Looking Back – Shenmue II

Ryo from Shemnue II looking towards the camera

With the ongoing pandemic and required lockdown of 2020, I’ve had time to go back and finally play some games I either started and never finished, or games I want to play but didn’t get around to playing. One example of a game I started and didn’t originally finish was Shenmue II. I got the game as part of the Shenmue I & II collection in 2018. While I managed to blast through the first game, I began the second one only to stop not long after that. But over the last week or so, I finally completed it and I sure do have a lot of thoughts on it.

I won’t go into super specifics or major story spoilers. Yes, Shenmue II is almost 20 years old, but this is a game and series that definitely hits the ‘Games You Probably Never Played’ list. 

Looking Back - Shenmue II

Overall, I really liked Shenmue II. While its core mechanics are similar to the first, the story goes in a lot of different directions. The voice acting is still super cheesy and the animations struggle at times, but for a game made in 2001, I’m not going to fault it too much. 

The fights were much easier in Shenmue II than the first game. I don’t think I ever lost an actual combat situation. I think this might be because I imported my character, so my Ryo was able to do more moves in battle.

On the flip side, a few of the Quick-Time Events were frustrating and those required a few attempts. The simple ‘tap X’ QTEs were fine but Shenmue II introduces on-screen prompts where you need to punch a few commands are the ones that I failed the most. There were times I was certain I punched the correct series of moves but I got a fail. It definitely felt you needed to punch these in quick succession.

Looking Back - Shenmue II

The first game focused entirely on one city/area. In contrast, the multiple cities of Shenmue II was another welcomed addition. The Hong Kong sections of Wan Chai felt just like Yokosuka from the first game. Kowloon, while not a true representation of the area in 1987, still had a uniqueness that I haven’t really experienced in other games. Then the last sections in Guilin were much more calm and colorful. 

I am super curious just how different the series would have been had director Yu Suzuki’s vision of every chapter of the story being its own game actually happened. According to that, Wan Chai would have been its own game, Kowloon its own experience, with Guilin getting more depth. You can sense that each chapter has its own start, middle, and conclusion but there are certainly opportunities to expand on each further.

I’m glad that Shenmue III exists and that it continues this story. Shenmue II ends on a pretty big cliffhanger and leaves you with more questions than answers. I have tried to keep my knowledge of III as limited as possible, so I have no idea if it becomes the last game in the series. 

Looking Back - Shenmue II

Shenmue III is part of my massive collection of games, but I’m not sure if I’ll jump into it now. After fairly lengthy games like Shenmue II (which I probably spent around 25-30 hours with), I would like to play something that’s a bit easier to consume (essentially a shorter game). I need to see what games in my collection that I’ve missed out that I can complete in a short playthrough.