Saturday, September 25, 2021

Weekly AM2 Vol. 4: Shenmue New Year's Card Giveaway | 4th Jan 2000

In this series we translate Shenmue content from Weekly AM2, the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 development team back in the day. News and information about the Shenmue series could be found regularly within these pages from the end of 1999 through to 2001 with the release of Shenmue II.

Vol. 4 was a fairly brief update posted at the start of the new millennium, shortly after the official release of Shenmue in Japan on December 28th. While not much news is contained, we do learn the nickname of Megumi Yasu, the actress playing Nozomi (read on to find out!). A lucky draw is announced for Shenmue-themed New Year Cards - of which only two were available. Let's hope they were kept and treasured by the winners.

-Switch

 

Vol.4: 2000.1.4

Happy New Year to you all.

This is Takuan.

I hope you're all well and enjoying Shenmue.

Let's have another great year!

This week's contents:
  • New Year's Greetings from the Shenmue actors
  • Outtrigger Event [omitted from translation]
  • Shenmue New Year Card Present

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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Shenmue Tree? Cherry Tree? | Shenmue 3 Translations

Something that has led to a lot of discussion among fans is the nature of the tree that stands gracefully in full bloom at Ternary Spring, outside the house of Grandmaster Feng in Shenmue III. When Ryo visits the area, the tree is mentioned in conversation with both Shenhua and Grandmaster Feng, but nothing is said that would remove doubt about its identity - is it supposed to be an actual Shenmue tree?

The tree at Ternary Spring

This question is not as easily answered as it may at first appear, since the tree is treated inconsistently between Shenmue II and III, as well as between the Japanese and English language versions.

In this post we'll attempt to bring together the known evidence to help judge the tree's true nature.

The Shenmue Dojo forums served as a useful reference for this post, with various theories and discussions made on this topic.

Shenmue Tree Hypothesis


An obvious place to start is by examining the tree's appearance, in particular the pattern of its bark and the shape of its flowers, and compare this to the tree at Shenhua's house which we know from Shenmue II to be a Shenmue tree.

Complicating matters, the Shenmue tree in the third game was considerably reimagined. This is how it looked in the second game:
Appearance of the Shenmue tree in Shenmue II (roots, whole form and blossom)

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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for September 2021

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic for September 2021 is...


" Interview with Shenmue sound staff: Yuzo Koshiro, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (January 2000)"

We will be translating an early magazine interview with two legendary music composers who were part of Shenmue's Sound team: Yuzo Koshiro and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi. Among the numerous games for which Yuzo Koshiro has composed music are the Ys series in the late 1980s and the Streets of Rage series in the 1990s, while Takenobu Mitsuyoshi has been composing for Sega games since the 1990s, including work on the Virtua Fighter series and the theme song for Daytona USA.


This interview was published in a January 2000 edition of the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine, soon after Shenmue's release in Japan.

Watch for it on the blog in the near future.

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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Weekly AM2 Vol. 3: Shenmue Triathlon | 28th Dec 1999

In this series we translate Shenmue content from Weekly AM2, the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 development team back in the day. News and information about the Shenmue series could be found regularly within these pages from the end of 1999 through to 2001 with the release of Shenmue II.

Vol. 3 was released on 28th December 1999, one day before the official release of Shenmue in Japan on the 29th, and announces a speed run competition named the Shenmue Triathlon. The Weekly AM2 logo has also been revamped with the tagline "Always bringing you the hottest topics" (complete with three exclamation marks at the end!).

-Switch

 

Vol.3:1999.12.28

Hello! This is Takuan.

Another year comes to an end, and with it the release of the long-awaited "Shenmue Chapter 1: Yokosuka".

This is the last Weekly AM2 of the year, and I'll be bringing it to you with the utmost enthusiasm!

This week's contents:
  • "Shenmue Chapter 1: Yokosuka" Releases at Last Tomorrow!
  • Shenmue Strategy Guide Releases on January 7th!
  • Announcing the Shenmue Triathlon!
  • Commencing the Shenmue Original Wallpaper Download Service!

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

March 2021 Yu Suzuki Interview Part Two | SEGA Hard Historia

Part Two of our translation of a new interview with Yu Suzuki that was published in the recently-released SEGA Hard Historia book, featuring retrospectives with various key developers and staff members over the years.

Part One can be found here if you haven't yet read it:

In the second and final part of the interview, Yu-san talks about the evolution of 3D in games, and the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast eras.

Source material supplied by SkillJim (James Brown). Check out his SEGA Hard Historia unboxing video at the end of the article!

The interview translation continues below, with Yu describing how he gathered video footage for Out Run during his trip in Europe.



YS: We took videos with a camera to the hood and near the wheel suspension, attached with duct tape or string. It also had a sunroof, so I opened the sunroof and filmed from there. When I was thinking over what the player's car should be, I saw a red Ferrari outside a public casino in Monaco. A Testarossa. And it was a convertible. "That's it!", I thought, "There's no car more exciting, no car with more presence, no other car more enviable!" And the sunshine, unlike in Japan, was so crisp and clear. With its vivid red color shining brightly, under a blue sky and white clouds - I knew this was it.

Q: You next went on to create After Burner and G-LOC. What motivated you to create those?

