I loved the first Shenmue game. I didn't mind the voice acting. I liked the goofy concept of collecting capsule toys, feeding kittens and getting mixed information from the people around me. The pace of the game was great, being able to have fun doing little games while still moving the plot along. Having cool chance encounters and events that only happen once in a while was neat too. I liked the way the whole game fit together. Shenmue II (Chapters 2, 3 and a little of 4) is missing this quality of fitting together. It has some cool new things, some not so cool things, and some things that were taken straight from the original.

The game world is actually quite huge (the 3 areas you explore are quite expansive and detailed... far beyond anything else I've experienced) but it lacks the personality of the first game. The Kowloon area has 10 or so highly detailed high rise buildings with essentially very little to do in them. The rooms all have distinctive layouts, and the shops all have distinctive fronts with distinctive people running them, but there's really nothing to do in them. Remember in Shenmue 1 where you didn't have to do very much in your own house, but you could actually do a lot, in terms of playing games on your Saturn, and looking through the rooms in your house. This level of interactive detail is nowhere to be found in Shenmue II. Any area that has any detail is an area you *have* to discover. You can't really acquire items and use them the same way you could in Shenmue 1 either. I think it would have been really cool if they had done something along the lines of using the pawnshops they set up in the game for buying and selling things other than capsule toys (I mean come on.. I spent hours in the first Shenmue making sure I had a complete, and I mean complete collection... do you really think I'm going to sell it for a couple bucks, when I can win 10 times that amount of money from the very beginning of the game by gambling?). There are all those antiques shops in the Wise Men's Qr., and there should have been a very cool system of earning money through trading and selling items instead of working and gambling.

This brings us to the new focus of the subgames, money. All the subgames and hidden events focus around money. Arm Wrestling, a few different kinds of Dice Gambling and Pachinko are the new additions to the pack this time around, and they're not *that* much fun that I would actually choose to play them instead of continuing the plot. Returning are the arcade games (with a new addition... After Burner!... although very late), slot machines, capsule machines (with a few new toys to win), and darts (with some new competitors to beat). There are Street Fighting arenas scattered across the map, and they are possibly the best new thing around, giving you money as well as training practise. These arenas though are limited mostly to disc 3, and sparring and fighting is something that's pretty nonexistent in discs 1 + 2 which was a big detraction to the theme and speed of the title overall. Disc 3 is the best of them, and without it, the game would be *very* dissappointing. Disc 3 has a huge high rise chase scene that has you going through about 20 floors of a decrepit office building, being chased by guards and gang members. This is the high water mark of the series in terms of excitement and enjoyability, because the Quick Time Events (QTEs) and free battles seem to flow together, and make the game very immersive. The suspension of disbelief that the area ressembles Kowloon (AKA Due Diligence Lawsuit Central) is actually greater than any of the previous Shenmue areas, but you'll eventually get into it and actually enjoy the city of broken rebar and concrete (does anyone know if this portrait of the Kowloon area circa 1987 is at all accurate?).

Graphically the game is very impressive (even moreso than the original) and seriously pushes the hardware as far as I've seen it go. The characters and environment are very well put together with respectable (mostly 60 FPS) framerates and great overall visual quality. The motion capture of the characters is truly top notch and matches and in many cases surpasses what has been done in games like MGS2 on the PS2. Even the flowing water in the river on disc 4 looks quite nice, and some of the sequences there are beautifully cinematic and moving (despite the noteworthy lack of challenge in the area).

One thing I would like to gripe about, which was also a problem in the first game, is that you have *no control whatsoever* how Ryo treats people. He treats Joy like dirt. He acts like this badass fighter but gets schooled by Xiuying all the time. He rarely shows emotion. I personally would like to control Ryo's life to the point that I can mold his relationships with the other characters (even to the limited extent of a dating sim... at least that way you have *some* control). With all these women around Ryo, you'd think that he would be able to get some action, but unfortunately, he acts like a robot, programmed for vengeance, which really gets tired and boring.

