VGHVI Shenmue II

Sep 08 2011

This week’s VGHVI game was Shenmue II. Which I hadn’t replayed since I finished it almost six years ago; Roger never played either it or the original.

It was very interesting listening to Roger run into the warts in the game; there was a lot of stuff that didn’t bother me but that bothered him, from bad (default) movement controls (I’d completely forgotten the Dreamcast didn’t have a right thumbstick) to strange game mechanics (wandering around trying to talk to people to trigger the next event) to quicktime events to a hard-to-control job minigame. I wondered (and still wonder) how different it would have been if we’d played the original Shenmue instead, because my (perhaps flawed) memory is that that game did a better job of ramping you up; but it’s very interesting to reread my notes and see me complaining about the start of Shenmue II despite my having played (and loved!) the previous game.

That was Roger’s experience; mine was rather more positive. Things I noticed:

  • I love the lighting and coloring in the game. It uses sunlight in an unabashed way that I’m not used to in video games, and the coloring is bright without quite slipping into garishness.
  • I love the game’s embrace of mundanity: lots of unhelpful people to talk to, lots of stores that don’t serve a game purpose, the fact that you have to get a job, the fact that you have to buy maps (shades of Majora’s Mask…), the divorcing of martial arts training from the traditional RPG combat grind.
  • The controls are odd, but get quite a bit better once you realize you can reassign the thumbstick to movement; even so, there are some interesting quirks, like the ability to follow people, the “look around in a room you’re standing in” controls.
  • Ryo is rather a jerk to Joy, isn’t he?
  • Appropriate that a game set in Hong Kong is so devoted to commerce.

But, most of all: it felt like coming home. I haven’t touched the game in six years, but every street was familiar, every face was familiar. Yet another sign that I should fix my Dreamcast: several games that I should replay, and Shenmue is top of the list.

Well, Shenmue or Jet Grind Radio

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