YS: Well, there wasn't anything connecting on to these games. Mr. Hayao Nakayama, who was the (Sega) president at the time, was talking a lot about how MicroProse had released a flight simulator that had become a hit in the US. He was always saying, "Don't we have a flight simulator?" So I thought, "Why don't we make a flying game?"

It was like when I was working on Out Run and Hang On. Namco had games like Pole Position, and there was a general perception that racing games were Namco's thing. So when Mr. Nakayama said, "Don't we have a racing game?" I thought, "I should make one." (laughs) When I started Hong On, I had thought of making a racing game, but cars running into one other didn't seem very appropriate, so I decided to go with Hang On. So that's why there was this sense that Namco was the only company that made racing games. If I was going to make a game, I wanted to make one with something like the F14. Also, part of it was because Space Harrier gave me the chance to try something I hadn't done before. At the time, there was no 3D hardware, you see.

So I rendered 3D airplanes with a 3D library I had built, and made use of the resulting set of images, switching between them. I input all the data for the plane by hand, using 3D software tools I wrote myself. As they were sprites, I was free to hand-draw them how I wanted, but if I made the missiles look too smooth, they wouldn't look 3D. I wanted them to have a polygonal appearance, so I purposely made them hexagonal.

After Burner: Suzuki deliberately gave the missiles a hexagonal look
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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Mar 2021 Yu Suzuki Interview: SEGA Hard Historia | Part 1/2

A new interview with Yu Suzuki was published in the recently-released SEGA Hard Historia book, featuring retrospectives with various key developers and staff members over the years. In this first part of the interview, Yu-san talks about his early game development days at Sega. The interview took place in March this year (2021).

Special thanks to James Brown for supplying the source material. James also has a superb unboxing video introducing the complete SEGA Hard Historia package, linked at the end of the article.

The interview translation (Part One) starts below.


AM2's Yu Suzuki gained immense popularity with his series of legendary hits in Sega's arcades, as well as ports such as Virtua Racer, in the Mega Drive's later years, and Virtua Fighter for the Sega Saturn. Sega's legendary creator reveals story upon story from those days...

Anecdotes on arcade hits and what Sega was like at that time

Q: What was Sega like when you joined the company (1983)?

YS: SEGA was originally a foreign company, so at that time, all the documents were in English. Issue sheets and all sorts of other things were all in English. It struck me as a somewhat peculiar company. I was in the development section - at the start I was asked if I wanted to be in Software, Design (which is what art was called) or Sound. I was interested in all three, but my boss, Mr. Yoshii, told me that software was the way to go, so I joined Software. I still remember that the Software and Hardware sections were in the same general area. Later, Sega would be divided into the Hardware section, Software section, Console section, and Amusements section, but at that time, Software and Hardware were huddled together in the same place.

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Thursday, August 12, 2021

Fan-built Shenmue 3 Character Database Released!

Something that adds greatly to Shenmue's sense of realism are the believable characters that inhabit its world. Each has been carefully crafted, with their own motivations and back-stories, not all of which is necessarily even revealed while playing - how many players will have been astounded to find out perhaps many years later that the "fine and dandy" drunk that stumbled around Dobuita's streets at night is an ex-actor who is in fact only pretending to be drunk?

When Shenmue I and II were released, players had various options to access this extra character information in various forms such as the Shenmue Passport disc (for Shenmue I), magazine features and strategy guidebooks - even if much of this was published only in Japanese. However with Shenmue III,  there has been no such guide or character repository for Yu Suzuki's third game in the series.

But now, long-time Shenmue fan Stuart Peacock (otherwise known as Miles Prower on the Shenmue Dojo forums) has released to the community a comprehensive Shenmue III character database. The culmination of a great deal of thorough research and careful investigation, the database contains entries for 300+ characters met or seen in the game, complete with headshot images, names, ages, locations, notes and more, all of it just a few taps away.

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Monday, August 9, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for August 2021

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic for August 2021 is...

"Shenmue III English Lines Compared to the Original"

The first two Shenmue games have their share of quirky English translations, and in this topic we'll turn our attention to Shenmue III and look at a number of English lines that may have caused players to wonder how closely they reflect the original Japanese.

These may be anything from a particular word or phrase that relates to the story, to an inconsequential conversation that leaves the player feeling slightly puzzled.

Watch for it to come to the blog in a future post!

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Sunday, August 8, 2021

Weekly AM2 Vol. 2: Shenmue Pre-Release Interview with Keiji Okayasu | 21st Dec 1999

In this series we translate Shenmue content from Weekly AM2, the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 development team back in the day. News and information about the Shenmue series could be found regularly within these pages from the end of 1999 through to 2001 with the release of Shenmue II.

Vol. 2 was released on 21st December 1999, a few days before the official release of Shenmue in Japan on the 29th, and includes a mini-interview with the game's director Keiji Okayasu. Okayasu also directed Shenmue II and returned to Shenmue once again many years later to work with Yu Suzuki on Shenmue III.

-Switch

 
Vol.2:1999.12.21


Hello, this is Takuan.

Get ready for another exciting edition as we bring the latest news!

