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.
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.
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.