Due to exclusivity rights obtained by Microsoft, the North American Dreamcast version was canceled. Because of this, no English dub was recorded for the Dreamcast version of Shenmue II, so the European release instead featured the original Japanese audio with English, French and Spanish subtitles. To compensate, fans hacked the European Dreamcast version and inserted the English dialogue from the North American Xbox version and spread this patched version online.
The game is backwards-compatible on the Xbox 360, and was eventually ported along with its prequel into a HD collection titled Shenmue I & II for the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Shenmue and Shenmue II were adapted into Shenmue the Animation in 2022.
Shenmue II begins shortly after the first installment concluded. If the player does not import save data from Shenmue I, the game begins on February 23, 1987. While Shenmue I told the story of the 1st chapter of the saga, the second game tells the story of the third, fourth, and fifth chapters. The second chapter happens between Shenmue and Shenmue II during Ryo Hazuki's trip from Yokosuka to Hong Kong and is just mentioned during the beginning of the game. It is available as a comic book as an extra in the Xbox version of the game.
The third chapter of the saga begins when Ryo arrives in Hong Kong in order to locate Master Lishao Tao as he was instructed to do by his friend and confidant, Master Chen, at the end of the series' first chapter. This mysterious and elusive individual is Ryo's only possible link to Lan Di, the Chinese man who murdered his father Iwao. Ryo is also searching for Yuanda Zhu, a martial arts expert who sent Iwao a letter warning of his impending murder, a warning that arrived too late. Ryo meets Joy, a friendly woman who helps him get accustomed to the area. Unfortunately, all of his money is stolen as a result of a boy named Wong.
After a difficult search and learning the four wude, Ryo finally meets Master Lishao Tao and the master of Man Mo Temple, a woman named Xiuying; but she is unwilling to assist him in what she considers a futile quest for vengeance. After staying in her room for a few days, the two part ways when Ryo finds his next clue on his quest, although Xiuying continues to monitor Ryo's progress and they continue to meet on occasion. After doing a Chawan Sign and meeting Shuqin Zhang, Ryo discovers another individual who may be able to assist him in locating Lan Di: Wuying Ren. Along the way, Ryo also meets a hostile Yuan for the first time.
Ren is the leader of a gang named The Heavens, who engage in a variety of illegal activities. Ryo discovers that The Heavens often gather in a warehouse. He is ambushed there while trying to find Ren. They lead him to the Beverly Hills Wharf, their gathering place, but Ryo is knocked unconscious after fighting too many Heavens members. He is rescued by Wong and taken to a boat on a pier, which becomes his next place to sleep. Wong gives Ryo a lighter with The Heavens symbol which prevents The Heavens from being too hostile to Ryo. Ryo discovers that he needs to raise $500 to speak to Ren.
After initially attempting to wile Ryo, Ren decides to assist him in his quest after discovering that there are large sums of money tied up in the mysterious and ancient Phoenix Mirror. Wong also holds Ren in high regard (considering him like a brother, although they are not related by blood) and befriends Ryo, assisting him in his search for Lan Di, along with Joy. Ren tells Ryo that Yuanda Zhu is in Kowloon.
The fourth chapter of the saga takes place in Kowloon, as Ryo attempts to locate Yuanda Zhu. At this juncture, several confrontations ensue between Ryo and Ren and the dangerous Yellow Heads organization, who are aiming to kidnap Yuanda Zhu on behalf of Lan Di. They are abducted and handcuff, and barely manage to escape, even encountering the Yellow Heads leader Dou Niu and Yuan again. Wong comes to Kowloon to unpick the handcuff lock, while Joy also comes because she is concerned about Ryo, Ren and Wong.
