While I didn't grow up in a culture like Ryo's (or Gene's), I have lived in places with many similarities. I can definitely relate to elements in the game that are signatures of non-Western cultures, and appreciate their genuineness. Gene's comment stating "This is a foreign game with foreign concepts" has legitimacy and weight, and it would be wise to keep this in mind before entering the world of Shenmue II. Its flavor and pace are its own, and some gamers may find that many aspects of it chafe against their own sensibilities and expectations.
With this cultural caveat noted, the experience provided by Shenmue II is nothing short of a masterpiece, albeit an uneven and somewhat flawed one. The game gave me some of the most amazing moments I've ever had in front of a console, but also contains some of the most disappointing design choices imaginable. It's not that the problems are outrageously bad, but the heights of greatness Yu Suzuki achieves makes the missteps seem even worse by comparison.
As Gene noted, Suzuki has clearly made numerous concessions to players, most noticeably tightening certain areas and abbreviating the "realistic" passage of time. As a result, the game's flow is smoother and less haphazard. With regard to the main objectives and goals, things are far more cohesive and focused than in the original Shenmue. For most of the adventure, things are perceived as relevant and necessary because most of the minigames and sidequests are set far from center stage. This is great news for people who want to enjoy the game's story without any tangents or distractions.
However, I think it's possible to tweak the Shenmue formula just a bit more while retaining its unique, nontraditional character. Similar to Gene's feeling, the disc's money-collection requirements brought the game to a painful halt and annihilated my level of immersion. What made this drudgery especially bad is that there weren't any alternate solutions to the problems except to earn the money like a dumb mule. In comparison to other games and in light of the generally "open" design, I felt there should have been more choice in advancing the plot. It's obvious that Suzuki's master design borders on genius, but this tedium brings the narrative's linear inflexibility into an undesirable spotlight. In these instances, Shenmue goes crashing down from transcendent experience to being "just a game," and it hurts.
One last trouble spot to note is that I found the game's Free Battles to be the worst part of the tripartite interface. Granted, Ryo's character is a martial artist and much of the story revolves around this theme, but the truncated version of the Virtua Fighter engine still feels completely incongruous. All of the combat segments could be handled more effectively and dynamically through use of the QTEs alone, and in fact, many battles already are. Sparing gamers the terrible camera views and boring buttonmashing action would be a move towards greater excellence.
No game is perfect, and in spite of Shenmue II's shortcomings, it remains an extremely bold and ambitious project with an immense scope almost beyond comprehension. Gene is right on the money when he characterizes it as "epic," and it's almost an understatement. After two complete games, the gripping story is just getting past the prologue! The rest of the game is just as stunning regardless of its origins on the now-defunct Dreamcast. From the near-limitless amount of distinct townsfolk to the excruciatingly detailed environments, the game goes above and beyond in creating a world to explore and experience.
Shenmue II may not be successful at everything it attempts, but no medium is ever recognized as truly great until daring, difficult works come along to challenge perceptions. They may not be great successes or even well liked, but they are a necessary and vital catalyst towards the advancement of any genre. The game's stunning final chapter alone is a clear example of such groundbreaking thinking, and must be recognized as such. From this perspective, Shenmue II is undoubtedly going to stand as one of the greatest achievements in videogames, as well as being one of the most intense love-hate relationships on record.