Shenmue II has finally come out for the X-Box. I had my pre-order all ready for the original Dreamcast version of it, but not too long before release Microsoft bought the rights to the game. This eliminated the US Dreamcast release and threw some of us for a loop. That left me to ponder whether I was going to buy the European import or I was going to wait it out, get an X-Box and play it on there. Needless to say I did not pick up the import and I did get the X-Box. The only problem was this game took a bit to make its transition to the X-Box, but it has done so in style.

Shenmue II is certainly more pretty than Shenmue. It also seems to have gotten a bit of a shine-up from the Dreamcast version. I have played a little of the Dreamcast version of Shenmue II, but I do not remember the graphics looking this good. Everything is sharp everything seems to have been anti-aliased. Everything looks very smooth. The characters look like they have gotten a higher graphical treatment in the port from Dreamcast to X-Box. There were a few characters that had no shirt on that looked like crap in this game, but overall the look is top notch. The game really is beautiful, although most reviewers are quick to point out that it does not use the power of the X-Box. I am not sure what they are thinking…did they expect MS/AM2 to start at square one and rebuild this whole game? I think this game is quite beautiful.

This game takes place in Hong Kong and 2 other sections (consisting of the other 2 chapters). The overall area in Hong Kong alone is more vast than the one in the original. There are a good number of Quarters that you have to run around in. You can buy maps in each section and you can even mark important places on the map with the B button. Much like the original Shenmue, running around can get quite boring. There are a few times where you get the option to go where you want quickly after you wake up. It would have been nice if they had put this in at the start of every morning. Would make things quite a bit easier. Another addition in this game is that some people you talk to will sometimes walk you to the place you need to go. Problem is these people walk like turtles and it is quite boring. Early on they are much needed, but later on you should get a sense of where everything is at in Hong Kong. Then they throw you the other 2 sections which are not as big as Hong Kong, but present their own “getting used to” period as well.

The overall control of the game is still a touchy subject. Ryo still moves quite stiffly when not running (running is always the best control option). You have the option of making the analog sticks available for moving, but I have found the digital pad to be a better alternative. And just like Shenmue you can press the run button and you run forward. Basic controls are: Digital pad (or analog if you choose…then you do not have to hold down the R trigger to run) to move, X button to read diary/enter games, Y button for system options/money questions (can save at any time), B button to cancel/mark maps and A button to talk. The L button is used to view (along with the analog pads if not used for movement) and the white button cycles through picture filters while the black button allows you to take snapshots in-game. You can have a total of 126 snapshots on your hard drive. I am not sure why that is the limit though. You can switch the options somewhat in the system menu (switch around L and R and do movement with the analog stick). If there is a Shenmue III coming (and by the ending of this game, there better be!), I certainly hope it is written from the ground up for the system it will be on. Through this I hope a better walking control system can be made. Let us move away from the Resident Evil style turns and make it more smooth.

This game was pretty long, much like the first one. A cool addition to this game is that you can now get part-time jobs, gamble or even go to pawn shops to sell things and get money. Money is quite important in this game and sometimes it can be quite annoying when you need hundreds of dollars and have to spend the time getting it. In an early case, you have to pay for your lodging. Working part-time on the street gives you access to a neat mini-game, called Lucky Hit. I akin it to Plinko from the Price is Right TV show. Much like the original, there are also arcades and casinos here. Such old AM2 games like Afterburner II and Outrun are in this game. From the main menu you can play these games once you have unlocked them, which is pretty cool in my opinion.

The English voice acting is much better in this game than Shenmue. They brought back the same actor for Ryo and he does a better job with his lines. Everyone remembers, “I’m looking for sailors” from the first game, right? The dumb lines (and double-entendres) are kept to a minimum this go around. The sound is in Dolby Digital 4.1. It is not 5.1 as nothing seems to come from the center speaker even though the receiver says 5.1. The sound is very good and the music is eloquent.