After following several clues, such as listening to a cassette tape and stalking Yuan, Ryo and Ren enter Yuan's room and rescue Zhang there. They take Zhang to Ren's hideout, who reveals Zhu's location. Ryo and Ren find Yuanda Zhu on the 10th floor of the Ghost Hall Building; but the meeting is cut short when they are ambushed by Dou Niu, and Yuanda Zhu is kidnapped in the resulting encounter. Ren escapes, but Ryo is knocked unconscious by Dou; fortunately, he is saved by Xiuying, who lets him rest at a chapel in the Thousand White Building. She asks him to not seek revenge and follow the path of evil, but he ignores her and returns to Ren's hideout. There, Joy informs the group that Zhu is being held captive in the Yellow Head Building.
Unfortunately, all the ways into the building are guarded, so Ryo does a Chawan Sign and meets Kai, a friend of his father's, who reveals Iwao went to China to learn martial arts. Kai tells Ryo to locate Yuandao Huo, a scout for the Yellow Heads, and win in various street fights in order to impress Huo and be allowed to fight in the Yellow Head Building. Ryo impresses Huo and is told to fight Rod Stunt, Greg More and Chunyan Xu. He does so, and also saves the life of Chunyan from falling off a ledge, even after she killed a man.
Huo tells Ryo that he can access the Yellow Head Building through the Thousand White Building underground; Ren follows Ryo and knocks out Huo, giving both of them access. Wong also follows to unlock a door and tells Ryo that Zhu is being held captive on the 17th floor. Wong stays in the basement. While reaching the floor, they fight and defeat Yuan, who tells them Zhu is actually on the 40th floor. On the way, Joy and Wong are held captive. Ryo frees Joy by fighting a powerful martial artist.
On the roof, Wong is being held captive by Dou Niu, with Zhu nearby, about to be transferred to a helicopter with Lan Di. Ryo fights Dou Niu for the final time. They are able to prevent Lan Di from receiving Zhu. Elusive as ever, Lan Di escapes once again. Back at Ren's hideout, Yuanda Zhu provides Ryo with crucial information regarding the true purpose of the dragon and phoenix mirrors. It is revealed that the mirrors will lead to the resurrection of an ancient order, known as the Qing Dynasty. Ryo is advised to continue his search in Bailu Village, in remote Guilin. He parts ways with Ren, Wong and Joy; continuing his journey and heading for the same destination as Lan Di.
The fifth chapter takes place in Guilin. Shortly after arriving, Ryo encounters a young girl named Shenhua Ling. 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 has a bad ending if the player takes too long to beat the game. The player must play until July 31, 1987 in the game and then it will happen when Ryo goes to bed.
As in the first chapter of the series, Ryo Hazuki is the main protagonist and the only playable character. As the player progresses through the game, Ryo will encounter a variety of new characters as he travels through Hong Kong and Guilin in search of Lan Di.
Early on in the story, Ryo meets flirtatious Hong Kong socialite, Joy. She will later become a more important character in the story through her association with Wuying Ren.
Wuying Ren (more frequently referred to as Ren) is the leader of a gang, known as The Heavens, who are primarily involved with petty crime in the local area. Ren, however, seeks fame and fortune; both of which serve as his main incentive for assisting Ryo in his quest to begin with. Ren's charisma and charm is greatly admired by Wong who sees Ren as an older brother and aspires to be like him.
Although she refuses to assist Ryo in his quest, which she considers to be immoral and dangerous, Xiuying Hong (aka Master Lishao Tao) offers him valuable advice and several important martial arts skills. Thoughtful and elegant, a lifetime of sacrifice and sorrow appears to be hidden behind her beautiful eyes. She is a motherly figure to adopted Fangmei Xun, who is attracted to Ryo and is frequently bashful around him.
As the story develops, Ryo seeks and eventually finds Yuanda Zhu; an old acquaintance of Iwao Hazuki who attempted to warn him of his impending murder. Once an owner of a wealthy trading company, he is kidnapped by The Yellowhead corporation, who act on behalf of Lan Di. The powerful underground corporation is headed by Dou Niu, although Ryo has more involvement with his eccentric sidekick, Yuan.