This week's contents:
  • Pre-release interview with Shenmue game director, Keiji Okayasu
  • F355 Challenge: prizes for the top Internet Ranking winners!
  • Shenmue launch event scheduled!
  • Start of i-mode service on December 24!
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Sunday, August 1, 2021

Weekly AM2 Vol. 1: The Launch of Weekly AM2 | 14th Dec 1999

In this new series, we will be translating content from the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 team back in the day. Content about the Shenmue series was published regularly within over the next couple of years until the release of Shenmue II in 2001.

This is the very first edition of the Weekly AM2 web magazine, launched on 14th December 1999, with the release of Shenmue in Japan imminent. A link to the Weekly AM2 thereafter became a regular feature of the Shenmue.com website.

Although this first entry is really just an announcement of the planned series, it has short messages from Yu Suzuki as well as Makoto Osaki (the deputy director of AM2 under Suzuki, whose other projects include the Virtua Fighter series and Daytona USA).

The three concept keywords around which Shenmue was built - "Leisurely, Fully, Gently" - are mentioned again here. Yu Suzuki referred to them in his GDC 2014 retrospective, and Takumi Hagiwara also brought them up in his 1999 pre-release interview we translated last week.

-Switch

 
Vol.1:1999.12.14

Nice to meet you all.

I'm Takuan, and I'll be running Weekly AM2.

I'm looking forward to bringing you lots of great information on a weekly basis going forward.

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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Takumi Hagiwara (Ren): 1999 Interview & Current Whereabouts | Article Translation

In today's post we present a translation of an interview with the Japanese voice and motion actor for Wuying Ren in Shenmue II: Takumi Hagiwara, which was published in the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine in early 1999. We also try to piece together Hagiwara's movements after the release of Shenmue II.

This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on the Phantom River Stone Patreon and was available for early access.

Dreamcast Magazine Interview with Takumi Hagiwara (March 1999)

The most memorable performer appearing in this game is probably Takumi Hagiwara, an actor that doesn't merely play the part of Ren Wuying, but rather embodies him completely. What's lies in his appeal? Let's close out our 3-week interview series by talking with someone who, in a sense, exemplifies the art of "getting into" a Shenmue character.

A Hong Kong street gang. His sharpened, abrasive personality has earned him the nickname "Ren" (which means "blade").


Editor's Diary: Charm Recognized by Yu Suzuki

Ever since the Shenmue premiere in Yokohama (December 1998), Hagiwara has been giving off a slightly different vibe. At the premiere, Yu Suzuki said, "I thought: this is the person I want to play Ren." But when I actually spoke with Hagiwara, there was a bit more to the story of how he was hired that was interesting to hear.

In the video that was shown at the Shenmue premiere in other cities, Yu said of Ren: "After all, he is the head of a gang. So I don't think he cares about what happens to the other members of his gang in Aberdeen. He's not the kind of guy who cares about others like that." But I think seeing how his feelings begin to change after meeting Ryo and Shenhua will also be something noteworthy to watch for. Looking back on it now, I have a feeling that Ren will live on in everyone's heart as a really distinctive character.

Hagiwara, who plays Ren, seems to be the type of person who would rather have people see for themselves how the game turned out than talk about it. I hope everyone will take a good look at Ren's performance in the completed game.

-Editor

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Toripicals: Chobu-chan Style Tropical Fruit Capsule Toys

"I found it!" - Ryo Hazuki, hunting for Chobu-chan in Niaowu
If Yu Suzuki were to officially release a fruit-themed series of Chobu-chan capsule toys... it might not be far from these.

Meet the Toripicals, Set #3: Watermelon, Blueberries, Lemon, Mango and Fig.

The name of these figures is Toripicals - a word-play on the Japanese word for bird, "tori", and the word Tropical. They are part of a series of fruit-themed capsule-toy sets that were initially released in 2018. Each toy varies in size depending on the fruit variety, with large fruit like the watermelon filling a great part of the capsule toy interior!

As can be seen, these fruity figures give off strong Chobu-chan vibes and with their mix of colors would not be out of place in a Chobu-chan hunt. Some, like the Lemon, come with separate feet to be fitted on to complete the figure.

Peach and Lemon

They appear to also be popular with collectors on social media in Japan:
Tweet source


In addition to the capsule toys, large plushies add to the Toripical line-up.

Ebay Listings


Retro Import Gamer has a small selection of Toripical capsule toy figures available on their Ebay store: Lemon, Blueberries and Mango (all as-new, sealed).


It is still nice to dream of a day YS Net releases an official line of Chobu-chan merchandise!

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Friday, July 9, 2021

Ryo Visits the Sun | Shenmue II Out of Bounds Hack (With Video)


In a blog post last year we took Ryo Hazuki on an adventure in the sky to visit the moon above Hong Kong (with the help of an out-of-bounds hack), and found that it was modeled as a three-dimensional object moving above the city. In today's post we'll be investigating another noticeable feature of Shenmue II's sky: the sun.

Does the sun move through the sky in the game, in the same way as the moon? How far away is it positioned, and how large does it appear close up? Let's find out.

  • Scroll to the end of this post to watch the video footage.

The Sun in Shenmue II


The first game in the series introduced its revolutionary Magic Weather system, and while a range of weather and light conditions were simulated, it didn't actually feature a moon or sun in the sky during normal gameplay (the moon did appear during a cut scene in the game).

