Japanese Dreamcast cover art
|Developer(s)||Sega AM2 (DC)
Rutubo Games (Xbox)
Microsoft Game Studios (Xbox)
Role-playing video game
|Distribution||4 GD-ROMs (DC)
1 DVD (XBX)
Due to exclusivity rights obtained by Microsoft, the North American Dreamcast version was cancelled. Because of this, no English dub was recorded for the Dreamcast version of Shenmue II. The European release instead featured the original Japanese audio with English, French and Spanish subtitles. However, the game was later re-released on the Xbox in North America, and an English dub — featuring most of the original English dub cast from Shenmue — was produced for this release. Shenmue II incorporates three chapters of the Shenmue saga.
Following from where Shenmue left off, Ryo then departs from Yokosuka to Hong Kong and searches for Master Tao Lishao, as he was instructed to do by his friend, Master Chen Yaowen. This mysterious and elusive individual is Ryo's only possible link to Lan Di, the Chinese man who murdered his father. After a difficult search, Ryo finally meets Master Tao Lishao, a woman named Hong Xiuying; but she is unwilling to assist him in what she considers a futile quest for vengeance. The two part ways, although Xiuying continues to monitor Ryo's progress and they continue to meet on occasion. Through his continued search, Ryo discovers another individual, Ren Wuying, who may be able to assist him in locating Lan Di.
Ren Wuying is the leader of a gang named The Heavens, who engage in a variety of illegal activities. After initially attempting to wile Ryo, Ren decides to assist him in his quest after discovering that there are large sums of money tied up in the mysterious and ancient Phoenix Mirror. A young boy who holds Ren in high regard (considering him like a brother, although they are not related by blood) named Wong, and an adventurous and free-spirited woman named Joy also befriend and assist Ryo in his continued search for Lan Di.
In Kowloon, Ryo attempts to locate Zhu Yuanda, a martial arts expert who sent Iwao Hazuki a letter warning of his impending murder, a warning that arrived too late. At this juncture, several confrontations ensue between Ryo and his allies and the dangerous Yellowheads organization, who are aiming to kidnap Zhu Yuanda on behalf of Lan Di.
After following several clues, Ryo and Ren finally find Zhu Yuanda; however, the meeting is cut short when they are ambushed by the Yellowheads leader, Dou Niu, and Zhu is kidnapped in the resulting encounter. Wong and Joy are also held captive, although Ryo later ensures their release through his victory against a powerful martial artist named Baihu. In the climactic scene that follows, Ryo and his allies enter the building in which Zhu Yuanda is being held, and after Ryo does battle with Dou Niu for the final time. They are able to prevent Lan Di from receiving a captured Zhu Yuanda as originally planned but Lan Di escapes during this altercation. Zhu Yuanda provides Ryo with crucial information regarding the true purpose of the Dragon and Phoenix Mirrors—the mirrors will lead to the resurrection of the Qing Dynasty. Ryo is advised to continue his search in Bailu Village, in remote Guilin. He parts ways with Ren, Wong and Joy, continuing his journey and heading for the same destination as Lan Di.
Shortly after arriving in Guilin, Ryo encounters a young woman named Ling Shenhua. She previously appeared to Ryo through several dreams throughout the first chapter of the series. As the two converse, it is revealed that Shenhua's family is connected with the legacy of the dragon and phoenix mirrors. Shenhua leads Ryo to a stone quarry on the outskirts of the village to meet with her father, but he is nowhere to be found. The game ends in a cliffhanger, with the pair discovering a cryptic note and sword, which Ryo combines with the Phoenix Mirror and inadvertently sets off a device revealing a huge depiction of the two mirrors.