Yuan is referred to as a female (and voiced by a female actress in the English voiceover) in the Western and European releases of the game, but in the original Japanese edition is established as a cross-dressing male. Although it is never confirmed, there are several allusions to a homosexual relationship between Yuan and Dou Niu. For example, Dou Niu refers to Yuan as his "cuddly little love thing" on one occasion.
The final major character that Ryo meets is Shenhua Ling. This innocent young girl grew up in Guilin, surrounded by only nature. Though pure and compassionate, Shenhua also has great strength. She previously appeared to Ryo through his dreams and there is an implied mystic connection between them both that would always ensure their meeting.
Content and features
Shenmue II initially takes place in Hong Kong. The final chapter of the game takes place in picturesque Guilin, located in China. The environments found in Shenmue II are loosely based upon the geography of locations in and around Hong Kong. The environments found in the game are much larger than those found in the first title of the series. It has been noted that the settings of Shenmue II are somewhat less intricately detailed than those of Shenmue. The first environment of the game is Aberdeen Harbor, where Ryo arrives after travelling from Japan via ship. Aberdeen is an underprivileged area, and in addition to the various docks and drinking establishments, there are several gambling parlors where players can take part in QTE-based games of chance. Ryo meets a variety of dangerous individuals here, but also future allies including Joy, Wong and Wuying Ren. On the outskirts of Aberdeen, is Queen's Street, a pleasant area that is lined with brownstone houses, reflecting Hong Kong's British governors.
Wan Chai is a mostly working-to-middle class and metropolitan area of Hong Kong. The game's depiction of Wan Chai mostly eschews the skyscrapers and financial district the area is famous for, relegating these to a far off inaccessible area viewed across the harbor and from the edge of one of the quarters. Instead, Ryo's adventures take place in areas that reflect working class Hong Kong life, small businesses, daai paai dongs, the religious and martial arts communities, and the gang underworld. The first of these is Green Market Qr., which contains several points of interest including the Come Over Guest House, where Ryo stays for an extended period before meeting with Xiuying Hong. The area also houses a bustling market and a pawn shop where players can trade items for Hong Kong Dollars. Beyond are the residential quarters South Carmain and Wise Men's, they are of little interest overall although the latter is the setting for several meetings between Ryo and various martial arts masters, who can teach him new techniques and fighting moves if the player so wishes.
The vibrant Golden Qr. is lined with various stores and boutiques, including the Tomato Convenience Store; a branded chain of supermarkets that appear in the previous installment of Shenmue. There is also a Video arcade, which allows the play of Space Harrier and Outrun, two popular hits produced by Yu Suzuki. The Lucky Charm Qr. contains various stores, most of them dealing in consumer electronics; and several bars and restaurants. Another area of Wan Chai is the White Dynasty Qr., an area with a large market which also contains quite a few bars. The final area is an attractive hamlet known as Scarlet Hills, it is pretty small and is most notable for the Man Mo Temple, where Xiuyung is the resident master.
Kowloon Walled City, an unbanised area of northern Hong Kong is the final district of the city that Ryo visits before leaving for Guilin. It is loosely based on the real walled city of Kowloon, which still existed at the time the game takes place. It is surrounded by eight peaks, the most famous of them being Lion Rock. Ryo arrives in the area via bus. This densely populated city is visually dominated by its many high reaching skyscrapers, which are in varying degrees of disarray. While here, Ryo's home is Ren's hideout, located on the outskirts of the city. In addition to the locations that progress the narrative of Shenmue II, Kowloon also contains a variety of gambling, video game and retail establishments for the player to enjoy. The Yellow Head Building, where Ryo and his allies do battle against Lan Di's dangerous associates for the last time, is in the very center of the city.
Ryo's final destination in Shenmue II is beautiful Guilin. This subtropical region is surrounded by the Lijiang River and several mountains, the most notable being Elephant Trunk Hill. Arriving here via boat, Ryo meets several locals of a small riverside village before traversing deeper into the surrounding forests and meadows. Guilin is home to Shenhua, who shows Ryo some of the region's more impressive attractions. A substantial point of interest within Guilin is the frequently foreshadowed ancient tree from which the saga's title is derived. Located in the garden of the Shenhua residence, this ancient blossom tree is both literally and figuratively, at the center of the prophecy that runs as a continuous thread throughout the Shenmue series. The game's final scene takes place in a setting based upon the Seven-Star Cave.
