Nothing could have prepared me for Shenmue II. Going into my experience with the game, I had no expectations. The only person I knew that even played the original Shenmue hated it, but I still decided to give it a try. What I found was astounding: Shenmue is not just a game, it’s an experience. Shenmue II exhibits beauty, perfect zen, and left me in tears.
Shemue is an adventure series that is for the most part, detective based, with a bit of action. You play the part of Ryo Hazuki, a man in search of his father’s murderer; a powerful criminal overlord named Lan Di. The trail leads you to Hong Kong, to find the only man who knows Di’s location.
As soon as you step off the boat to Hong Kong, the game begins. Like a young child, I immediately noticed a capsule toy dispenser across the way; I was drawn to it. “Would I need this money for something important later?” I thought. I didn’t care! I grabbed a few capsule toys that actually happen to be classic SEGA characters, and went on my way. This wasn’t the last time I would blow tons of cash on capsule toys. I quickly realized that I probably hadn’t spent that money when I saw the local hotel rates, but I’ll get to that later. I really regretted my toy purchase when I saw how many people were living at the homeless shelter right next to the dispenser. Was I destined to live there in the near future? Was I taunting them with luxury goods in plain view? Those thoughts, and more, ran through my mind right there at the door of the building. Something like that never even crossed my mind in a game before. Shenmue’s beauty had already started to affect me.
You see, Shenmue is not just a game; it’s an experience. Ryo wasn’t living at home, getting ready to go away to college in six months like myself; he was out in the real world. He – nay – I – had to find a job to sustain my way of life. A job? In a game? While some of you may find it unbelievable, I was more than eager to lend my hand to the people of Hong Kong in order to support my nasty capsule toy habit. As in real life, I tend to spend money on luxury entertainment items more than I should. Fortunately for me, it was much easier to get a job in virtual Hong Kong than it is in America. This doesn’t mean that I immediately wanted to work a legitimate job right away, however! Like many foolish Americans, I resorted to “get rich quick” schemes before I became a humble dock worker. I became something I swore I never would; a carnie.
That’s right! In Shenmue II you can become the devil’s favorite salesman. Hong Kong is partial to a game of chance called “Lucky Hit”, which is just like Japans “pachinko”. You can’t just sit there idly and expect chumps (erm…customers) to come right over, you have to entice them! Pressing A would yell “Would you like to play a game of Lucky Hit?! How about a game of Lucky Hit?!” I felt dirty within 30 seconds of shouting this, but I got my first customer. I had played Lucky Hit a few times myself, so I assumed that I knew some of the “tricks of the trade”. Boy was I wrong. The “lemon” that played with me ended up being a shark, and when Boss Carnie got back, I had nothing to give him. My options were running out, but I didn’t give up! “Only chumps do real work” I told myself.
Call me Cousin Eddy, but I hit up the local gambling parlor for some quick cash. Just like in real life, I neither have any luck with gambling, nor am I good at betting or predicting the odds. I was quickly swindled out of a good chunk of what I had left by the local sharks in a game of darts. I was running out of options, so I had to hit the streets; and do what 50 Cent and Jay Z got their spending money from before they were famous.
No, not flipping drugs! Underground arm-wrestling circuits! Comprised of tapping the A button incredibly fast, while having to hit the occasional QTE button, arm wrestling was not a particularly profitable endeavor. While I had a blast, my real arm was begging me to stop; those top contenders can really mash buttons! With my spirit broken, and pack slung over my shoulder, I made the decision to work as an honest man. It wasn’t easy, but I had learned from my unfortunate experiences that it must be done.
This is me, running from my responsibilities
This all happened over the course of 10 hours. I hadn’t even begun to touch the story yet, or connected with any of the game’s characters. Hell, all I had to pay for was a cheap hotel room and capsule toys, yet I endured. I was able to make all my hotel payments on time, despite having the option to “duck out” on them.
