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 the start of 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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Sunday, March 14, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for March 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 March 2021 is...

"What Dobuita Was Really Like in 1986"

A few years back, an article that was published on the IGN Japan website about real-life Dobuita - both then, and now.

The introduction to the article reads: "Yokosuka is a place where America and Japan are woven together like a mosaic. Dobuita Street is a perfect example. Mixed in alongside tattoo stores and burger stores are soba noodle shops and long-established eel restaurants. It's usual to see an elderly Japanese couple slowly walking past a group of hefty American soldiers talking".

Various shopkeepers and residents talk about what Dobuita was like in the past around the time in which Shenmue is set, and changes the area has undergone since then.

Watch for it on the blog in the near future!
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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Shenmue Doujinshi "Mankan Zenseki": Extra Sample Pages | English Scanlations by Daniel Mann

You may recall our interview last month with mappy, one of the team of artists who created the delightful Shenmue doujinshi "Mankan Zenseki." (Read the interview here if you haven't yet seen it).

If you enjoyed the manga samples in English that accompanied the post, these scanlations were the skillful handiwork of Daniel Mann who both produced the text translations and seamlessly transplanted them into the original comic pages.

In the previous interview post we hinted at a further set of scanlations by Daniel of Mankan Zenseki sample pages, and we're delighted to present them in today's post.

(The comic panels read from right to left.)

Shenmue I Themed Sample Scanlations

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Friday, March 5, 2021

Ryo & Ren Reunited! Eric Kelso and Corey Marshall Twitch Livestream Announced

Voice talent Eric Kelso (English voice of Fuku-san, Guizhang, Ren as well as additional minor characters in Shenmue I and II) will be joining Corey Marshall on his Twitch stream as he plays Shenmue II!

Eric and Corey worked together in Japan recording their lines for SEGA for the original Shenmue - and following that, again for Shenmue II - more than twenty years ago. (You can read about this in our earlier interview with Eric Kelso on the blog).

And now they will be back together to chat and interact with fans on this special stream. Get your questions ready!

In Corey's announcement tweet, he says: "Eric and I will reminisce about our (mis)adventures working together and will take questions from Shenmue fans.  Don't miss this very special livestream!"

  • Time: Friday, March 5th at 8pm Los Angeles time [= Saturday 1pm JST]

At the Sega studio, during the recording of Shenmue II: Eric Kelso, Lisle Wilkerson [voice of Joy / Xiuying / Yuan] & Corey Marshall

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Cut Lucky Hit Boards Resurrected in Shenmue 2 After 20 Years | Dragon & Phoenix Project Discoveries


Shenmue 2 was the first game in the series to introduce the game of Lucky Hit. A number of stands can be found throughout Hong Kong where Ryo may play to increase his savings, or take on a part-time job and pit his skills against passers-by.

Lucky Hit boards are scattered throughout Aberdeen, Wan Chai and Kowloon, and they offer plenty of variation: each game has its own board size, backing illustration, nail lay-out, payout ratio, rules and rewards. Many of these are easy to miss on a first play-through, being placed in little-used alleyways or sprinkled through the dilapidated buildings of Kowloon.

All these years after the game's release, renowned Shenmue modder and lead of the Dragon and Phoenix project LemonHaze has discovered the existence of a "master settings file" that defines the set-up of all the Lucky Hit boards in Shenmue 2.

Inside this file are several never-before-seen dormant Lucky Hit boards that were disabled before the game's release. LemonHaze has successfully brought these disabled Lucky Hit boards back to life, and they can even be played!

Not only that, but the discovery opens the way to allowing customization of all the Lucky Hit boards in the game.

Let's jump right in to gaze upon a slice of history in the form of the newly-uncovered Lucky Hit boards that were cut before release. For some video footage of the amazing discoveries described here, see the end of the post.

Cut Content Unearthed: New Lucky Hit Boards at the Thunder House

Our location of interest is the "Thunder House" in the Dim Sum Quarter of Kowloon and is the shell of a derelict building that has partially collapsed and is now used as an entertainment area by the locals. It is accessed down a steep set of steps (near the circular arrangement of boards known as the "Lucky Hit Museum").

Entrance to the grandly-named "Thunder House" in Kowloon
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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Early Shenmue UI Textures | Dragon & Phoenix Project Discoveries

The recently-announced Shenmue Dragon & Phoenix project promises almost limitless possibilities for experiencing Shenmue I and II running on the modern Unreal Engine. (See this great overview video and project team interview by Segalacious to learn more).