Much like with Yokosuka in the first game, the locations of Hong Kong that are reflected in Shenmue II are inaccurate in terms of geographical placement. Aberdeen is on the other side of Hong Kong island, which means there is supposed to be a mountain blocking Wan Chai from Aberdeen and vice versa. The Man Mo Temple is actually located in Sheung Wan, which is a long way away from Wan Chai, but could still be considered part of the Central district along with it. Beverly Hills is located in Happy Valley, and not in Aberdeen. The recreations of real cities in Shenmue are not intended to be reproductions of the real cities, but rather a backdrop for the game to be connected through interlinked level design and vehicles for the underlying cultural themes. Therefore the Hong Kong depicted in Shenmue is an idealized version of old style Hong Kong buildings and markets which still exist, but even in the 80's were being supplanted by new buildings and developments. This theme of journeying through areas facing impending societal change is continued from Yokosuka, where traditional Japanese small town life was gradually giving way to American influences, and foreign criminal syndicates controlled the harbor, and extended in Kowloon, a city which was demolished shortly after the game's chronology. These urban settings reflect Yu Suzuki's particular interests in traditional Chinese culture, as well as the underlying series motif of internal conflict and cultural identity.
Differences between the Xbox and Dreamcast versions
When the U.S. Xbox version was released in 2002, it brought some changes and enhancements to the original with it. The most significant difference is the inclusion of a full English dub, with Corey Marshall reprising his role as Ryo Hazuki from the first game.
There are two new gameplay features – a Snapshot mode to take pictures of gameplay or cutscenes to store on the Xbox's hard disk and Filters to alter the color filters used on the entire screen.
The graphics were given a boost by the Xbox's more advanced hardware (bloom lighting during the night hours, better looking water, etc.), the lengths of the load times were slightly reduced, Dolby Digital 5.1 support was added for the game's cutscenes, and the frame rate now ran at a much more consistent 30 frames per second with less loss in characters on-screen (the Dreamcast version used an aggressive character LOD that caused pedestrians to fade in and out of plain view in very crowded scenes). This was all done without many sacrifices to the original game design, with only one instance (the Worker's Pier) of noticeable pedestrian reduction from the Dreamcast version. The Xbox version also used Quincunx Anti-Aliasing (like many Xbox games) and although the technique reduced "jaggies" associated with aliasing, fans are generally split down the middle as to whether this and the new nighttime bloom lighting effects hurt the image quality in the Xbox version of the game giving it a somewhat "blurry" or "washed out" look.
There are also many other graphical differences, mostly involving the signs on buildings, labels on jukeboxes, signs on gates, etc. having been inexplicably improved or toned down from the Dreamcast version.
While the original Dreamcast version came on four GD-ROMs, the Xbox version is on one DVD and came bundled with Shenmue: The Movie on a separate DVD for play on a standard DVD player. The film is comprised entirely of scenes from the first game.
One feature the Xbox version lost was the ability to import a save file from a completed Shenmue I game, allowing the player to bring items and money collected in the first game to the second. However, since the player could not import their inventory, the Xbox port started the player off with some items from Shenmue I, including some near complete capsule toy sets of Virtua Fighter, Virtua Fighter Kids (excluding the rare toys from the sets which were all the Dural variants and the Wooden Man, but these can still be obtained while playing Shenmue II), and Hang On, though the cassette tapes and a few items such as the Sega Saturn Hang On and Space Harrier games, and the Photo of Friends and Photo of Hazukis are mysteriously missing. This is identical to starting the Dreamcast version without a cleared Shenmue I save file, though the cassette tapes cannot be obtained or transferred to Shenmue II in any version of the game whatsoever. The items that can be transferred to the Dreamcast Shenmue II, but are not obtainable in the Xbox version can actually be unlocked in your inventory through modding as they are still within the game's file. 
