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Game Profile
Xbox One
GENRE: Action
August 21, 2018
Shenmue II

Shenmue II


 Written by Chris Woodside  on August 27, 2018

Reviews: While still a masterpiece, even a fresh coat of paint is still not enough to hide the many outdated mechanics of an otherwise great series.


Few series have received the cult support for a remastered collection than the Shenmue series that first appeared on the Sega Dreamcast. Finally, nearly two decades after the release of the first game in 1999, fans finally have a chance to jump back into the worlds of Japan and Hong Kong. While it’s hard not to appreciate the historical impact that the Shenmue series, revolutionary at the time, had on modern gaming, too many games since have executed the ideas of the series in better and more engaging ways. If you are a long time fan of the series, there is little doubt you will get plenty of enjoyment from jumping back into these games, now equipped with full trophy and achievement support, but the budget price of $30.00 suggests that there is little in this series to quench the thirst of modern gamers new to the series.

The story, while set up as an interesting premise, is a perfect example of how much of a dinosaur the Shenmue games prove to be in 2018. While the opening sequences do a fantastic job of blending authentic Japanese culture with a strong plot, it quickly begins to teeter off once you gain control of the protagonist Ryo. For the first several hours of the game, it feels as though this adventure will play as a more modern version of the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego games. When you speak with someone, they simply will give you a small clue about who may know more, forcing you to go find that person in what feels like an endless cycle of dialogue that is not leading towards anything. Combine this with the experience of other time management type of adventures like Persona 5, where you are able to have meaningful relationships with nearly every character you speak to that dramatically alter your experience of the game, and the world of Shenmue begins to feel like a bland adventure where the story moves incredibly slow, and even when the action begins to pick up, most of the combat is done in the form of quick time events, with a sprinkling of open battles spread throughout the roughly 20 hour story in both games.

While the story certainly moves quite slowly, particularly in the first third of the game (the original release of the game on the Dreamcast was split between three discs, making estimating how far into the game you were fairly accurate), the antiquated controls is what truly ruined the immersion in the game and made it feel more like a chore to play through many times. While old school gamers may appreciate how faithful they were to the original game and the mechanics of the game, it still is disappointing that there were very few quality of life improvements to the series, particularly with the controls. Trying to move as Ryo truly gives new meaning to the term of tank controls. Often times, I found Ryo not moving in the direction that I was pointing the thumbstick, or in some cases not moving at all. About midway through, I decided to start using the D-pad as a means of navigating myself. It provided a slight improvement in terms of handling the tank controls, but it still felt clunky and uncomfortable. This, in turn, made interacting with objects and people around the city difficult and inside buildings or houses close to impossible.

Another jarring aspect while playing through this collection was the voice acting. To be fair, some of it was very strong, and I found the antagonists to be voiced particularly well and added to some of the tension, particularly in a few of the stealth scenes. That said, the audio quality at certain points sounded as though it was recorded in a basement with cheap equipment. I would even hear other sounds or have the sound completely cut out at certain points. I’m not sure if this was more of a glitch or something more problematic, but the poor sound quality did not do the game any favors in trying to engage me into the story. The graphics in the game remain relatively untouched from the original Dreamcast games, but that surprisingly was more than ok. Character models and attention to detail in the environments made it hard to believe that these games originally premiered before the turn of the century. Of course, being developed originally on older hardware presented some limitations and I did notice some framerate issues during one of the later battle sequences that I will not spoil here, but from a graphical standpoint, the games seem to have held up fairly well against the test of time.


It is also important to point out that the two games vary greatly in quality, something that was true even with the original releases of the game. As poor as the tank controls were in the original game, those controls were made even worse, and the combat system felt absolutely broken in the sequel. As good as the original Shenmue was when it first released, it was a failure commercially in terms of sales, and it seems like that led to a lack of confidence with the development team, forcing them to rework many of the features and mechanics of the original game for the sequel. Sadly, I think those changes did more damage than helped.

One of the biggest disappointments for me with Shenmue II compared to the original game is that the idea of time management is virtually non-existent. There are some tasks in the game that require you be in a certain place at a certain time like in the original Shenmue, but very few of them are required to progress in the story. If you are going to attempt to get all of the achievements, the time management becomes more of a factor for some of the side objectives, but part of what made the original game as much fun as it was is the importance of making sure you take care of all the side objectives you want to before heading back home (or being forced back home if you are out too late.) While the original game does far surpass the quality of the sequel, there is still a lot to like about the second game. If you can withstand the downgrade in combat mechanics and the lack of emphasis on time management, Hong Kong is still a beautiful environment to explore in the game, and it felt much more alive than Japan did in the original game. There are more people out on the streets going about their business that led to the city taking on a life of its own, and not simply a hub for me to waste time waiting for a bus to arrive in like the original.

It’s hard to say exactly who this collection is for. If you are a hardcore Shenmue fan looking for a quick fix before the long-awaited third title is released a year from now, perhaps having the added trophy/achievement support and some of the smaller quality of life changes will give you enough of a reason to play through them again. That being said, if you are new to the series be warned that while these games were understandably lauded for being revolutionary at the time, playing them for the first time today will require a lot of patience. Because of that, it makes it hard to recommend the collection even at the budget price of $30 dollars, but if the price drops any further it could prove to be a strong investment in an important piece of video game history.

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