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Friday, May 31, 2019

Shenmue's Ties to F355 Challenge

Shenmue's Ties to F355 Challenge

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Shenmue was released for the Dreamcast in Japan at the end of 1999, the same year in which Yu Suzuki's racing simulation game F355 Challenge was brought out in the arcades.

As its name suggests, this game features the Ferrari F355 Challenge sports car, with the goal being to race against other drivers across a number of circuits. All cars in the game are the F355 Challenge model.
F355 Challenge (Twin)
In addition to the arcade version (which came in Twin and 3-screen "DX" configurations), a version for the Dreamcast console followed in August 2000.

With Yu Suzuki at the helm of both, it is perhaps not surprising that F355 Challenge has a close relationship with Shenmue. A number of connections can be found between the two games, which we will look at in this post.


Background


The connection between the two games exists because is they were both created by Yu Suzuki and his AM2 development team during the late 1990s. As Yu Suzuki confirmed in a recent interview that he came up with and implemented the entire concept for F355 Challenge.

Yu Suzuki himself owned a F355 Challenge sports car at that time. The game aimed to model the handling characteristics of a F355 as realistically as possible, to the extent that Yu Suzuki has always stated (including in the above interview) that he views it as a simulation rather than a game.

Music: Ryo's Ride to the Harbor 


In a well-known sequence towards the end of Shenmue, Ryo borrows his friend Naoyuki's motorbike and makes a dash to New Yokosuka harbor within a time limit. The music that plays upon his arrival in Amihama, is in fact a remake of a heavy-metal style music track that plays during racing in F355 Challenge. The name of the track is "Scarlatto."

This video contains clips with the music from both games.


Magic Weather


F355 Challenge also contains a weather system dubbed "Magic Weather" just as in Shenmue.

An IGN review from the time for the Dreamcast version enthused that "you'll see the same course under a clear blue sky, under a yellowish evening sky, under a pinkish morning sky, and AM2 has actually thrown in some weather effects into the mix as well".


Unlike Shenmue however, more extreme conditions such as rain, snow and night driving were not part of the F355 Challenge Magic Weather.

Graphical Similarities: Speed Gauges


Both Ryo's motorbike ride mentioned above as well as the daily forklift races he participates in at the harbor involve a speed gauge being displayed on screen. If we compare the gauges to the ones in F355 Challenge, we can see that while they are not identical, the similarities in the color and style suggest influence on the Shenmue gauges from the ones in the Ferrari racing game.


F355 Driving Data Analysis Function (Shenmue Passport Japanese version)


The most significant connection between the games is a special "hidden" feature that was built in to the Japanese version of the Shenmue Passport disc which allows you to inspect your past driving performance from the F355 Challenge game, if you have saved your driving data beforehand onto a VMU.

A record of your F355 Challenge race could be saved at the end of a game not only on the later Dreamcast console version, but even with the arcade version.
F355 Challenge driving data save screen (Dreamcast version)
Some F355 arcade cabinets in Japan came equipped with a special VMU slot for that purpose.

Once your driving data is saved onto a VMU, you can then boot up the Japanese Shenmue Passport disc. On the main menu screen, your VMU is checked to see if it contains saved data from F355 Challenge. If so, then in the place of the usual Information icon (which leads to tutorial videos by Shenmue characters) in the main menu screen, a new icon is shown.


The menu option description reads "F355 Challenge: Analyze play data saved to the VMU from an F355 Challenge arcade machine".

This feature may not be widely known to Shenmue fans outside of Japan (or even within Japan), because it is only enabled in the Japanese version of the Shenmue Passport: the menu option does not become enabled on the English version even if F355 data is present on the VMU.

On the menu screen, in the place of the spinning "I" symbol, the icon now rotates between a stylized "F" and a F355 Challenge car; a nice touch:

In a follow-up post, we will investigate this F355 Challenge menu function in detail.

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