In Shenmue II, on the other hand, the player's attention is drawn to the presence of the sun right from the start of gameplay, complete with an impressive lens flare effect that can be seen during the opening title sequence as Ryo's ship, the Genpū Maru, docks at Workers Pier.

Lens flare effect in the opening sequence.



The ship slowly docks at the pier, bow first (left). Living up to its name, which means "Mysterious Wind", the ship mysteriously ends up facing in the opposite direction in the next cut of the sequence (right).

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Sunday, July 4, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for July 2021

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic for July 2021 is...

"1999 Interview with Takumi Hagiwara" (Translation)

In March 1999, the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine published an interview with Takumi Hagiwara, the voice and motion capture actor for Ren Wuying in the Japanese version of Shenmue II.

At the time this interview was held, Hagiwara had already been recording voice and motion capture at the SEGA offices for more than a year, although Shenmue II itself would undergo a further two years of development before its release.



Takumi Hagiwara is said to have been praised by Yu Suzuki as a perfect fit for the character of Ren, but the interview reveals that he at first been considered for the role of Chai.

Read Hagiwara's comments on this and more in the upcoming blog post, coming in the near future!

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Sunday, June 27, 2021

The End of Yu's China Journey & Creation of Virtua Fighter 2 | Yu Suzuki's 1994 China Research Trip, Final Part

A continuation of our series on Yu Suzuki's 1994 Research Trip to China. This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on the Phantom River Stone Patreon and was available for early access.

In the early 1990s, Yu Suzuki made a seminal trip to China. His objective was to research and gather material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter 2, and this research also influenced his concept for a "Virtua Fighter RPG" which eventually came to be known as Shenmue.


Previous posts in this series of blog posts:
  • In Part One, we translated blog entries about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • Part Two is a magazine article in which Yu Suzuki gives own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • In Part Three, Yu's traveling companion, Kazunari Uchida, talks about how he first met Yu Suzuki and his curiosity to learn about the genius behind the man during the upcoming trip.
  • Part Four is Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for the start of the trip itself: Day One - Beijing.
  • Part Five is Days Two and Three of the trip in which Yu travels to Luoyang, Xi'an and Dengfeng, and arrives at Shaolin Temple.
  • In Part Six (Days Four through Six) Yu observes fighting demonstrations at Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng county.
  • In Part Seven (Day Seven), nursing a fractured rib, Yu spends some time sight-seeing in Luoyang then travels on to Cangzhou.
  • In Part Eight, Yu spars with Bajiquan grandmaster Wu Lianzhi in Mengcun, and is accidentally knocked to the floor.
Today's post, Part Nine, is the final part of the series! In it, Yu enjoys a final meal in China before returning to Japan to fold his new-found experiences into the development of Virtua Fighter 2.

About the Diary Author


Born on January 15, 1961 (age 33), Kazunari Uchida is a writer and photographer who writes about a wide range of topics including outdoor activities, motor sports, and travelogues. He is currently active in such publications as Monthly Motorcycle (Motor Magazine), Yu-Ben (Kodansha), and Outdoor Guide (JTB). He accompanied Yu Suzuki, the developer of "Virtua Fighter," on a research trip to China.

Energy


"It's all about the people. The people are so interesting..."

Yu murmured this to himself as he gazed down at the yellow earth just after our airplane had taken off.

I too have traveled a lot in my life, and no matter what kind of trip I've taken, it's the people that leave a lasting impression. I think the degree of fulfillment you get from a trip is determined by how many rich encounters you have had.

On this trip, we had encounters with Master De Li of Shaolin Temple, Mr. Wu Liangzhi of Cangzhou, and many other people - too numerous to list here.

China is a country with a very complicated history, and it has been subjected to many upheavals, including the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square incident, just to name a few. However, despite that fact that everyone here has been through such rough times, everyone was frank, friendly, and very big-hearted.

Yu lost in thought at the Great Wall of China, reflecting on his two-week trip...

As we would be leaving Beijing early the next morning, we had our last meal with Ms. Zhang, our guide who had been most helpful to us during this trip. As we ate, the topic of conversation turned to what our favorite word was.

Yu wrote the word "ENERGY" on a paper napkin close at hand and held it up.
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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Shenmue Music Box in Collaboration with Ryuji Iuchi

A new officially-licensed limited-edition Shenmue collectors' item has been announced for pre-order by Wayō Records: a beautifully-crafted wind-up music box, designed and created in collaboration with composer Ryuji Iuchi. The color outer box is a green hue reminiscent of Phantom River Stone, with a Phoenix motif on the top.

The melody played by the music box is an arrangement of Shenhua's Theme created especially by the composer, and each music box comes with a score sheet hand-signed by Ryuji Iuchi himself.

Pre-Order Link

Although not cheap at 274.80 Euros (approximately US $325), only 250 music boxes are being made available, so fans wanting to secure one may need to act fast. Note, this price may be adjusted after entering your payment details when ordering on the website, depending on factors such as shipping and whether taxes have been applied etc.

Delivery is scheduled for "Fall 2021".

