Hands-onShenmue II

We deliver hands-on impressions, dozens of screens, and new video of the final Japanese version of Shenmue II.

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The long-awaited sequel to Shenmue has finally hit store shelves in Japan. The opening credits begin with the boat arriving in Aberdeen and Ryo Hazuki stepping onto Hong Kong soil. If you missed the first chapter of Shenmue, the game allows you to watch a theatrical summary to catch up with the story. Anyone who kept their precious data from Shenmue may have a slight advantage in the beginning, particularly if you kept complete sets of action figurines (to sell to pawn shops) and leveled up your martial art skills.

The environments in Shenmue II are vast and spacious, and they're generally more crowded. Unfortunately, you'll immediately notice a few drawbacks such as occasional slowdowns and the frequent appearance and disappearance of people on the field map. Not many improvements can be noticed on most of the character polygons, but thankfully the AI is much more polite to Ryo than in the original Shenmue. If you ask questions, they will try to help you. Even better, if you ask for directions, some of them will even take you to the spot--and when you start to follow them, your view turns into first-person mode and Ryo starts walking on his own, so you can use the analog stick to look around and enjoy the scenery instead.

The first few days in the game start out fairly slowly. While finding clues about where an old man is, you'll be wandering around town trying to earn money, gambling, or simply playing arcade games like Outrun or Space Harrier. So far, the game feels very much like an extension of its predecessor--whether that's a good thing or not depends on your opinion of the first one. Shenmue II does have more gimmicks like as quick timer events (QTEs) and free battles that keep players interested and keep the pacing steady. We'll have an in-depth preview next week. In the meantime, check out the new screenshots and movies.

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