Overall, I'd say it's a must import if you were a Shenmue 1 fan. I can attest that your US Shenmue 1 complete save will continue just fine on the PAL import (I'm using a bootdisc) and it will be very nice for you to have some new areas to explore as Ryo. Downsides are a railroaded scenario (there's not many optional events... I'm not even sure if I experienced one!), the plot descending into predictability, no control over how Ryo treats people and a lack of extra interactive detail. The upsides are great graphics and a very immersive world to explore (even if you can't interact with everything), more things to do, and the same great things you could do before. It's level of challenge hasn't really been increased, but it's good for I'd say at least 24 hours of diehard gameplay (or a little more if you take your time and try to do everything). From playing it, I get the feeling that the game was rushed out, probably because of the money troubles that Sega was encountering during development, and that features that would have made the game better were left out for the sake of getting something to market. I'd still say you have to complete it if you enjoyed the first game at all, and that it still has tingles of the magic that made the original so addictive and enjoyable.

ReGex's ReView : 8/10
















Disc 3 is where the game *should* have ended, with an exciting burst of drama (and maybe Lan Di should have jumped down to the roof to settle it all in a battle to finish the series then and there), but instead it goes to rural China. Because everybody knows that that's the ideal place to end a game... with a 2 hour walk with some annoying chick in the middle of podunk nowhere, followed by a baffling and offputting ending which doesn't line up with what we already know about the Phoenix mirror. We're told that the Phoenix mirror is useless by itself, but for some reason this annoying chick's adoptive Dad built 2 new giant Dragon and Phoenix mirrors by himself and made a lock out of the little Phoenix mirror imprint. Why don't you make a lock out of the Dragon mirror... so that only Lan Di can open it. Or not a lock at all, since they're right in the middle of the fricken' open! Or instead of 2 giant stupid mirrors, make like 200 little ones of each and sell them as souvenirs. What were they thinking with that one? What is the reflection of the 2 giant stupid mirrors going to point to? The Ark of the Covenant? Christ's Nalgene bottle? A stage with the Who doing their final show of their final reunion tour? Get this ... it's going to reveal something to do with "a treasure to resurrect the Qiuo Dynasty". WTF!!!!!

By the way, in the first game, we're told that Lan Di having both mirrors would have horrible consequences for the world. Here we're told that the mirror is going to reveal "a treasure to resurrect the Qiuo Dynasty". Sorry.. but I want the mirrors to give Lan Di godlike superpowers that only I can overcome with my mastery of Virtua Fighter 3 technique. Lan Di having more money/ancient Chinese artifacts does not equal the end of the world to me. Maybe ancient Chinese artifacts that give him godlike superpowers-okay... that's acceptable.. but sheer wealth ain't gonna cut it... and Yuanda Zhu's reaction was definitely not on the level of concern of godlike superpowers.... more like someone told him his subscription to TV Guide was running out.

And what's with no one in Hong Kong having a gun. These badass "Heavens" (way to go guys... striking fear against the Bloods and the Crips) hold a quarter of the city in their grip of fear with Zippos and a boombox! "Don't cross me or i'll start smoking! I'll 2nd hand smoke you to death! Cool Z here will sit on you!" Dammit.. get some guns so I can parry the bullets with my shaolin SF3:3S skills... 3 words.. suspension of disbelief

Plotwise, the story is becoming predictable (with the exception of that really weird offputting ending - Lan Di better show up right away at the start of Shenmue 3). This is what I predict is going to be revealed in the following chapters of Shenmue (and some spoilers from what we already know from the end of Shenmue 2).

Sunming Zhao's (Yaunda Zhu's Student, from the Wulinshu Book) = Guy that Iwao Hazuki Killed = Lan Di's Dad = Xiuying's Dad too

Lan Di = Ziming Zhao = Xiuying Zhao's (Master Tao's) Brother + Sunming Zhao's Son

Iwao Hazuki's Wife = Sunming Zhao's Wife = Everybody's Related!!! (not so sure about this, but would potentially explain why Iwao killed Sunming)

To further this, notice that Ryo and Lan Di both have scars in the same place (also both potentially from acts of vengeance).

Xiuying and Lan Di's facial structure is too similar not to notice and all the foreshadowing is there with the whole brother going to the darkside bit.

The YinYang Pendant that Xiuying gave you will protect you from Lan Di, because he still has the other half from when he was a kid.

There's still lots that we don't know, but I can see this all being resolved by Ryo showing mercy at the end and turning Lan Di back from the darkside and everyone having a happily ever after ending, after of course unearthing this amazing artifact or whatever it is.