Such a project naturally involves thorough analysis to evaluate and comprehend the existing game files to ensure the gameplay is ported across accurately; and this also means that the team is perfectly positioned to uncover a wealth of new findings under the hood. As fans are very much aware, the games are so packed with content and secrets that previously-unknown easter eggs are being discovered even to this day.

Related posts:

Today we'll look at an interesting find by the project team - a set of early UI graphics that may even date as far back as the days of Shenmue development for the Sega Saturn!
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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A Mini-Map Was Once Considered for Shenmue I

Players of Shenmue II will be familiar with the mini-maps feature in that game, being displayed onscreen in Hong Kong, if Ryo has purchased a map for the area, and also later in parts of the Guilin section to mark Ryo and Shenhua's progress along the mountain paths.

Something that may come as a surprise is that a mini-map had also been considered for the first game of the series as well at one point in the development. This discovery was reported by user Mestre Ziming on the Shenmue Dojo forums in 2016.

Arriving at New Yokosuka harbor with the mini-map feature in place might have looked like this (mock-up)

The evidence for this lies in remnants left behind in the game files of the released Dreamcast version of the game. 

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

[Video] Shenmue 1&2 in Unreal Engine 4: Dragon and Phoenix Collection | Segalacious

A newly-announced (but already well-established) fan project called Shenmue Dragon and Phoenix Collection has been rousing excitement and anticipation throughout the Shenmue community.

By replacing the aging under-the-hood engine of the Shenmue I & II games with Unreal Engine 4, the project team aims to take advantage of modern rendering features to really show off the world of Shenmue as never before. Not only that, but the project will offer players two ways to enjoy the games: Dragon Edition, which will have gameplay that is entirely faithful to the originals and Phoenix Edition, which will be a "full UE4 reimagining" that modernizes the game with new features.

Can't wait to find out more? Segalacious has come to the rescue in his latest video below with tantalizing details and information as he breaks down exactly what the Dragon and Phoenix Collection is about, along with a Q&A session with the members of the modding team working on this ambitious task.

Shenmue 1&2 In Unreal 4 | Dragon and Phoenix Collection Modder Q&A, by Segalacious

Segalacious has also kindly allowed us to reproduce a full transcription of his narration below, together with a selection of in-engine screenshots he received from the project team for inclusion in the video.


The original Shenmue games are well known for being technically and visually impressive. Chasing the full potential of what Shenmue could look like using modern technology has long been an obsession for fans. Kid Nocon famously captivated the internet with his fan-made Shenmue HD remaster concept in 2014 that contributed to him being hired to work on Shenmue III. Videogame co-development studio d3t would assist Sega in creating an enhanced re-release of Shenmue I and II that was ported to the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows that both impressed and frustrated fans. As good as this port was it still missed the opportunity for greatness by neglecting to give the Shenmue games a thorough HD treatment in terms of cinematic cut scenes, sound quality, and other various blemishes. Soon after this release Digital Foundry broke a story about Sega's abandoned attempt at a ground up remake of the Shenmue games and fans were tantalized with the question “What if?” What if Shenmue I and II could be cleaned up to their fullest potential? Even if a true remake isn't financially possible, just how well could the original assets clean up on a modern engine like Unreal Engine 4?

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Saturday, February 6, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for February 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 the start of 2021 is...

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

In 1994 Yu Suzuki spent two weeks in China gathering material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter II game, and his findings also greatly influenced his creation of Shenmue.

In the preceding parts of the series, Yu arrived in Beijing and from there traveled to Luoyang, Xi'an and Dengfeng where he observed monks training at Shaolin Temple.

In this next part, Yu has arrived in Cangzhou where he meets martial arts expert and descendant of the founder of Bajiquan, Master Wu Lian Zhi. Thus begins the start of a firm friendship which goes on to this day.
Yu Suzuki meets Master Wu for the first time.

Watch for it on the blog in the near future!

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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Interview with Shenmue Doujinshi Creator Mappy

Today we have a special interview with mappy, one of the team of artists (who are also of course Shenmue fans!) who recently released an amazing limited-print Shenmue doujinshi [fan-made comic book] called "Mankan Zenseki".

The cover of the "Mankan Zenseki" comic book.

The original interview in Japanese is included after the English translation.

The 100-page book was released on 29th December 2020, and is A5 size in size. The cover illustration, shown above, wraps completely around to the back, so if two books are placed together they will form the complete image! It was produced in Japan, but the creators even offered global shipping for Shenmue fans overseas. Note: due to popular fan demand, the book sold out quickly after its release.