Music Box Features

  • Performs the melody from Shenhua’s Theme (30 seconds, looping 10 rounds), entirely automatic (without handle)
  • 220mm (width), 120mm (depth), 55mm (height)
  • Wooden box crafted in noble materials
  • Precision mechanism made of a rotary cylinder and 30 pins
  • Shipped in a quality padded package with Shenmue's designed logo


Comment from Ryuji Iuchi


Ryuji Iuchi commented regarding the music box announcement on his Twitter feed:
"It was my first time arranging music for a music box, and it was fun!" [Twitter]
He also noted that the sound playing in the official video above is synthesized and not actually from the music box itself:
"The sound in the video demo is created by a synth sound source, so I hope you'll enjoy the feeling of pensiveness and character produced by the actual music box. ^_^" [Twitter]
Hopefully we will be able to hear a live rendition from the music box in the future!

About Wayō Records

Wayō Records is a French company that specializes in officially-licensed Japanese videogame and anime soundtracks, working directly with major videogame publishers and even the original composers. This bridging of cultures is reflected in their name, as "wayō" means "Japanese and Western".


Will you be able to resist ordering a Shenmue music box? Leave a comment below.


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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Yu Suzuki on Stage at Network Jungle II: Digitaliland

This post is a translation of a report in the May 1999 edition of the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine about the Network Jungle II: Digitaliland event that was held in the months leading up to the release of Shenmue. During the event, a stage event was held in which Yu Suzuki, Hiroaki Takeuchi and Hidekazu Yukawa talked about the upcoming game.

Related posts:


Recap and Comments from Yu Suzuki's Special Talk


Some incredible images were on show at this event, prompting us to ask ourselves "How on earth did they create that footage?" and wonder how far along Shenmue was in its development. The answers to these questions were to be found in the talk show with Yu Suzuki at 3:00 p.m. Many exciting things were said, including comments by Former Managing Director Yukawa!
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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for June 2021

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic for June 2021 is...

"Yu Suzuki's Research Trip to China 1994: Part Nine"

We are now closing in on the end of this travel series which details the two weeks Yu Suzuki spent in 1994 in China gathering material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter II game. After this trip he also went on to work on his Virtua Fighter RPG project which eventually became Shenmue.

Summary of the trip so far: after visiting Beijing, Luoyang, Xi'an and Dengfeng (including Shaolin Temple), Yu visited Mengcun where he met martial arts expert and descendant of the founder of Bajiquan, Master Wu Lian Zhi.

Now in their final day before having to leave China and return to Japan, Yu and his companions reflect on the locations visited and experiences of the trip.


Watch for it on the blog in the near future!

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Suka Pass New Release: How We Restored "Nozomi's Messages"

The latest version of Suka Pass, the fan-made Shenmue Passport, has just been released! I thought I'd talk through some of the new changes that the team has made this time, with a few thoughts and comments about what was involved with putting together the update this time.

Quick-Glance Summary Cards

After you've upgraded to a new version, we thought it would be helpful for the app to highlight the main latest features for those who don't dig into the details of the release notes. So we've added small "at-a-glance" summary cards like the one below, which pop up the first time you open the app after installation.


Eri's Camera (Screenshots)

Just like the original Shenmue Passport on which it is based, Suka Pass gives access to a lot of extra detail about characters and places not to be found in the main game, such as the official character biographies. 

The new Screenshots feature makes sharing any of the content in the app even easier. Just tap the camera icon, which is positioned initially at the bottom of the screen, at any time you would like to share the current app screen with other Shenmue fans or your followers of social media, then choose the sharing destination. The app will pop the image into a draft tweet / email / message etc, ready to send. It will even create a short text message that is tailored to the current screen you are on. The camera icon can also be moved anywhere on the screen if it ever interferes with viewing content. (We originally had a standard-looking camera icon, but decided to make it an instant-camera style icon, in keeping with the one Eri has!).

We've already started planning out some fun ideas for building on this feature in future versions.

Main Menu Updates

If you've been using the previous version, you may notice a minor revamp to the main menu items with some new entries we'll be covering below (Urgent Messages! and Nozomi's Messages) and some reordering which brings it even closer into line with the original Shenmue Passport. The Music Page can now be accessed by tapping on Tom's red stereo which now sits at the bottom right of the screen.

The Suka Pass menu screen

The original Shenmue Passport menu screen

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Thursday, May 27, 2021

Shenmue Characters Based on Actual People

Several characters that appear in the Shenmue games have in-game models based on real-life people.  This is not surprising in the case of Shenmue III, where several higher-tier backers were included in the game as a reward for their pledges. What may not be so readily realized is that several of the people Ryo meets in the first game of the series, as workers or residents of Yokosuka, were also modeled on actual people, including but not limited to members of the project development staff and people associated with Sega.

Today's post presents the findings of research to identify and gather together as many of these characters from the early games in the series as possible.

Let's get started!


Characters Based on Actual People: Shenmue I


Susumu Aketagawa

In the game: He is the hard-working owner of Yamaji Soba Noodles in Dobuita who is now considering retirement.

In real life: The name and model of this character are those of the voice & recording director for Shenmue I and II, Susumu Aketagawa. He was invited to provide his own voice for the game, but  declined, commenting with a laugh in a 2019 interview that "I wasn't willing to go that far".

When he worked on the Shenmue project, he was approximately the same age as his character in the game, although they do not share the same birthday date. It is unknown whether he is a big fan of soba noodles, although he did mention in the interview that he used to enjoy going for a lunch of boiled whitebait on rice at a restaurant near the Sega offices.