I was tired of being irresponsible. I worked hard at my crate lifting job, and started learning new forms of martial arts. My first experience would come from a Tai-chi master in a cherry blossom courtyard, who taught me the iron palm technique. He actually explained the tenets of Ta-chi very well, and I became intrigued. He asked me to strike the tree so hard, that all of the leaves would fall off of it. “For Iron Palm, use the power of your whole body. Gather strength in your arms and legs at the same time and strike”. You have no idea how much I wanted to go out and punch a tree at that moment.
According to him, in order to defeat Lan Di, I must not rack(sic) discipline! I had to gather the other techniques, and become the embodiment of martial arts with the remaining three tenants; otherwise known as the Wude. The Four Wude (pronounced Woodoo) are:
GON – Practice without neglect
JIE – Don’t show or use moves thoughtlessly (Pronounced GEE)
DAN – Judge with a clear mind (Pronounced DON)
YI – To act without hesitating, to do what is right (Pronounced YEE)
As I was gathering these physical forms of art, I gambled less, and was more relaxed. To quote the game, “Be brave, and stay calm to make the right decision. That is one of the Wude; Dan.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Ren, aka my BPF (Best pixelated friend), on the left
After I thought I couldn’t be having a more enjoyable experience, I soon met one of my favorite characters from fiction: Ren of Heavens. Ren is the leader of a petty crime group (The Heavens) in Hong Kong. He plays the part of the classic anti-hero, even threatening you, and stealing your possessions. When informed of your plight, he reluctantly helps you at first because of promised riches, but eventually becomes your trusted friend. He’s like the Han-Solo of Asian fiction. Your relationship with Ren builds so perfectly, you could swear he’s real. One QTE sequence even has you and him running from certain death together, and you can really feel the connection. If he is in trouble, you gasp, wanting to do anything to save him. Ren was the cherry on top of my perfect experience with Shenmue II. It is a rare occurrence when fiction gives you a character you can connect with; the advantage of Shenmue being a video game is you get to grow with Ren, not simply watch him evolve on the sidelines. He helps you eventually find where Lan Di is headed, and, reluctantly, I left Hong Kong. The departure scene is epic solely because of all of the history you have with it. It was unsettling to leave part of my life behind, but I must press on with my quest.
Finally! I’m at the alleged location of Lan Di; Kowloon, China. It’s loosely based on the real city of Kowloon (that was torn down in 1993) – a beautiful, mountainous, walled town. The scenery here is jawdropping (Watch until 2:50). But despite its admirable surface, the city’s underbelly was dark and sinister. Skyscrapers that reach as high as the eye can see decorated it, and most of them were in disarray. “I have to watch my step around here”, I thought; I didn’t feel safe in a video game! Quickly I realized how to get around, and found the local arcades (just like I would in real life). After playing the SEGA classic, Afterburner, I head out to look for trouble. I found it in spades, and long story short, I ended up in an underground fight club with hundreds of onlookers. Oh, and a cage fight; but you know, nothing major.
Kowloon was gritty; it wasn’t host to the petty crimes that Ren and I were used to in Hong Kong, this was the big leagues. I won’t spoil the plot details, but eventually you meet Lan Di face to face. Despite meeting him there, the series wasn’t over, but the game ended – what a cliff hanger!. This is where tears come in; I wanted more. All of the memorable, lovable characters I had met will just cease to exist; all of the beautiful locales I had visited were no more; and all of my teachings were for naught! Yu Sazuki, the creator of Shenmue, has expressed a want to create Shenmue III, but it is on indefinite hold for the time being.
I leave you with this inspirational theme from Shenmue II. Try to listen to it and not want to immediately play the game. Listening to it now as I write this article brings back some of the best memories of my experiences in gaming. Try viewing some of the epic locales featured when you play it and not want to visit them in real life. Yu Sazuki attempted to reach out to western society with this title, but ended up only creating a niche. Shenmue II will always awe me with its ability to create such a grand tale, bring me peace whenever I pop it in the disc tray, and, unfortunately, distill sadness when I again realize there will mostly likely not be a Shenmue III.
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