Developer: d3t, Ltd.
Release Date: 08/21/2018
Also Available On
Shenmue is one of those games I never got a chance to play and have wanted to all these years. You always hear people talking about it, it pops up in “Best Of” videos and “Worst Of” videos, especially for the Dreamcast system itself. Shenmue was a beast all on its own back in the day as no one had tried these gameplay ideas before. Sure, it’s an adventure game on the surface, but it’s also a life simulator, fighting game, and mini-game extravaganza all in one. It’s weird, beautiful, ugly, and frustrating all at the same time, and yet somehow it all kind of works.
You play as a high school boy named Ryo Hazuki. He gets home one day and his father died while fighting a Chinese man named Lhan Di. He steals something called the Dragon Mirror and you must somehow get it back. The weird thing about the story is that the end goal never really matters, but all the stuff in-between. What is this Dragon Mirror and why does Ryo need to get it back? It’s really never explained except something about fulfilling a prophecy and the end times will come if Di keeps it…I don’t know, the story is so unbelievable and weird.
The game starts out like any other adventure game as you wake up in your room and commence rummaging around the house pulling open drawers, finding items, and trying to figure out where to go. Thankfully that’s something Shenmue does do right as I rarely didn’t know what to do or where to go. After setting foot in the village I watched a few cutscenes, knocked on about a dozen doors, and kept going through the town figuring out where to go. Eventually, I ended up in the main city where half of the game takes place. The first few hours have Ryo running around asking questions to get clues to then go to that person or place for either a cutscene or more clues. This continuous cycle of clue finding felt satisfying as I met some interesting characters and felt connected to the world of Shenmue.
Sadly, there’s a huge disappointingly frustrating factor about all of these events: They are time-sensitive. You have to wait for in-game time to pass before certain events unfold. That wouldn’t be so bad but you can’t skip time so I literally went and did other things like chores, cooking, or playing a different game while time passed. Sometimes it would take almost 45 minutes for time to pass where I need it to be, then a small cutscene would play out, then it’s back to waiting again once I find the next clue that requires more waiting. It would also be fine if there were things to do, but outside of a few real Sega arcade games, and collecting Gotcha prizes there’s no side quests or anything to do. It’s so incredibly boring to sit and wait through all of this, and if you miss your time frame you have to wait again. Waiting also goes for catching the bus to the harbor and working a real forklift job.
Oh my God, yes the infamous forklift section of the game. This literally took up an entire 4 hours of the game. You work 8-5 for 5 in-game days driving a forklift from one end of the harbor and loading boxes into a warehouse. It’s both beautifully addictive and stupidly frustrating and annoying. All of this is so the Mad Angels, a drug cartel, in the game will pick on you because you’re new and you can obtain information from them after every fight. Not to mention the annoying forklift race at the beginning of each day with the same track. Man, it’s so stupid and frustrating and I both loved it and hated it.
After the forklift section, there are a few more fights and the game is done. The fighting itself is surprisingly impressive with responsive controls, fast and fluid animations, and plenty of combos. Outside of the Free Battles, there are QTE battles which can be hard as well as the reaction time they give you is literally milliseconds. The visuals of the game haven’t been updated all that much. There are newer lighting effects, better shadows, and the characters have smoothed over textures, but overall it still looks like a 20-year-old game. There are still plenty of bugs and glitches such as being stuck in first-person mode after driving the forklift, hard crashes, and objects disappearing completely.
The music is annoying and repetitive with only one short track per area and it just isn’t very good, the voice acting is awful and even the Japanese voice track is questionable sometimes. The audio in general still sounds compressed and really bad, and the game is just really rough around the edges. So why should you play it? It’s a weird piece of gaming history on a system that died faster than it could blink. The characters are interesting and the various activities are fun, but the long waiting and various missteps keep Shenmue from being a fantastic game.
