lifetime of waiting, the second installment of Shenmue series finally makes it to American shores. I guess that boat Ryo took to Hong Kong at the end of the first game was going really, really slowly.
But while our hero was on his extended three-hour tour, the Dreamcast slowly slipped away into video game history. The quest could have ended right there, but fortunately for us the Xbox picks up the adventure right where we left off. Not much has changed in Ryo's world, and eager fans both new and old will be happy to know that the story is still as exciting as ever.
For those of you who never got the chance to play the original (or if you just need a refresher course), Shenmue II comes with a feature-length DVD that chronicles the events of the first game. Basically, it's a collection of in-game cut scenes and memorable moments that explain what's going on. There really isn't anything special about this supplement for those of you that played Shenmue, but it certainly is a helpful prologue for new players.
Predictably, the gameplay of Shenmue II remains largely unchanged from the original. After all, we've been waiting for what seems like forever for this bad boy to finally make an official appearance. The majority of the game is cut from the adventure mold with a strong dose of Virtua Fighter style fighting and Dragon's Lair-esque quick-time elements. But even with all these different types of play, the entire game blends together nicely for an experience like none other.
Each game day, Ryo heads into town to look for clues explaining the mysteries surrounding his father's murder. This time, however, the setting is Hong Kong and the number of areas to explore easily surpasses the original game. Unlike the original, Shenmue II takes place in several different areas rather than sticking to one main area. This breaks the game up into several sections and keeps environments fresh and interesting.
One of the most amazing accomplishments of the game is that the city in which Ryo explores is fully detailed and functional. Players will be able to interact with anyone on the street, buy items in shops, gamble and even hold a steady job. They will also be able to enter buildings, knock on every door in town and progress in the game as fast or as slow as they want. Ryo can go almost anywhere and interact with just about everything.
This includes the kinds of interactions that could lead to a bloody nose. The free fighting plays a much larger role in Shenmue II than its forbear, as Ryo has more bad guys to deal with than Kwai Chang Caine in a seedy gangster bar. While one might have expected just a few punches and kicks, our hero unleashes a flurry of devastating hand and foot combos. On top of that, Ryo has plenty of throws and close range techniques, leading to a set of over 50 moves. Considering that this isn't even technically a fighting game, that's a ton of variety. Even Bruce Lee didn't look this good.
The highlight of the game, however, is the excellent story. Ryo's pursuit of his father's killer has more twists and turns than a Six Flags roller coaster and it's very easy to get caught up in the quest. In some respects, Shenmue II is like a good book. There will be times you just don't want to stop playing just so you can see what happens next.
Unfortunately, Shenmue II also has some really slow moments that will make you want to tear your hair out. For example, there's one situation that requires our protagonist to come up with $500. Assuming you haven't somehow already collected this amount, you'll be forced to complete repetitious tasks in order to come up with the Benjamins...er, Queen Elizabeths. Working at the docks will earn you $60 a shot if you're good and gambling might help, but it in these situations, it can still take a virtual eternity doing the same tasks over and over to collect enough dough.
Another annoyance is the occasional stray camera problem. For some reason the camera will just get stuck while following Ryo around and lose all ability to compensate for his movement. There seems to be two types of common photographic flubs. First is the floor cam, which takes effect as Ryo climbs stairs. The camera swings in low and gives players an upward view, then proceeds to get stuck even after Ryo has reached the top. From there on out you'll just be staring up at the business end of Ryo's gluteus maximus. The other camera snafu happens as Ryo moves around corners. The camera swings out low and to the side of our hero and sticks there. Movement from here on out is tough since the view is jammed in at an angle. Fortunately, these sticky camera problems eventually work themselves out, but the annoyance factor is still pretty high.
On a more positive note, Shenmue II has expanded its library of classic Sega arcade hits. Head over to the local arcade and you'll find Outrun and Afterburner II waiting for you in addition to the Hang On and Space Harrier that we got to play in the original. These mini-games add a nice little retro touch that is sure to bring back some fond Sega memories.
As it stands, Shenmue II is a very good sequel to one of the most unique video games in town. Great storytelling combined with a variety of gameplay elements keep things interesting, though there are certainly a few pebbles this grasshopper fails to snatch.