Left: Susumu Aketagawa in the game is the owner of Yamaji Soba Noodles in Dobuita. Right: directing a recording session for Shenmue around 1998 (top-right) and in a 2019 interview (bottom-right).


Aketagawa-san's profile: retirement from the noodle business beckons.
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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Real Yokosuka That Shenmue Chose Not To Simulate | IGN Japan Article Translation

This is a translation of an article published by IGN Japan on 24 December 2018.

A City with an Inseparable Relationship with the U.S. Naval Base


"In Dragon Quest III, for example, you leave Aliahan on the day of your 16th birthday, right? Shenmue I is a game that depicts only the hero's daily life in his hometown before he sets off on his journey."

This remark about Shenmue was made to me by Esra Krabbe when we spoke at the IGN Japan year-end party.

Before the upcoming Shenmue fan meeting on 24 December (2018), my editorial department received word from Yokosuka City about a Shenmue excursion to be held on 14 December. Being the multi-genre writer that I am, I decided to head there.

When I arrived at the meeting place, the other participants reacted with surprise: "Isn't Mr. Krabbe from IGN Japan coming?" I replied, "Actually, he already wrote a report about the Shenmue Sacred Spot pilgrimage last year," and continued: "For this one, I'd like to look at the world of Shenmue from a completely different perspective than Esra. I want to write a report that combines a documentary with the Sacred Spot pilgrimage".

What was the real Yokosuka like? I asked the locals about how Yokosuka used to be in 1986, when the first Shenmue game was set, and how things have changed since then.

A Place Called Yokosuka



Why was Shenmue set in Yokosuka in the first place? Even if an analogy can be drawn with the town of Aliahan before the hero sets off on his journey, it is none-the-less a very distinctive place in itself.

The Chaos of 1986 Yokosuka


Back in 1999, not only was it a surprise that a major title would be set in Japan, it was also a shock that a major game that cost 7 billion yen to make would be set in a regional city. Not only that, but there was also a series of games released around the same time, such as Front Mission 3, that featured the same setting. So for me, Yokosuka had a special place in my heart.

Japanese Self Defense Force base in Yokosuka, as featured in Front Mission 3

At the time, [the game's depiction of] Yokosuka, which had been chosen as the place from which the main character Ryo Hazuki sets off on his journey, was praised as "a simulator that recreates daily life in a regional town". But these days, when many video games are released that recreate the real world, the atmosphere of the area itself also has a strong correlation with the video game experience.

That mood, which is unique to Shenmue I, and is not in Shenmue II, has to do with the chaos that existed in Yokosuka in 1986. This chaos is reiterated by the people of Yokosuka who live there.

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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for May 2021

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic for April 2021 is...

"Shenmue at Network Jungle II: Digitaliland" 

At the technology showcase event "Digitaliland" in early 1999, Sega had an entire area devoted to promoting Shenmue ahead of its eventual release at the end of the year, called "Shenmue no Mori" (Shenmue Forest). Attendees were treated to video trailers, playable demos, figurines, art and merchandise for the game as well as stage events throughout the day.

One of  the stage events held was a talk show featuring the game's creator Yu Suzuki, game advisor Hiroaki Takeuchi and Hidekazu Yukawa (the Sega former managing director who featured in the "What's Shenmue" demo). 


We'll be translating highlights from their discussion as they talk enthusiastically about the game before the event attendees.

Watch for it on the blog in the near future!


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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Master Wu Lianzhi: Chinese TV Documentary | Guest Post by Chao Yu

With today's post we welcome back Chao Yu, who presents a Chinese television documentary about the life of Wu Lianzhi, with translated English captions. 

Chao can be found at the Shenmue Dojo as yuc02, and is a long-standing supporter of Phantom River Stone on Patreon.

Hey guys, I recently found an old (circa 2008-10) Chinese TV documentary about Bajiquan grandmaster Wu Lianzhi (吴连枝), which gave a fascinating view of the life of a person who inspired Yu Suzuki in his creations of the Virtua Fighter and Shenmue series.  

Through the documentary, one learns of how Wu grew up in Meng Cun as a youngster gifted in martial arts, but often got involved with fights at school and broke the family code.  Later on the show explained how he (and indeed his ancestors) did not initially earn a living through Bajiquan, but a tragic event thrust him into the martial arts world spotlight, ending with him carrying the burden of passing down the Baji style onto the next generations.  Finally as his tireless efforts began to pay off, a chance meeting with Yu Suzuki gave him the chance to travel abroad, and his name soon spread throughout the world.

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Yu Meets (and is Knocked Down by) Master Wu: Yu Suzuki's 1994 China Research Trip, Part 8 | Translation

A continuation of our series on Yu Suzuki's 1994 Research Trip to China. This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on the Phantom River Stone Patreon and was available for early access.

In the early 1990s, Yu Suzuki made a seminal trip to China. His objective was to research and gather material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter 2, and this research also influenced his concept for a "Virtua Fighter RPG" which eventually came to be known as Shenmue.

