Shenmue II (シェンムー II) is the direct sequel to Shenmue produced and directed by Yu Suzuki and developed by Sega AM2. It was originally released for the Sega Dreamcast in 2001 and later the Xbox. Due to exclusivity rights obtained by Microsoft, the Dreamcast version of the game was not released in North America, although had been pencilled in for a release on the 4th December 2001.
Shenmue II begins shortly after the first installment concluded. While Shenmue told the story of the first chapter of the saga, the second game tells the story of the third, fourth, and fifth chapters. It is possible that at one point, each chapter would receive its own game, however it was likely condensed due to the ambitious scope of the project, and poor Western sales of the first game.
Shenmue II skips the second chapter of the story, detailing events of Ryo Hazuki's trip from Yokosuka to Hong Kong. It was originally released as a comic book (available as an extra in the Xbox version of the game) is only briefly mentioned during the beginning of the game. Instead, Shenmue II starts at the third chapter of the saga, when Ryo has just arrived in Hong Kong.
Following the events of the first game Ryo has travelled to Hong Kong in order to locate Master Lishao Tao. After a difficult search, Ryo finally meets Master Lishao Tao, a woman named Xiuying; but she is unwilling to assist him in what she considers an immoral quest for vengeance. The two part ways, although Xiuying continues to monitor Ryo's progress and they continue to meet on occasion. Through his continued search, Ryo discovers another individual who may be able to assist him in locating Lan Di.
The fourth chapter of the saga takes place in Kowloon, as Ryo attempts to locate Yuanda Zhu; a martial arts expert who sent Iwao Hazuki a letter warning of his impending murder, a warning that arrived too late. At this juncture, several confrontations ensue between Ryo and his allies and the dangerous Yellowheads organization, who are aiming to kidnap Yuanda Zhu on behalf of Lan Di.
The fifth chapter takes place in Guilin. Shortly after arriving, Ryo encounters a young woman named Ling Shenhua. She had previously appeared to Ryo through several dreams throughout the first chapter of the series. As the two converse, it is revealed that the Shenhua family is connected with the legacy of the dragon and phoenix mirrors. Shenhua leads Ryo to a stone quarry on the outskirts of the village to meet with her father, but he is nowhere to be found. The episode comes to an ambiguous end when the pair discover a cryptic note and sword, which Ryo combines with the phoenix mirror and unwittingly sets off a device revealing a huge depiction of the two mirrors. At the game's cliffhanger ending, the sword is seen to float in mid-air.
Shenmue II features gameplay similar to that of its predecessor, Shenmue and shares much of its assets, as the development of multiple Shenmue games overlapped each other. Many assets developed for but unused in the first Shenmue make an appearance in Shenmue II, some of which appeared in pre-releases and demos of the first game, only to be relocated to this one.
If given a Shenmue save file, the Dreamcast Shenmue II will continue where the player left off in the last game, carrying over any items, the current date (Shenmue starts in November 1986, but ends depending on how fast the player completes his/her quest) and any helpful statistics. While the series was effectively "cancelled" before getting to this point, the original idea was that events may change depending on the choices made in preceeding games. One example is that some optional fighting moves could only be learned in the original Shenmue, and would in theory be inaccessible to those starting from Shenmue II.
This situation is known to have caused some problems, particularly with the Xbox version which has no way of communicating with the first game. As such, blank Shenmue II save files generally have all the items and moves from the first game already set up, including items which serve no practical purpose (which can be therefore be sold for quick cash). Furthermore the game is region locked, in the sense that, for example, a Japanese Shenmue save file will not work with a European copy of Shenmue II. This can be overcome with external utilities.
Unlike the original Shenmue, Shenmue II on the Dreamcast does not have an English voice dub, instead relying on the Japanese one with added subtitles. The Xbox version has this English dub, however (and fan-made patches have subsequently led to English Dreamcast versions too).
Much of Shenmue II was created during the development of the original Shenmue, with screenshots of Hong Kong being released as early as 1999. Furthermore many of the assets (particularly character models and 2D elements) are identical between the two releases.
The Xbox version brings a number of technical changes to the game, such as the inclusion of quincunx anti-aliasing to create a cleaner image (however, the Dreamcast's VGA output leads to a shaper image than the Xbox). Texture mip-mapping is also employed with trilinear texture filtering, something absent in the Dreamcast release and indeed all of Sega AM2's previous 3D games. Some textures were also replaced with higher quality versions, most notably Ryu's jacket, and some models are rendered with more polygons, again including Ryu.
Water texturing has been completely re-worked for the Xbox port to create a a more lifelike appearance, however the addition of bloom lighting is more controversial, often giving characters a "glow" in some daylight scenes. At night, however, the effect allows for more realistic neon signs and other lighting effects. Extra motion blur was also added to fight scenes.
In the Xbox version, buildings can also cast shadows, which means the player's own shadow is often not rendered. Curiously the white button on the Xbox controller can be used to apply different visual filters, creating a more cinematic tone should the player desire, while the black button can be used to take screen shots of the game, which are then saved to the Xbox hard drive. The hard drive also plays its part in reducing load times.
The Xbox version of Shenmue II hits 30FPS more consistently than its Dreamcast counterpart, which often dips to 20FPS in more demanding scenes. Dolby Digital 5.1 is also used in select cutscenes, though the majority of the game still operates in stereo.
While supported by the Xbox 360 as a backwards-compatible title, the emulation is not perfect, with performance dips manifesting at certain parts of the game and shadows not rendering at all. Post processing effects such as the aforementioned bloom lighting and motion blur are missing. The visual filters also do not work, simply resulting in the game momentarily pausing.