Shenmue II improves on some aspects of the first game. Yet falls into other traps that make it mediocre once again.
Now instead of going back to a game I remember fondly we are heading back to the one I never finished. Sure that was half thanks to my Xbox disc drive starting to break but it also didn’t pull me in like the first one did. Playing them one after another does show the ways in which this one improved on first while also noting how they made some things worse. But in case your coming to this without reading my first review let me give a brief synopsis of Ryo’s journey.
After learning that his revenge target Lan Di has made his way back to Chiha he has decided to follow him. With his only real clue being that Yuanda Zhu will be able to tell him more about the mirrors his father had. His path was unclear but he quickly ends up running into a variety of characters that’ll lead him down the path he seeks. Yet this is only the real beginning of his journey.
Most of my thoughts from the first game about the combo system remain very similar. I do think it flows better but once again you’ll barely get to use it. They even made it more Virtua Fighter like by making most of the big fights into 2 round bouts. Yet most encounters require a lot more use of QTE’s. In a way that just got on my nerves after a while. They’ve even upped the QTE skill level by requiring multiple inputs at once. Lead to quite a few failures even when I knew the timing. Requiring the player to redo a fairly long fight because of a mistimed QTE does the opposite of the first game, making it feel like it is trying to waste my time.
Yet in the greatest addition of all ends up countering that. Being able to speed up time to bypass any wait time the game forces on you is a godsend. Getting straight to the point is very vital. While more Sega arcade games like Afterburner are welcome almost none of the side content was that interesting to me this time. Lifting boxes returns yet now you’ll have someone yelling left or right a bunch. Gambling games never seem that fun to me in any game and in this one I really didn’t want to try them since the game needs Ryo to earn money at points to continue. Which left me with mostly playing arm wrestling to earn some cash at one point. I thought rapid fire button presses were my forte but boy it seems nearly impossible after a while. You do get some payoff if you collected a bunch of capsule toys from the first game. Now you can sell them and bypass the two points in the story that force you to earn money.
If the game didn’t force the players hand to do some side stuff my overall impression might just have been a lot better than the first game instead of only slightly. This time each character you meet gets their own arc. Seeing their motivation or why they are helping Ryo over the course of the game was very compelling. Sure some are just what they seem like Ren who just ends up being that rogue who is always after money. Yet when they focus on letting the player know more about them, I was hooked. One of my favorite scenes is when Ryo and Shenhua are just talking about different things as they make their way over a mountain. It does an amazing job of giving both characters more personality compared to everything leading up to that point.
As I look over my thoughts about it this game ends up being a mixed ball of emotions. Moments of being frustrated at the design are being mixed with what fun I did have with the combat. Times where I wanted to quit thanks to what I had to do next are right beside moments of me just enjoying banter between two characters. Yet overall I don’t think this game improved in the right ways to make it better than the first. At first it may seem like it isn’t trying to waste your time with the time skip but in the end it is padded out in other ways. Thus it ends up being an uneven experience once again. Even if your a fan of the series I don’t think it is enjoyable to play anymore. Maybe a third time will be the charm. We only have to wait and see.