Previous posts in this series of blog posts:


  • In Part One, we translated blog entries about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • Part Two is a magazine article in which Yu Suzuki gives own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • In Part Three, Yu's traveling companion, Kazunari Uchida, talks about how he first met Yu Suzuki and his curiosity to learn about the genius behind the man during the upcoming trip.
  • Part Four is Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for the start of the trip itself: Day One - Beijing.
  • Part Five is Days Two and Three of the trip in which Yu travels to Luoyang, Xi'an and Dengfeng, and arrives at Shaolin Temple.
  • In Part Six (Days Four through Six) Yu observes fighting demonstrations at Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng county.
  • In Part Seven (Day Seven), nursing a fractured rib, Yu spends some time sight-seeing in Luoyang then travels on to Cangzhou.
Now we continue from last time...

About the Diary Author


Born on January 15, 1961 (age 33), Kazunari Uchida is a writer and photographer who writes about a wide range of topics including outdoor activities, motor sports, and travelogues. He is currently active in such publications as Monthly Motorcycle (Motor Magazine), Yu-Ben (Kodansha), and Outdoor Guide (JTB). He accompanied Yu Suzuki, the developer of "Virtua Fighter," on a research trip to China.

The Story So Far


Five days after leaving Japan, Yu Suzuki and his group were finally able to meet a real Shaolin Kung Fu master. Suzuki witnessed powerful demonstrations of Crane Fist, Hawk Fist, and Seven Star Fist, which were dramatically different from the tourism demonstrations of the previous day. Despite suffering a serious injury, Suzuki was able to acquire something deep from this practical instruction. And now, as the end of the trip grows near, he has been given the opportunity to meet the authentic practitioner of the art through an unexpected connection.

The photo of Yu Suzuki in the article (left) was used directly as the backdrop for the Akira CG image in the Virtua Fighter CG Portrait Series (right), a connection realized by James Brown! Read more about the Virtua Fighter CG Portrait Series here in his previous guest post for the blog.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for April 2021

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic for April 2021 is...

"Characters in Shenmue Based on Real People"

Several characters that appear in Shenmue have models that were based on real-life people such as members of the development staff.

One of these, and perhaps the most well-known among fans, is Manabu Takimoto. He appears as a beleaguered architect who can often be found in Sakuragaoka, working on a construction project for a friend. In real life, he runs an architectural company and was also the environment designer for the three Shenmue games released to date.

Manabu Takimoto: top-left: at the construction site in Sakuragaoka, top-right: character model, bottom-left: Shenmue III interview video, bottom-right: from a 2000 magazine interview.

Sadly, it would seem Lan Di's speeding car took away Manabu Takimoto's closest companion...
[Official profile, from the Suka Pass app]

There are several other characters in the game who are based on real-life SEGA staff, some less-well-known than others. We'll be covering them all in our up-coming post.

Watch for it on the blog in the near future!

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Friday, April 16, 2021

3D Bat Model & Odd Unused Objects in Shenmue Game Files | Dragon & Phoenix Project Discoveries

Today we have some small but unusual items of unused content to share, courtesy once more of LemonHaze, who ran across them during his work for the upcoming Dragon & Phoenix Collection fan project. They are object models contained within the released Shenmue game files that are not used in the actual game itself.


Development Placeholder Cone


The first is an object that is made of four triangular sides (colored red, yellow, green and blue) arranged together such that they form a square base. LemonHaze explains that this was used during development of the game as "a placeholder object for interactive assets which aren't implemented/made yet".

The placeholder object

It is reminiscent of a traffic cone - hence the filename "pilon" for this object model on disc, as this approximates the pronunciation of the word meaning a traffic cone in Japanese.

The file is located in the Shenmue I game files at MODEL/OBJECT/PILON.MT5, but in fact LemonHaze has spotted the object in actual early footage of Shenmue II, shown in the NHK "Making Of Shenmue" video that was aired on Japanese television in July 1999.
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Monday, April 12, 2021

Shenmue Theory: Sakuragaoka's Best-Kept Secret | Guest Post by James Brown

Back in 2019, I discovered in Shenmue something truly special and mind-blowing to myself that again proved that Shenmue is more than just a game. Admiring its breath-taking detail led me to discover a seasonal change that only a handful of people would ever realistically discover. In Japan, at the turn of spring cherry blossom season springs into life, bringing picturesque cherry trees into bloom with their sakura blossoms that are certainly a showstopper. And this is also the case in the game, with the Hazuki Residence’s Cherry Tree going through a gradual transformation over a number of weeks, as blossoms begin to bloom, eventually leading to a spectacular display.

The petals then start to fall, leaving them scattered on the ground, another fantastic detail.

This whole process can be considered a bit of a metaphor it seems, as Ryo is warned of time running out on his quest just before the blossoms start to dwindle - “When the cherry blossoms fall, the dragon shall descend on you” - and when the tree’s life cycle is finished so is Ryo’s, as Lan Di returns to the Dojo with the knowledge of the second mirror; in the process dealing Ryo the same devastating blow he performed on Ryo’s father at the start of the game and taking the Phoenix Mirror. This scene makes a point of showing the Cherry Tree at the end of its life cycle.

This date in the game is around the middle of April, a time which only an extremely… extremely… extremely slow player would reach - or someone deliberately taking advantage of the day skip (even doing this, the player would need to halt the day skips and continue to waste a day at a time as the tree reaches its full bloom).