As in the first chapter of the series, Ryo Hazuki is the main protagonist and the only playable character. As the player progresses through the game, Ryo encounters a variety of new characters as he travels through Hong Kong and Guilin in search of Lan Di. Early on in the story, Ryo meets flirtatious Hong Kong socialite, Joy. She will later become a more important character in the story through her association with Ren Wuying. He is the leader of a gang, known as The Heavens, which is primarily involved with petty crime in the local area. Ren, however, seeks fame and fortune; both of which serve as his main incentive for assisting Ryo in his quest to begin with. Ren's charisma and charm is greatly admired by Wong who sees Ren as an older brother and aspires to be like him. Although she refuses to assist Ryo in his quest, which she considers to be immoral and dangerous, Hong Xiuying (aka Master Tao Lishao) offers him valuable advice and several important martial arts skills. Thoughtful and elegant, a lifetime of sacrifice and sorrow appears to be hidden behind her beautiful eyes. She is a motherly figure to Xun Fangmei, who is physically attracted to Ryo and is frequently bashful around him.
As the story develops, Ryo seeks and eventually finds Zhu Yuanda; an old acquaintance of Iwao Hazuki who attempted to warn him of his impending murder. Once an owner of a wealthy trading company, he is kidnapped by The Yellowhead corporation, who act on behalf of Lan Di. The powerful organized crime underground corporation is headed by Dou Niu, although Ryo has more involvement with his eccentric sidekick, Yuan. Yuan is referred to as a female (and voiced by a female actress in the English voiceover) in the Western and European releases of the game, but in the original Japanese edition is established as a cross-dressing male. The final major character that Ryo meets is Ling Shenhua. Though pure and compassionate, Shenhua also has great strength. She previously appeared to Ryo through his dreams and there is an implied mystic connection between them both that would always ensure their meeting.
Content and features
Shenmue II initially takes place in Hong Kong. The final chapter of the game takes place in Guilin, located in China. The environments found in Shenmue II are loosely based upon the geography of locations in and around Hong Kong. The environments found in the game are much larger than those found in the first title of the series. It has been noted that the settings of Shenmue II are somewhat less intricately detailed than those of Shenmue. The first environment of the game is Aberdeen Harbour, where Ryo arrives after travelling from Japan via ship. Aberdeen is an underprivileged area, and in addition to the various docks and drinking establishments, there are several gambling parlours where players can take part in QTE-based games of chance. Ryo meets a variety of dangerous individuals here, but also future allies including Joy, Wong, and Ren. On the outskirts of Aberdeen is Queens Street, a pleasant area that is lined with brownstone houses, reflecting Hong Kong's British governors.
Wan Chai is a mostly working-to-middle class and metropolitan area of Hong Kong. The game's depiction of Wan Chai mostly eschews the skyscrapers and financial district the area is famous for, relegating these to a far off inaccessible area viewed across the harbor and from the edge of one of the quarters. Instead, Ryo's adventures take place in areas that reflect working class Hong Kong life, small businesses, dai pai dongs, the religious and martial arts communities, and the gang underworld. The first of these is Green Market Quarter, which contains several points of interest including the Come-Over Guest House, where Ryo stays for an extended period before meeting with Hong Xiuying. The area also houses a bustling market and a pawn shop where players can trade items for Hong Kong Dollars. Beyond are the residential quarters South Carmain and Wise Men's, they are of little interest overall although the latter is the setting for several meetings between Ryo and various martial arts masters, who can teach him new techniques and fighting moves if the player so wishes.
The vibrant Golden Qr. is lined with various stores and boutiques, including the Tomato Convenience Store; a branded chain of supermarkets that appear in the previous installment of Shenmue. There is also a Video arcade, which allows the play of Space Harrier and Outrun, two popular hits produced by Yu Suzuki. The Lucky Charm Qr. contains various stores, most of them dealing in consumer electronics; and several bars and restaurants. Another area of Wan Chai is the White Dynasty Qr an area with a large market which also contains quite a few bars. The final area is an attractive hamlet known as Scarlet Hills, it is pretty small and is most notable for the Man Mo Temple, where Xiuying is the resident master.
