I knew I'd have some problems when going through the 1001 list. Some games would be hard to track down, some games just wouldn't interest me and some, in the case of Shenmue II, would almost certainly require me to have played some earlier game to understand what was going on.
Shenmue II continues the plot of Shenmue, to the point of starting right where the first game left off. While you probably could dive right in, knowing at least a little of the backstory before doing so is recommended; encouraged even - the Xbox release of Shenmue II had a DVD called Shenmue: The Movie, which covers the events of the first game, readying players for the second.
I think, given that I'm unlikely to play through (or even watch) the entirety of Shenmue, that I'm going to need to track down that movie and get settled in. After all, this is the video game story so epic in scope and so loved by its fans that players across the world willingly donate funds to help create its concluding chapter, the upcoming Shenmue III. I need to know what's going on, and an hour and a half of selected cutscenes ought to do just that.
Holy smokes was that tedious. No, not tedious. What's worse than tedious? Insufferable? Shenmue: The Movie was utterly unbearable, but watched it through to the end I did. To sum up Shenmue, our father is murdered over a trinket, we try to track down the killer, learn that he is in Hong Kong, but we're skint, so we have to get a job in the port driving forklifts to get some cash. Everyone tries and fails to beat us up, and we finally get on the boat. Roll credits.
Seriously. We don't even get some kind of conclusion to the story in the first game. There's no 'You destroyed the Death Star, but you didn't defeat the Empire' kinda thing going on here, just a load of 'this is life, it's not always quick and easy, hope you join us in the next game, where you might be able to find your Dad's killer.'
Well, I bloody hope so, because we're finally in Hong Kong where our killer is supposed to be. I doubt he'll be sitting on the pier waiting for me, but at least we're closing in on him after all these hours/days/weeks (I don't know what period the first game covered).
Hong Kong is portrayed as quite the contrast to the Japan of the first game, both in terms of expanding the scope of the game and to parallel Ryo's emergence into a wider world than the relative safety of his small home. He's had to grow up, and fast, and now he's more or less on his own in an unfamiliar place.
Luckily for us, the controls are familiar. Unluckily for us, we're playing the Shenmue I and II collection, which doesn't play well with controllers. They're supported, but they're seemingly not promoted as the default way to play, which is bizarre considering this is a Dreamcast game.
Anyway, let's get our bearings and see what Hong Kong has to offer.
Apparently, there's an entire backstory about this little girl on the boat that we've missed. I'd bet that it had nothing to do with finding my fathers killer, so the sooner we can get a move on, the better. Don't you have somewhere to be? I know I do.
I don't know where I've got to be, but paying for a map sounds like a good idea. There are lots of signposts for Wan Chai too, so I'm sure I'll manage.
Distracted by some arm wrestling, we find ourselves fighting over information. I'm a martial arts master, according to the movie, so I shouldn't have too much trouble arm wrestling. It's all about technique, not brute force, right?
What the hell was that? What in the actual hell happened there? Did I even have a button prompt? I've been bloody conned, that's what happened there. Never gamble, folks. Just follow the signs.
I'm sure Joy was meant to be introduced in a cool manner. "Hey, I'm Joy, I don't take shit from anyone. I'll ride my bike through crowds of people like a maniac, I don't care. But look out for thieves, because I do care about people, actually."
It doesn't come off like that, though. The whole thing looks stupid. I'm starting to lose interest in Shenmue II already. An hour and a half of slow plot dump will do that, though it was optional, I suppose.
It wouldn't be an introduction to a daunting new place if you didn't have your prized possessions stolen by thugs. I guess I'll have to run around a look for them at some point.
Alright, I'll look now. At least I know the way out of here when I find my bag.
I looked in all the nooks and crannies and didn't find any thieves. What I did find were arm wrestling events. Eeeeeeverywhere. Like it was the Pokémon GO! of this city, back when that came out. Everyone's up for a wrestle, only all my money is in my stolen bag, so I can't get any arm wrestling in.
Back to the bag hunt, and I don't know where to look. By sheer dumb luck, I run too close to some guys having a drink and trigger a cutscene.
Yeah, could you not do that, Joy. It's getting old already, and you've done it twice. Thanks for having my back and scaring off some thugs, but I don't need to risk being run over every time, right?
Could have sworn I went to Pigeon Park to look before. Guess I didn't look hard enough. Perhaps I had to be told where to look before my targets would be there. Either way, back we go to the seafront to find our bag.
You'll have to imagine this section has a white icon with a '2' in it, vaguely looking like a key on a keyboard, but on a style of keyboard that nobody owns and wouldn't be caught dead using. This '2' that I didn't manage to capture is my first ever Shenmue quick time event.
I failed it. Do you know why I failed it? Because I was using my controller while daring to press the screenshot button on my keyboard. Because this rerelease doesn't have full controller support, every single time I take a screenshot, Shenmue II thinks I want to continue playing with the keyboard, and won't give any on-screen icons in a controller format until I make some controller inputs.
So I had less than a second to move across the keyboard to hit the '2' key, by the time I registered that it was a quick time event, or try and guess what controller button would be mapped to '2', if any. Whatever I hit or didn't hit, I failed. I was stopped by a kid throwing balls down some stairs.
I can't go on. I can, but I'm not. I have absolutely no desire to continue with this ridiculous game, and in turn, no desire to go back to the first Shenmue to play or watch that. This series is just not my cup of tea, no matter how grand a tale it is, no matter how full of mini-games and forklift driving and beating people up and bloody arm wrestling... nothing it can think of offering me would get me to reconsider playing this game.
Unless someone has modded proper controller support. Well, no, it's too late for that, because I uninstalled the collection to save space, and give it to more deserving games like... let's see... what's in this Steam library that I'd rather play than Shenmue I and II... Alpha Protocol? Yeah. Let's go with that. Let's play Alpha Protocol instead of Shenmue. It's about as weird to control, has as much conversation, but has guns and stuff, so that's a bonus.
Different games have different audiences. In another world, I might have been the audience for the Shenmue series. It's heavy on the story, after all, but it was a Dreamcast and then Xbox title. I had neither in my formative gaming years, and that's perhaps why Shenmue doesn't do it for me two decades later. Maybe I'm looking for excuses.
Either way, I've saved myself a lot of time by not investing it all into Shenmue II, but I don't know what I'm missing out on. Does Ryo finally find Lan Di, or will that be saved for Shenmue III? That's about all the plot I'm aware of, even after watching that recap movie.
I don't want to crap all over the series, I'm clearly not the best person to talk about it. I might catch up with it in some form later down the line, under different circumstances, but until then, I'll leave it to the fans.
If you enjoyed Shenmue, you're going to want to get on board with Shenmue II. Your grand tale is incomplete, and Shenmue II picks up right where you left off. If you didn't enjoy it, though, you, like me, can go and play Alpha Protocol or something instead. We'll find our own fun, eh?
Two years after its Dreamcast release, Shenmue II had only sold a tenth of what Shenmue had shifted. The commercial failure would mean no signs of a third game until Shenmue III was announced in 2015.
Shenmue II, developed by Sega AM2, first released in 2001.
Version played: Shenmue I and II, PC, 2018.