The above information may not be new to you diehard Shenmue fans out there today - but over the last week, whilst working on the next release of the Suka Pass app with Switch, I had a bit of an epiphany that I’m looking forward to sharing with you today. I would love to hear your opinions!

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Friday, April 9, 2021

Eric Kelso Returns to Voice Ren in Shenmue III | Shenmue Dojo Mod

 

Following the release of Shenmue III in 2019, fans in the Shenmue community have released a range of mods for the PC version of the game to tweak all sorts of aspects, including graphical and audio adjustments.

Back in 2019, a Shenmue III mod was organized by Patrick Fuller that allowed players to hear Ryo's telephone conversations with Guizhang and Fuku-san voiced by the original voice actor from the first game of the series, Eric Kelso, who specially recorded all the lines for fans to enjoy.

And now a brand new, and much more substantial, Eric Kelso mod has been released by the Shenmue Dojo. Produced once again by Patrick, this mod amazingly swaps in the voice of Wuying Ren as heard in Shenmue II, for Ren's entire part in the game! The recordings have been masterfully and seamlessly integrated back into the game, and hearing Ren's restored voice will bring a smile to the face of fans for whom this is the true voice of Ren.

This mod is the culmination of efforts from the project team, and is credited to the following core team: Patrick Fuller* (producer / director), Lemon Haze (coding), James Brown* (testing / footage), Jibby* (graphic design) and Peter Campbell (audio assistance).

* Also supporters of Phantom River Stone through Patreon!

There is even an added bonus in that Lan Di's lines, although not many in Shenmue III, have been revoiced by voice actor Paul Lucas. They bring back that snarling sense of menace all players will remember from Ryo's encounter at the start of the first game.

Both voice actors are well loved in the community for their ongoing support and participation of the franchise ever since the release of the original games, and have contributed their recordings free of charge. Thanks to their generosity, and the hard work of the Shenmue Dojo project crew, fans playing the PC version now have the option of hearing the original Ren and Lan Di.

This superb mod has already caught the attention of global media (including PCGamer). And hopefully this incredible effort will also come to the attention of producers of the upcoming Shenmue Anime. I'd love to see Eric and Paul back to provide the English voices.

How to Install the PC Mod


Installing the mod is simple. Just follow these steps:
  1. Download Forklift zip from the Shenmue Dojo server
  2. Unzip the zip contents into your Shenmue3\Binaries\Win64 folder.
  3. Download the mod zip. This is the complete version which has the new Ren mod as well as the previous Eric Kelso voices for Ryo's telephone calls with Guizhang and Fuku-san.
  4. Create the folder Shenmue3/Content/Paks/~mods if it does not already exist, and unzip the zip contents into it.
  5. Start the game.

Watch the Scenes


If you don't have a PC, you can watch all the Ren scenes (together with Lan Di at the end!) on the Shenmue Dojo channel:


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Saturday, March 27, 2021

[Part One] Shenhua's House: Shenmue 2 vs Shenmue 3 | Pictorial Comparison

Near the end of Shenmue II, Ryo and Shenhua take the path from the riverside port of Langhuishan and cross the mountains to eventually reach her father's house, located on a rocky plateau high above the Yingshuihe river.

This familiar location was recreated in Shenmue III, being the place Ryo returns to each evening during his investigations at Bailu village, with a number of minor differences in appearance. In this post we will take a complete tour of this outdoor area, to compare the landscape around the house as it is portrayed in Shenmue II vs Shenmue III (with the house's interior to be covered in a future post).

Tools used: our out-of-bounds cheat tool for Shenmue II and LemonHaze's miscellaneous mods tool for Shenmue III.

Aerial View


To start with, let's look down on Shenhua's house from above. The path from Langhuishan / Bailu village can be seen entering from the left side, and continuing past the house in the direction of the Stone Pit. The topography in Shenmue III matches the previous game closely, with one noticeable difference being that the plateau on which the house sits is now wider and less enclosed. The craggy rocks and cliffs are have a somewhat different appearance to the more sheer and flatter shapes seen in Shenmue II.

Bird's eye view of landscape around Shenhua's house (top: S2, below: S3)
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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Ryo's Band-Aids Found at Tomato Mart: Shenmue Cut Content | Dragon & Phoenix Project Discoveries

Another new discovery by LemonHaze reveals that a special item of merchandise had once been planned for inclusion among the stock at the Tomato Convenience Store, one that is a key component of Ryo's visual identity: a packet of band-aids.

Ryo stops in at the Tomato Convenience Store to buy a quick item on his way home. (Mock-up)

Let's look at exactly where this extraordinary finding was made.

Tomato Convenience Store: Poo Magazine & More

The Tomato Convenience Store is packed with a range of useful everyday items, from snacks such as Shenmue-branded chocolate through to the gripping content of Poo magazine.

Poo magazine. (The origin of the magazine's title is unknown. It has been suggested that it might refer to the Japanese expression "Pooh-Taro", describing someone who lazes around all day long).

An importance difference between the type of merchandise that can be found is that some items can be picked up and purchased by Ryo, such as the snacks, while others like magazines are purely scenery and stay fixed in place at at all times.

It turns out that there is a special text file that the game uses to help define all the objects in the store that can move, and this is where the new discovery is contained.
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