Kowloon Walled City, an urbanised area of northern Hong Kong is the final district of the city that Ryo visits before leaving for Guilin. It is loosely based on the real walled city of Kowloon, which still existed at the time the game takes place. It is surrounded by eight peaks, the most famous of them being Lion Rock (see etymology of "Kowloon"). Ryo arrives in the area via bus. This densely populated city is visually dominated by its many high reaching skyscrapers, which are in varying degrees of disarray. Whilst here, Ryo's home is Ren's hideout, located on the outskirts of the city. In addition to the locations that progress the narrative of Shenmue II, Kowloon also contains a variety of gambling, video game and retail establishments for the player to enjoy. The Yellowhead Building, where Ryo and his allies do battle against Lan Di's dangerous associates for the last time, is in the very center of the city.
Ryo's final destination in Shenmue II is Guilin, home to Ling Shenhua. This subtropical region is surrounded by the Lijiang River and several mountains, the most notable being Elephant Trunk Hill. Arriving here via boat, Ryo meets several locals of a small riverside village before traversing deeper into the surrounding forests and meadows. A substantial point of interest within Guilin is the frequently foreshadowed ancient tree from which the saga's title is derived. Located in the garden of the Shenhua residence, this ancient blossom tree is, both literally and figuratively, at the center of the prophecy that runs as a continuous thread throughout the Shenmue series. The game's final scene takes place in a setting based upon the Seven-Star Cave
Much like with Yokosuka in the first game, the locations of Hong Kong that are reflected in Shenmue 2 are inaccurate in terms of geographical placement. Aberdeen is on the other side of Hong Kong Island, which means there is supposed to be a mountain blocking Wan Chai from Aberdeen and vice versa. The Man Mo Temple is actually located in Sheung Wan, which is a long way away from Wan Chai, but could still be considered part of the Central district along with it. Beverly Hills is located in Happy Valley, and not in Aberdeen. The recreations of real cities in Shenmue are not intended to be reproductions of the real cities, but rather a backdrop for the game to be connected through interlinked level design and vehicles for the underlying cultural themes. Therefore, the Hong Kong depicted in Shenmue is an idealized version of old style Hong Kong buildings and markets which still exist, but even in the 1980s were being supplanted by new buildings and developments. This theme of journeying through areas facing impending societal change is continued from Yokosuka, where traditional Japanese small town life was gradually giving way to American influences, and foreign criminal syndicates controlled the harbor, and extended in Kowloon Walled City, a city which was demolished shortly after the game's chronology. These urban settings reflect Yu Suzuki's particular interests in traditional Chinese culture, as well as the underlying series motif of internal conflict and cultural identity.
Differences between the Xbox and Dreamcast versions
When the U.S. Xbox version was released in 2002, it brought some changes and enhancements to the original with it. The most significant difference is the inclusion of a full English dub, with Corey Marshall reprising his role as Ryo Hazuki (芭月 涼 Hazuki Ryō) from the first game. There are two new gameplay features – a Snapshot mode to take pictures of gameplay or cutscenes to store on the Xbox's hard disk and Filters to alter the color filters used on the entire screen. The graphics were improved by the Xbox's more advanced hardware (bloom lighting during the night hours, better looking water, among other features), the lengths of the load times were slightly reduced, Dolby Digital 5.1 support was added for the game's cutscenes, and the frame rate now ran at a much more consistent 30 frames per second with less loss in characters on-screen (the Dreamcast version used an aggressive character LOD that caused pedestrians to fade in and out of plain view in very crowded scenes). This was all done without many sacrifices to the original game design, with only one instance (the Worker's Pier,) of noticeable pedestrian reduction from the Dreamcast version. The Xbox version also used Quincunx Anti-Aliasing (like many Xbox games) and although the technique reduced "jaggies" associated with aliasing, fans are generally split down the middle as to whether this and the new nighttime bloom lighting effects hurt the image quality in the Xbox version of the game giving it a somewhat "blurry" or "washed out" look.
