Thursday, July 4, 2019

Yu Suzuki on Ryo Hazuki and the Concept of Time (IGN Japan) | Translation

This is a translation of an article that was recently published IGN Japan journalist (and former "Shenmue Respect Champion"), Esra Krabbe.

The World's Most Oblivious Young Man, Ryo Hazuki, and the Concept of Time: Yu Suzuki Talks About Shenmue's Protagonist.

young man who is a blank canvas - able to take on any hue.

I first played Shenmue 1 when I was a junior high school student. Ryo Hazuki was someone I really looked up to, even to the point of wishing I could be him.

But as an adult I realized something: Ryo is still immature in a lot of ways, and his character is one whose growth is yet to come.

I have been fortunate to interview Ryo's creator, Yu Suzuki, about Shenmue 3 on several occasions, and I had the urge to find out how Suzuki sees the character of Ryo Hazuki, and what kind of person he is to him.

Suzuki didn't reply to my question immediately, and instead sank into deep thought. I regretted my question - perhaps I had asked something too general - but resolved to remain silent and wait for Suzuki's response.

Eventually, he began to speak. "He starts from Yokosuka, and encounters all kinds of people..."

"Previously, Yokosuka was all he knew. But at the Yokosuka harbor he meets Westerners, and then goes to Hong Kong and meets Chinese people..."

I nodded.

"One thing Ryo has in common with the people from other countries is martial arts. Through martial arts Ryo meets various people, which shapes his personality. So Ryo's journey is one of self-discovery. On the journey, he gains maturity through meeting various people, and through doing so realizes where his own convictions differ or align; he has a clear sense of his roots."

By associating with people of a range of nationalities, Ryo grows as a person while retaining a strong sense of his own identity as a Japanese: this might be what Suzuki was getting at.

Ryo's immature character in the early stages of the game is by Suzuki's intentional design: a character having a personality already formed wouldn't allow for sufficient growth to be portrayed, journey of self-discovery notwithstanding.

"In Shenmue 1 and 2, people said he was the world's most oblivious guy", Suzuki said laughing.

"People can get fully absorbed in something. I think it's similar for an athlete: but all Ryo has done growing up is martial arts, with no time for anything else. And so, he's a bit lacking in other areas."

On saying this, Suzuki chuckled again. But I think those words captured Ryo's personality perfectly.

"You can put 100% of your effort into something, right? But we all have only 24 hours, so it's about what you choose to spend your time on. If all you study is mathematics then you'll get good at only mathematics. On the other hand, you won't have spent time on anything else, so while you get zeroes for both English and Japanese, for mathematics alone you get a mark of 200, and so on. That's how it was for Ryo with martial arts."

Regardless of his obliviousness or immaturity, I think the thing that I admired when I was a junior high school student was Ryo's "100% effort".

"Since he doesn't spend much time on anything other than martial arts, Ryo hasn't been tainted by people. He hasn't really been influenced by others so his nature is the one he was born with. He's a blank canvas, so hereon he'll probably start to take on some color".

Indeed, at the end of Shenmue 2, upon meeting the heroine, Shenhua, Ryo's dry personality did begin to undergo some transformation. And then we had to wait 18 years for Ryo's further development to be portrayed.

"At first, I had trouble making up my mind about what kind of protagonist to make him. A strong personality from the start would have more impact, right? Which would be better; to leave room for one to imagine, or bake in an overpowering personality from the start..."

Still, in the end Suzuki chose a Ryo who is able to take on any hue.

"One more thing I thought about is whether he should grow older or not. A concept of Shenmue and its most important part is the concept of time. I used to make 2D games and then went on to build 3D games with Virtua Fighter, right? I wanted to add one more dimension. That's why I decided to add in the element of time.

With the implementation of time, Shenmue was one of the first games to have a dynamic weather system and an in-game calendar. Time is what gives reality to various aspects of Ryo's everyday life.

"To that, I further wanted to add real time. But I'm glad I didn't."

With real time, Suzuki is probably referring to in-game time advancing at the same pace as the real world. Interestingly, Toshihiro Nagoshi, who could be seen as a pupil of Suzuki, has incorporated real time into the Yakuza games in similar fashion. Its main characters Kazuma Kiryu and Haruka Sawamura age at the same speed as the real world and Tokyo’s fictional nightlife district Kamurocho changes along with it. In the case of Shenmue, whose new releases came to a stop partway through, I am indeed happy that this wasn't implemented.

"If I'd done it, Ryo in Shenmue 3 eighteen years later would have grown pretty old," joked Suzuki.

Even so, time does pass within Shenmue and Ryo gradually grows older. Suzuki tells me that the entire Shenmue tale will "probably unfold across a span of 2 or 3 years." However, it appears that whether he will portray that entire period or just parts of it is something that is yet to be decided.

While thinking about the concept of time and the way Ryo grows older, I was curious about the flashback scenes of Ryo as a child in Shenmue 1. It is known that in the original script of Virtua Fighter RPG: The Legend of Akira* (which later went on to become Shenmue) Ryo’s everyday life before the death of Iwao was portrayed to some extent.

"The Legend of Akira" was the title of the set of scripts that Yu Suzuki wrote for the game before it was renamed Shenmue.
In footage from the Sega Saturn version, which didn't reach release, interaction between the game's main character and Iwao can be observed as well. Might there be further depictions to come of Ryo's childhood or of Iwao before his death? And if so, would these be as flashbacks, or alternatively is there a possibility that we could play as Ryo during his actual childhood...?
Early Sega Saturn footage: Iwao Hazuki appears to be remonstrating Ryo and Fuku-san for shirking their dojo cleaning duties.
"Showing Ryo’s childhood as flashbacks would be possible, but trying to make them in real time would be a huge job for modeling. In the future, when technology is more advanced, it might become economically feasible," commented Suzuki.

One day I'd like to see a side-story that takes us back to Ryo's childhood and depicts the relationship between him and Iwao, as father-child and as master-pupil. But first, I can't wait to find out how the story continues in Shenmue 3.

Shenmue 3 is scheduled for release on 19th November for PS4 and PC.

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Source: IGN Japan article, 27th June 2019 (Japanese)
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