In the localization for the game, many changes were made from the original Japanese version, due to licensing issues and because some concepts were too inappropriate in order to make the content suitable for a "Teen" rating. Every version of the game besides the original Japanese Dreamcast version has the following changes:
- The main major change is regarding one of the main antagonists of the game, Yuan. Originally, Yuan was a stereotypically effeminate gay man and a transvestite. However, Yu Suzuki was not sure how players outside of Japan would take a obviously gay character at the time, so for the PAL Dreamcast version, his lines were re-recorded by a Japanese actress and was changed to be a female. The English subtitles also use female pronouns when referring to Yuan, but they still verbally use male pronouns in Japanese. In the English speech Xbox version, Yuan is still a female and female pronouns are used to refer to him.
- In the game's 2018 re-release, Shenmue I & II the English voices use the female voice from the Xbox version, and they still use female pronouns when referring to him. When Japanese voices are selected, his original masculine voice from the original Japanese version is restored and they use male pronouns to refer to him in the English subtitles. In certain instances, the way they describe Yuan is altered in the subtitles to match the original Japanese script as well.
- Originally, it was directly stated that the main antagonist Dou Niu was involved in a romantic relationship with Yuan, meaning he was homosexual or possibly bisexual. Due to Yuan's gender being altered, it seems as if Dou Niu is now heterosexual.
- Cool Z, one of the members of the Heavens was originally called "Cool J". His name was changed to "Cool Z", most likely to prevent any copyright issues from LL Cool J.
- Chengyou Wen, a baseball fan that Ryo can play darts with for money originally wore a shirt that said "DEATHBALL 666", and it had a skull baseball on it. This was altered so the shirt says "BASEBALL" and has a regular baseball on it.
- Haoyi Ping, the Lucky Hit Museum bookie in Kowloon, was originally an Arabic man named "Najimu Hassan", and he wore a headdress and white pants with a purple belt. In the PAL Dreamcast version, his original name is kept, but his appearance is altered so the headdress is removed and so he wears red pants with a black belt. In the English speech Xbox version, his appearance is kept altered, but his name is changed to "Haoyi Ping" suggesting that he's Chinese.
- When going through Huang the Wiretapper's cassette tapes, originally in one of the tapes you can hear a man trying to having sexual intercourse with a woman, but her cat scratches him. This was changed so the tape was of a interview with Yang of Great View Herbs instead.
- In the Thousand White Convent, the statue was originally of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. This was altered so Jesus is removed, and Mary has her hands crossed on her chest instead.
- When Yuan chases Ryo and Ren with a chainsaw in the Yellow Head Building, and the players fails certain QTE's that result in Ryo getting killed with the chainsaw, the screen originally faded out to red like blood. This was altered so the screen fades out to white instead.
Shenmue II features gameplay similar to that of its predecessor, although there are many additions and changes, and many fans consider it to be a completely different experience.
One marked difference is the abundance of action sequences, mostly relying heavily on the use of cinematic QTE events in lieu of Free battles (whereas the first installment had a fair balance of the two).
In Shenmue, there was often a certain character who Ryo had to talk to in order to advance the story; in Shenmue II, often many characters will be able to help Ryo reach his destination, allowing the game to progress at a much quicker pace, and there's often only one solution, while in the first Shenmue there were several different paths Ryo could have gone down as far as his investigation was concerned.
Despite the more linear nature of II, however, there are still moments of non-linear plot progression; for example, at several points Ryo must make a hidden sign at certain restaurants, and depending on which restaurant the gamer chooses, different events will occur. Occasionally a QTE will make use of this as well; in the first Shenmue, failure of a QTE meant the gamer would simply be allowed to retry it, whereas in Shenmue II, although rare occurrences, there are QTEs which result in a branching story path. The QTE system itself also received an upgrade from its predecessor, now adding multiple-button combos to the mix.
Shenmue II features an all new "question system" where the gamer can choose from a variety of different questions to ask non-playable-characters.