There are also many other graphical differences, mostly involving the signs on buildings, labels on jukeboxes, signs on gates, etc. having been changed or simplified from the Dreamcast version.
Also added was a mode to view the player's snapshots and six side stories that could be unlocked by taking an in-game snapshot of certain characters. These side stories took the form of manga and four of them expand on areas of the story that the main game touches on, while the remaining two contain bonus art.
The original Dreamcast version came on four GD-ROMs, and Japanese version came packed with a Virtua Fighter 4 Passport which allowed gamers to connect to the Virtua Fighter.net as well as a Virtua Fighter 4 History Disc which contained a special interview with Yu Suzuki and an overview of the history of the Virtua Fighter series. This package was not included with the European version. The Xbox version came on one DVD and came bundled with Shenmue: The Movie on a separate DVD for play on a standard DVD player. The film is composed entirely of scenes from the first game.
One feature the Xbox version lost was the ability to import a save file from a completed Shenmue game, allowing the player to bring items and money collected in the first game to the second. However, since the player could not import his or her inventory, the Xbox port started the player off with (nearly) every item obtainable in the first game, including a majority of the capsule toys and other collectibles, though the cassettes (amongst a select few other items that can be re-obtained in this installment) are mysteriously missing. This is identical to starting the Dreamcast version without a cleared Shenmue save file.
When the Xbox version reached Europe, Microsoft chose not to utilize Sega's European localization, choosing instead to do a straight conversion from the North American release. Because of this, the European Xbox release only supports English, whereas the EU Dreamcast release features support for multiple languages.
Shenmue II features gameplay similar to that of its predecessor, Shenmue; however, there are many additions and changes, and many fans consider it to be a completely different experience.
One marked difference in this installment of the game series is the abundance of action sequences, mostly relying heavily on the use of cinematic QTE events in lieu of free battles (whereas the first installment had a fair balance of the two). In Shenmue, there was often a certain character who Ryo had to talk to in order to advance the story line; in Shenmue II, often many characters will be able to help Ryo reach his destination, allowing the game to progress at a much quicker pace, and there's often only one solution, while in the first title there were several different paths Ryo could have gone down as far as his investigation was concerned. Despite Shenmue II's more linear nature, however, there are still moments of non-linear plot progression; for example, at several points Ryo must make a hidden sign at certain restaurants, and depending on which restaurant the player chooses, different events will occur. Occasionally a QTE will make use of this as well; in the first Shenmue, failure of a QTE meant the player would simply be allowed to retry it, whereas in Shenmue II, although rare occurrences, there are QTEs which result in a branching story path. Shenmue II also features a "question system" where the player can choose from a variety of different questions to ask non-playable-characters. Money plays a much bigger role in Shenmue II as well; unlike the first game, where Ryo was given money at the start of each day, Shenmue II requires the player to find a part time job or to gamble in order to earn cash. Shenmue II also boasts a bigger selection of playable retro arcade games than its predecessor. Hidden cutscenes, however, which took place when a player happened to be on a certain street at a certain time on the correct day, have largely been sacrificed from this sequel.
Whereas the first Shenmue consisted of a single world with an immense amount of detail (for example, the ability to open almost every drawer in Ryo's house and often pick up the contents inside), Shenmue II consists of several worlds with less intricate detailing, although much more to explore. Despite the tighter pacing and more eventful storyline, however, Shenmue II keeps the basic formula of its predecessor, which essentially involves the player wandering through a virtual world, talking to people and receiving clues that lead Ryo deeper into the mystery surrounding the murder of his father.
The Dreamcast version of Shenmue II has a data transfer feature in which players can import their game-save data from Shenmue, carrying over in-game money, collected items, and martial arts move sets.
The Dreamcast version received very positive reviews, and was commended for improving on criticisms of the first game, such as pacing issues which were resolved with the time skip feature, as well as the faster pace of the plot and larger proportion of action sequences. The Xbox version, though still garnering solid marks, received complaints from some critics about the English voice conversion and only minute visual upgrades.