I have a weird disposition with the entire Shenmue series. I really want to love it, but the problem is the game is so flawed and so strange that the game almost feels like a chore to complete. The first game was tolerable as it was fairly short and the age made it more forgiving, but Shenmue II has no excuse. It was on a new generation of consoles and I have literally never played a sequel in a series that was a copy and paste of the last game.
The game picks off exactly where the last one took off with Ryo heading to Hong Kong and as soon as I saw the first cutscene I sighed and rolled my eyes and did an entire facepalm. I expected the game to look fairly newer, have a new UI, better controls, and an all-new look but we got a literal engine port from the Dreamcast with just new areas to explore and a story that’s four times longer than the original (the original Xbox game had 4 discs!)
As I got off the boat I really realized it was the exact same game as Ryo controls just as poorly, the gameplay is exactly the same to the T and I buckled in for a long ride. The first third of the game has Ryo running around talking to people gathering clues, meeting a few new faces, trying to continue to find Lan Di and avenge his father’s death. At least more story is explained and we find out what every mystery in the first game means. To be honest, the first third of the game isn’t all that bad, yes it’s more Shenmue I stuff, but it’s easy and straightforward for the most part. Once I got to the second third of the game things got tedious, frustrating, and a little annoying. This series for some reason loves having Ryo work and be miserable when it comes to progress. Twice I was stuck having to work the most boring and tedious mini-game I have ever played to earn enough money to move on. You can earn $10 a crate by helping someone move them from one side of the room to another and it’s all about QTEs with the directional buttons. You usually never earn more than $60 as there isn’t enough time allotted for more work and gambling is usually risky and out of the question altogether. The game favors the AI more than you so you can easily blow all your cash and have to play that mini-game six or seven times over to earn it back again.
Outside of the awful mini-games, the second third of the game has Ryo running around inside buildings that are built like mazes with hallways that all look the same. It’s not as easy as using the elevator as you will have to use the stairs to go up, use that elevator to go further down, then use the stairs again to go down further. In between are Free Battles, QTE events, and the occasional boss fight. It’s so tedious and frustrating as there are little dialog quips that are in between repetitive gameplay sections that can’t be skipped and just add to what makes the entire game annoying to play.
Once you get past that third of the game the last third is the exact opposite of the rest of the game. It’s a 2-hour long cutscene that lets you interact every so often via dialog or running down a few paths, QTEs, and more dialog. Let that sink in for a minute: A 2-hour long cutscene. All you’re doing is going through a forest and mountain pass to get to a village with a local accompanying you. This is also where most of the story unfolds and becomes more interesting.
I have a lot of things to complain about with this game and the series as a whole, but the story is still good enough to keep me trucking along and putting up with the repetitive drawn-out nonsense the game dishes out. Not to mention the several times the game crashed and my progress was set back to my last save. The game itself is just ugly to look at and looks like a slightly updated Dreamcast game in only a few ways. The gameplay style is just so dated, frustrating, and unnecessary to get the story across it wanted. I would have rather had cutscenes and just QTEs in between than these weird gameplay “ideas” thrown in. Sure the game is much larger in scope, but it’s still a linear maze of remembering street and building names and participating in fights.
Overall, Shenmue II is both beautiful and terrible at the same time. It’s a game out of time and should have either been less than the sum of its parts or just a 3D anime feature-length movie. As a game, it just doesn’t need to really exist especially being so dated even at the time of release. It suffers from all the same issues as the first game, and even as an HD port, it still doesn’t look or play well. It’s a very niche game that many gamers will not even get 1/4 through before turning it off for good. It requires an immense amount of patience, time, and forgiveness to enjoy, and sometimes that’s just too much to ask for a game.
As it stands, this Shenmue HD port is either good or bad depending on your stance on the series. It’s great to get a piece of gaming history playable on modern consoles, but there are so many flaws with both games, and the port itself, that it’s hard to justify it to anyone except really curious people and hardcore fans. The games are both full of crashes, bugs, glitches, and they look hideous with no effort put into the game engine at all.