QTEs (sections that are kind of like Dragon’s Lair where you hit a specific button that comes up on the screen) are back in this game. In fact, there are far more in this one than there was in Shenmue. Some of them can be quite long and annoying. Most of the time if you fail you will repeat the section over and over again. Then there are some of them that if you fail you have to go search out the area again and do the same thing. It is just a general annoyance. The fighting engine has been slightly improved, but I dislike the soft filter they have given the fighting sequences. Ryo and his attackers are all fuzzy and glowing…it is kind of annoying. Ryo can be in some deep crap when going up against multiple attackers. The fighting engine is not the best even though it is built on the Virtua Fighter engine. Fact is in Virtua Fighter you do not have to take on 10 people at once.

The big thing that will piss everyone off is that Shenmue II ends kind of like Fellowship of the Ring did…in mid-story. There really is not a definitive ending as you are just getting into the meat of the story. I surely hope that Yu Suzuki creates Shenmue III and the other sequels. This was going to be a 16 chapter series. We are now through chapter 4, I certainly hope we get to see the rest.

Last thing I would like to add is that this game comes with the Shenmue movie DVD. It is a 90 minute movie of the major cutscenes from the original game. For those that have not touched Shenmue before and want to understand the story behind it, check this out before playing the new game. You can also choose this option from the main game menu.

This is an extremely pretty game. I did not notice any sort of slowdown that was evidently apparent in the Dreamcast version. The only things that I did not like were the softness of the image during fights, the fade in of characters (which was in the first Shenmue and can be quite jolting) and the slight line breaking when the camera is panning around buildings. They seemed to clip a bit and not look as smooth as they could be.

The characters look very good and it is obvious that Microsoft has taken the time to make the game brighter and clearer than it was in the Dreamcast version. Many will say this does not push the X-Box to its limits, but I would not expect this game to do so. If Shenmue III comes to X-Box only…then I would expect it.

Yuzo Koshiro’s music is engrossing in this game. It is very subtle behind the game. You can barely hear it, but it is always there. The music just makes me enjoy where I am in the game. It sounds authentic to that section of the world and some of the songs are just magnificent.

The voices are pretty good this time around too. Many will brush them aside and call them bad because we all want the original Japanese with English subtitles. The thing to really look at is to see how well Ryo’s voice actor has grown into the role. The dialogue no longer feels stilted and there are no longer any questionable phrases.

Many will also point to the fact that in the first Shenmue Ryo talks about not knowing a lick of Cantonese. He is now in Hong Kong and Suzuki’s original intent was for Ryo to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong. Instead it seems he streamlined it and just made everyone able to understand everyone else. There are a few lines of Cantonese said in the game, but it is obvious this idea was something that was left on the cutting room floor. I am sure many things have been left on the cutting room floor for this series of games.

While running (R button), the control is pretty good, but when walking things get a little hairy. Ryo turns somewhat like Resident Evil characters turn and that is not a good thing to me. The controls are pretty easy. Digital pad (or analog if you choose…then you do not have to hold down the R trigger to run) to move, X button to read diary/enter games, Y button for system options/money questions (can save at any time), B button to cancel/mark maps and A button to talk. The L button is used to view (along with the analog pads if not used for movement) and the white button cycles through picture filters while the black button allows you to take snapshots in-game. You can have a total of 126 snapshots.

This game is slow and methodical. It is a long and somewhat boring and annoying game. You have to pick up part-time jobs, gamble or pawn off your wares to receive money in this game. You are no longer given a stipend every day like you were in Shenmue. This is not a game for everyone. If you hate slow games you should run far away from this game.

This game is more streamlined than Shenmue was and that makes this game better. The real annoying part for me was trying to raise hundreds of dollars. It is a waste of time trying to get all this money together when I could be working on getting the game done. Overall this game is fun, but only if you have the correct mindset to play it.

There is value in this game. It is a pretty long game and it continues the story from the first one. Think of it as a piece of an overall story, kind of like Fellowship of the Ring. The mini-games inside of Shenmue II will most likely keep you occupied for a while. It was very fun to play Afterburner II again, but I wish they had added more AM2 games in this release, such as some Virtua Fighters games or something.

The minus is once you beat it you probably will not want to play it again. The replay value just is not there. However you should hold onto the game to show people down the road what an innovative game is like. This game is very innovative and such future games as Fable may take this idea to the next level. I certainly hope there are more Shenmue games in the pipeline. I would hate for it to end here.