While the Japanese version sold relatively well (in the limited Dreamcast market) and the European version sold many units due to the high import demand, the long delayed American release on the Xbox sold poorly.
This is largely due to the fact that given the high price of the Xbox and availability of a European Dreamcast version, a significant proportion of the fanbase (largely the market of Dreamcast owners) did not own an Xbox to buy it for. The rest of the market responded poorly due to poor marketing and lack of exposure to the series, resulting in a lack of awareness or interest in the heavily story driven game, which commences on a cliffhanger from a game that was not available to those who had not owned a Dreamcast. Without an installed fan base on the console it was exclusive to, the sequel failed to have any word of mouth promotion and did not find more than a niche audience. Sega and Microsoft did not release an Xbox version in Japan.
Sega originally planned to release Shenmue III, but over the years many have speculated that the game may never see the light of day. Various unconfirmed reasons for its delay include budget issues, poor sales of Shenmue II, and creative differences between Yu Suzuki and the more conservative management Sega installed after restructuring. Although Suzuki is still employed with Sega, he has not been involved in a major console title for years, and was not involved in the newer versions of series he pioneered, like Virtua Fighter 5.
Since the release of the second installment, Shenmue III has been announced for development and cancelled at least twice. In August 2005, Kikizo.com stated that Shenmue III would be a compilation of the first and second installments plus the final chapters. After some time, a new Shenmue project was underway, later revealed to be Shenmue Online. Despite an announcement declaring the project canned, series creator Yu Suzuki has expressed interest in reviving the project and asserts that it is in a "pending" state.
The entire storyline of the Shenmue saga is already finished, yet the final chapters (which would have made up its sequels) never went into production. Fans petitioned for Shenmue III's development, which included a high profile (yet short lived) campaign issued by videoGaiden, but nothing official has been announced so far. Most recently[when?], Suzuki was quoted as saying, "Regarding Shenmue 3, we're not carrying on relative development yet, and I can't give you any further information for the time being." Similarly, Simon Jeffery (former President of Sega of America) was asked whether Sega was ever going to release Shenmue III, to which he responded "There are no plans for [Shenmue III] right now." He also noted that it was "definitely one of the most requested fanboy games." In January 2010, a Famitsu 360 interview with Sega took place, and the possibility of Shenmue III was discussed. Sega said that though sales are a big factor, they would "love to do it" if the opportunity presented itself.
It was revealed on October 7, 2010 that a new Shenmue game currently named Shenmue City is due to be released in Japan only for mobile phones. Though little is known about this game, it is expected to run on Yahoo’s Mobage Town social network.
During an interview in November 2010, Sega West president Mike Hayes discussed the possibility of Shenmue III, saying "While at present we have no plans for the franchise [on next-gen consoles]...the Shenmue legacy ignites a lot of passion among fans. Never say never."
On December 8, 2010, Yu Suzuki discussed the concept of Shenmue III and how the game in-speech interactive will be like. Yu Suzuki did not say those concepts were in the game, however he just wanted to show what Shenmue III would come to be if it was ever going to happen.
On March 2, 2011, Yu Suzuki appeared at the Game Developer's Conference 2011. When he was asked about Shenmue III, he said: "I think SEGA will let me make it…it's a matter of budget…we have to make it in an affordable way." Later that month, Mega64 created a comedic skit titled How Shenmue Was Supposed to End with Yu Suzuki himself participating in the video.
On January 4, 2012, Yu Suzuki hinted that he can secure the rights to Shenmue from Sega
Forward to around March 2013, there has been news that Suzuki is attempting crowd-fund Shenmue 3, hoping the fans will make the game a reality; there's also talks about console exclusivity in trade for funding the project. However, no confirmations have yet been made. In the February 2014 issue of Official PlayStation Magazine, Shenmue III was rated the third most wanted game by PlayStation gamers.
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