Hidden cutscenes, however, which took place when a gamer happened to be on a certain street at a certain time on the correct day, have largely been sacrificed from this sequel.
Whereas the first Shenmue consisted of a single world with an immense amount of detail (for example, the ability to open almost every drawer in Ryo's house and often pick up the contents inside) Shenmue II consists of several worlds with less intricate detailing, although much more to explore. Despite the tighter pacing and more eventful storyline, however, Shenmue II keeps the basic formula of its predecessor, which essentially involves the gamer wandering through a virtual world, talking to people and receiving clues that lead Ryo deeper into the mystery surrounding the murder of his father.
Money plays a much bigger role in Shenmue II; unlike the first game, where Ryo was given money at the start of each day, Shenmue II requires the gamer to find a part time job or to gamble in order to earn cash, as all of Ryo's cash is stolen and he never gets it back. There is a mandatory $1000 the player will need to earn before the end of the game; $500 to be able to speak to Ren, and later, another $500 to fight Rod Stunt.
Shenmue II boasts a bigger selection of playable retro arcade games than its predecessor.
Save data import
The following is carried over if the player chooses to import their save from the first game:
- Money (although it is stolen)
- Capsule toys which is useful for pawn shops in Shenmue II as you can sell them to make money, or you can keep them and add to them with more capsule toys from Hong Kong.
- Move scrolls and moves learned from characters.
- The time Ryo arrives in Hong Kong changes.
The game received generally positive reviews, and it was commended for improving on criticisms of the first game, such as pacing issues which were resolved with the time skip feature, as well as the faster pace of the plot and larger proportion of action sequences.
The game has been criticized for some rather drab and depressing industrial environments, such as the buildings in Kowloon, although the Guilin sequence can make up for it. The game has some frustrating and tedious sections, such as being forced to air out books, and crossing numerous wooden planks. If the player fails the final boss fight against Dou Niu due to the final QTE, they are forced to re-do the entire fight.
The Xbox version, though still receiving solid marks, was derided by critics for the sub-par English voice acting and outdated visuals.
Shenmue II introduced an air of mysticism into the story with the formal introduction of Shenhua. It was never openly discussed during the course of the game, but a notable cutscene reveals that she possesses the ability to interact with nature on more than just a normal level than most others can. This, coupled with the revelation of the purposes of the two mirrors lends the game a more fantasy-styled approach in story and apparently sets the stage for further inclusion and expansion of such elements of mysticism and myth in the series next (and possibly final) installment(s).
Shenmue II has been criticized by some for being debatably homophobic/transphobic. The game's two major villains (apart from Lan Di who only appears briefly) are, in the Japanese version, an LGBT couple (Dou Niu and Yuan). Dou Niu is seemingly gay while Yuan is a transvestite who is ambiguously transgender. Sega deemed this offensive and unacceptable, so in an attempt to be more respectful towards LGBT gamers, in the English version, Dou only refers to Yuan as his "partner" as opposed to "boyfriend" while Yuan appears to be a woman, even being dubbed by a voice actress, so Dou could be interpreted as heterosexual in the English version. Dou could also be perceived as fat-shaming and playing into "fat = evil" stereotypes, as he has a weight of 180kg (nearly 400 pounds).
While the Japanese version sold relatively well (in the limited Dreamcast market) and the European version sold many units due to the high import demand, the long delayed American release on the Xbox sold poorly. This is largely due to the fact that given the high price of the Xbox and availability of a European Dreamcast version, a significant proportion of the fanbase (largely the market of Dreamcast owners) did not own an Xbox to buy it for. The rest of the market responded poorly due to poor marketing and lack of exposure to the series, resulting in a lack of awareness or interest in the heavily story driven game, which commences on a cliffhanger from a game that was not available to those who had not owned a Dreamcast. Without an installed fan base on the console it was exclusive to, the sequel failed to have any word of mouth promotion and did not find more than a niche audience. Sega and Microsoft did not release an Xbox version in Japan.