Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Visit to The Forbidden City | A Look Back in Time to Predict the Future!

A Visit to the Forbidden City | A Look Back in Time to Predict the Future!

In this post we welcome back James Brown to the blog to share a finding arising from his recent trip to The Forbidden City in Beijing.

Minor possible spoiler warning: this post contains general speculation on future Shenmue story content. (Please treat this lightly as Yu Suzuki may well have changed and/or rearranged the original story now, so events may no longer happen as illustrated).

And now, over to James!

Hello, it's James Brown here once again and I want to personally say thanks for having me back on for my second guest blog post!

Today I wanted to share with the Shenmue community, something that may not have been noticed widely thus far in Shenmue history.

Back in 2014, Yu Suzuki excited fans as he took to the stage for the Shenmue Classic Game Postmortem at GDC 2014. Fans at this point were not aware of any behind-the-scenes talks about a Shenmue 3 project, and were anxious to see if it would turn out to be more than just a look back at the games now long history. As great as the presentation was, fans were disappointed that no new future Shenmue information was announced or talked about - although it's now been revealed that Yu Suzuki had a meeting at this event in a secret back room with Sony representatives Adam Boyes and Gio Corsi.

As part of the presentation, Yu Suzuki revealed an old timeline, consisting of movie poster style tiles, displaying how he originally planned the series to go through each of its installments. At this time, the game was still being referred to as Virtua Fighter RPG, and so Akira was the main character that can be seen in the images, instead of Ryo.

The 11 illustrated tiles presented by Yu Suzuki at GDC 2014
The illustrated tiles presented by Yu Suzuki at GDC 2014

Whilst recently taking a trip to China - which incidentally you can watch part 1 of my travel series over on my YouTube channel right now :D ( - one of the places I visited was the Forbidden City in Beijing! Upon returning home I stumbled across the original timeline images again and noticed something that I previously wasn't aware of.

If each tile actually represented one chapter in Yu Suzuki's original outline, then the tile in question would be for chapter 10 which you can see below -

The 10th tile of Yu Suzuki's outline
The 10th tile of Yu Suzuki's outline
Originally I had not noticed the specific details in this image that I wish to discuss with you now. Upon first inspection your eyes are immediately drawn to Akira, and the person he is carrying. This person may be a character we have yet to encounter or perhaps it is someone we have met already in the is hard make out, but with a little squinting I believe that it looks like the person is female, since it appears that a pony tail is covering Akira's right arm (so possibly Xuiying? - although it also looks like the character is wearing jeans and boots, so maybe even an early version of Joy before she was given ginger hair?). The other part of this image that your eyes are drawn to is the face in the sky...again it's not obvious who this character might be, although it appears menacing, so it's likely an enemy (Lan Di?).

Anyway, this time around, I had actually noticed the extra details that are in this image. If you look at what else is shown you will see that there are stairs that decline down in front of Akira, with a design of some sorts in the middle of them, and also you can see the many ancient Chinese shaped buildings that are sitting in front of Akira at the back of a large courtyard. Although quite hard to make out, in front of the building in the distance you can also see a cauldron-shaped pot either side of another set of stairs which are hidden by the strong tall figure of Akira.

After seeing this image again I felt a strong sense of déja vu, and so I began looking back through my travel photos from my stay in China to see why I was getting this feeling - more specifically the Forbidden City photos from Beijing! To my surprise, there is an uncanny resemblance to this area! I hope you will be able to agree after viewing some of my travel shots below.

1. The Forbidden City Square, showing the large courtyard, stairs bottom right, and the many buildings in front with a second large staircase, and cauldrons either side (hard to see):

Forbidden City Square

2. A close-up of the building that would be across the courtyard directly opposite Akira:

Building close-up

3. The left-hand side of the courtyard:

Left-hand side of the courtyard

4. The right-hand side of the courtyard:

Right-hand side of the courtyard

5. The staircase in question with the design going up the middle which Akira appears to be looking down from:


6. One of the cauldrons up close:


7. A photo which was taken from the National Geographic website, which was the best I could find for angle and closest representation to the original image of Akira overlooking the courtyard and entrance to the city:

A similar angle to the one shown on Akira's tile
View closely matching that of the image in the tile.
Akira overlaid for comparison.
Since we have already seen part of the Great Wall of China in scenes and images of the work in progress footage of Shenmue 3, various parts of China have already been depicted in the series. Although the Great Wall is a huge structure spanning 13,170 miles of China, the most famous parts lie in Beijing, so it would not be unusual for the game to eventually make its way to the capital - and potentially reach a certain Forbidden City as we have just speculated.

Food for thought! What's your opinion on this particular image from the original Virtua Fighter RPG timeline? Had you checked out this original storyboard plan that Yu Suzuki shared with us back in 2014 already? Were there any other image that you believe could be dissected like this, to potentially plot out future locations? I would love to hear your thoughts on this discussion, so please let us know in the comments below :)!

I hope you found this look into the Forbidden City interesting. If you would like to view more footage of this area, and the other parts of China / Japan I visited on my travels, please be sure to look out for future parts of my YouTube travel series which you can find over on my channel at

Just as a quick side note, it's not uncommon to see other games featuring locations that are clearly based on the Forbidden City as well, here is one from Kingdom Hearts 2, in the Mulan section of the game!

Screenshot from Kingdom Hearts 2

I can't wait to see what the future of Shenmue holds for us, hopefully we'll get to relive Yu Suzuki's original vision and eventually explore the Forbidden City for real!

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  1. Great post and observations from James! His blog posts are 10/10! ;)

    1. They certainly are, and... hey, wait a second, I recognize that writing style! :D

      Looking forward to your next riveting post in the future!

  2. Great work Skill, very well written & analysed. An interesting read for sure. & kudos to Switch for lending space on the platform for a guest article!

    1. Cheers Scribe much appreciated! It’s fun to be able to speculate on the future of the series, and only with actually visiting the Forbidden City in person did I make that connection, sort of a double take lol!

      Also I removed my previous comment because of a typo haha, didn’t realise it would leave that ghost “removed” comment!

    2. (Removed the ghost entry for you there SkillJim).

      Scribe, yes guest posts are most welcome. I bet you've got some interesting theories to share too - possibly including the patented Scribe gambling method! Drop me a line any time if you're interested in contributing.

  3. Great Blog post from James. The location in the tile that represents chapter 10 definitely seems to be the Forbidden City in Beijing. As for the character that Akira (Ryo) is holding in his arms, in my opinion is Ren.
    If we take a closer look at the previous tile that represents chapter 9, we can see Akira (Ryo) in a fighting stance and another character in the top left corner, that character looks like Ren with his iconic white scarf in his head. In this same tile we see Akira (Ryo) with no headband around his head, but if we take a closer look at the next two tiles 10 & 11 we can see Akira with a white headband in his head, that's why I think that the character in Akira's (Ryo) arms is Ren.
    I'm planning on making a Shenmue Talk episode on youtube with my personal theories about the concept art chapters of Virtua Fighter Rpg.
    Hope you guys have liked my theorie.

    1. Interesting theory - it does look like it's the character from the previous tile, and nice observation about the white headband. Looking forward to the next episode in your Shenmue Talk series!

    2. Thanks Switch :) Its great to see your Blog getting bigger and better day by day. Great Job.
      I'm currently working on the second part of the Shenmue Talk Series about Ryo. I think you are going to like my theories in this episode.