The Dreamcast diaries is a series in which I examine my catalogue of games that helped make SEGA’s opus the best console of all time.
My last entry into the series proved to be crazy popular, there was a buzz on the ‘Shenmue’ kickstarter page and in other corners of the internet, it was great to see people talk about the game that I loved with the same affection as I have for it!
Continuing on my journey there is really only one place to stop at next, the continuation of Ryo Hazuki’s (it is not a sequel!) quest for vengeance; ‘Shenmue 2’.
I’m not going to bore you with the gritty details of ‘Shenmue 2’; released a year later than 1; it is very similar to the first and yet there is a real unique quality to it! The world seems genuinely alive, people approach you, the streets are busier and the world is much larger than Yokosuka.
Everything about ‘Shenmue 2’ is larger. Hong Kong (which Ryo travels to because of a letter addressed to his father) is a great setting, it allows the story arc to widen beyond the parameters of the first game, it also allows the support cast of characters to be far more diverse (given that Hong Kong is a metropolitan area) and crucially it allows Suzuki to include more mini games and diversions of the players time.
It would seem a shame to progress without looking at the setting in more detail. Kowloon is a beautiful area that sees the old-fashioned, traditional way of Chinese life collide with a much more contemporary way of living. This is mirrored beautifully in the characters that inhabit the world – older people wear kimonos and the younger generations are wearing leather jackets and jeans. Bamboo scaffolding is everywhere and it simply reinforces change and the inexorable march of time.
As well as being (almost) a character itself the move to Hong Kong also emphasises how small and insignificant Ryo is in this world. While his quest is a deeply personal one, life continues, the world doesn’t stop for him. Simply put, this world doesn’t care about his father or him (major characters excluded). As a result we are plunged into a world which we don’t speak the language (Ryo is Japanese remember), have no friends and are surrounded by massive buildings and many larger than life people. We are nothing special, this world will do us no favours, we have to earn everything if we are to succeed.
A robbery and the game world combine to create a sense of oppression and heightens the sense of personal loss; it’s a stroke of genius storytelling and allows us to bond with Ryo (who was aloof for the entirety of ‘Shenmue 1’) on a new level. That robbery took away the money WE earned during our playtime in the first game; it was OUR loss, and this bond is formed and never broken.
Hugely impressive for a game that runs into tens of hours!
This continuation also addresses several flaws from the first, namely the pacing. While it is still very slow (but never plodding or boring) we can now ‘wait’ at a venue which will make time go quicker. this eliminates those moments of down time and keeps the story pushing forward with a greater sense of urgency. Secondly there are many more QTEs (before they were terrible) and action sequences that keep the player on their toes. Leveling up Ryo is also much easier, there are many more opportunities for sparring and fighting NPCs.
My first playthrough of ‘Shenmue 2’ was a magical one. I had my brother watching my every move (he was a fan of the first and became invested in the story), together we made our way through the discs, getting high scores, winning arm wrestling tournaments and generally getting absorbed in the world. However we stopped at the end of disc 3. By this stage I reckon we had put in 100 hours and I personally didn’t want the story to end; I needed this game in my life, I needed to be able to be Ryo.
I turned to him and said “we gotta slow this down otherwise we’ll be done way before the 3rd comes out in December” – he said we’d limit ourselves to an hour a day, just to make the game last and give us the maximum amount of days out of it. That journey with Shenhua to was utterly unforgettable! The muddy stream, the waterfall…that ending!
It left me feeling hollow and empty. It took me months to get to this point. I played this game religiously for about 6 months – trying in vane to make it last forever and now it was over. By the time this occurred it was common knowledge the third wasn’t happening..,
…a void was created in me. Nothing could fill it. Ryo and I would not finish our quest together, Lan Di had won. Dad had died for nothing, it had come to naught, we’ll never know what those mirrors would do when reunited.
Shenmue 3 will never happen.
Years later I purchased the Xbox version of ‘Shenmue 2’ and played it to completion several times, it’s a game that I keep getting entranced with. It’s a game that means everything to me. It’s special. It’s unique. It transports everyone who plays it and it will get a continuation thanks to Sony and Kickstarter. In preparation for this I have dug my Dreamcast and my copies of ‘Shenmue’ 1 & 2 out and will share my love for them with my viewers on twitch!
The ‘Shenmue’ saga is one that transcends the hobby, it is not a game; it was digital tourism and it was a personal quest; not of vengeance but of justice…I will have justice for my father.
If you have the means to play this game, do it.
Have you experienced Shenmue 2 either on Dreamcast or Xbox (or indeed 360)?
Share your experiences in the comments below!