The book represents an updated edition of content that the artists published previously between 2002 and 2008, with new comics and some color illustrations added.

Note on the illustrations in this post: Mappy has kindly given us permission to reproduce some sample pages from the book in this post, and Daniel Mann has done a wonderful job of turning these into English scanlations! (We plan to feature more of his sample page scanlations in a future post). Note that the panels read right to left.


PRS: To start, could you please introduce yourself?

mappy: My name is mappy. I have been a Shenmue fan since 2001.

Shenmue Fan-made Book “Mankan Zenseki”

PRS: I really enjoyed reading your Shenmue fan-made book! By the way, what does its name “Mankan Zenseki” mean?

mappyThank you very much for reading it! They call the more than 100 different types of imperial dishes in Chinese cuisine "Mankan Zenseki". Since this doujinshi was exactly 100 pages long, we decided on this title.
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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Yu Suzuki's Early Days in Manga Form! Part 3/3 | Scanlation by Daniel Mann

Welcome to the third and final part of Daniel Mann's scanlation of a manga about the early days of the legendary games creator Yu Suzuki. The original was published in 2019 by DenFamiNicoGamer, 

Go here to read the earlier parts:

In this part of the interview, Yu Suzuki talks about how Virtua Fighter evolved, and paved the way for the development of Shenmue. The manga ends with a tribute to the legend that is Yu Suzuki.

Note: the manga panels read right to left.


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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Xmas and New Year in Shenmue's Yokosuka | Culture

The Shenmue series has been carefully crafted to be played at the player's own pace, without being pressured to rush through to the end. Players are encouraged to take their time and explore and examine the world around them, and are usually rewarded for doing so by the revelation of extra detail, conversations or even cut scenes that might otherwise go missed or unnoticed.

The transformation of the world at New Year in the first game illustrates this perfectly. With the game starting on 29th November, players who progress through the game at reasonable pace may finish the game without seeing the changes in appearance that can be seen around Yokosuka in the game at the start of the year.

Since we are talking about seasonal changes, let's start by noting the changes seen around Dobuita at Christmas as well. These are likely to be encountered by most players of Shenmue.

How Yokosuka Transforms at Christmas

From December 15th to Christmas Day the shopping street in Dobuita enters into the Christmas spirit!
  • Shopping street "piped" music: as Ryo walks along Dobuita Street during this period, a number of Christmassy jingles play. These include renditions of Jingle Bells in the vicinity of the Tomato Convenience store, and Shenhua's Theme outside Uokichi Seafood, played with chimes and pipe organ! Side-note: the game treats this music as part of the sound effects, so it plays in parallel with the FREE exploration music. Also, even today in real-life Dobuita also, Christmas music is piped through speakers during this period, as can be heard in a video taken on location a few years ago.
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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Yu Suzuki's Early Days in Manga Form! Part 2/3 | Scanlation by Daniel Mann

Part Two of Daniel Mann's scanlation of a manga that was originally published in 2019 by DenFamiNicoGamer, about the early days of the legendary games creator Yu Suzuki.

Go here to start from the first part:

Thanks to Daniel for making this fun manga about Yu Suzuki's life accessible to English-speaking fans!

In this part of the interview, Yu Suzuki talks about the first supervisor he had at Sega, the first game he wrote (Champion Boxing), the realism of his hit game Hang-On and more.

Note: the manga panels read right to left.


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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Q&A With Composer Ryuji Iuchi: Fan Questions (Part 2/2)

This is the second half of a Q&A held by composer Ryuji Iuchi on his special end-of-year Shenmue-themed livestream, a fun two-hour session that was filled with live music performances and chat. Ryuji has kindly given his permission to translate the Q&A into English and share them here on the blog.

Ryuji Iuchi's Q&A translation continues from here.

Q: Over the 20 years that have passed since Shenmue, what changes have there been in the way music is written?

RI: One thing that has certainly changed is going from chip sounds to streaming.

At the time I was working on Shenmue, being freelance I was also working at the same time on game music for the PlayStation, and the music I wrote for it was chip-based. There were some cases where the music would be recorded and played back on the PlayStation as a CDDA [CD digital audio] file, but in general it was chip music. I think the PlayStation supported about 24 or 26 simultaneous sounds or thereabouts, and the music was written using internal sounds.

It was a similar situation with Shenmue. I'd make a song on a synthesizer, and if it got the green light, it would be moved to the Dreamcast - only the MIDI data could be kept, while the instruments all had to be remade. The sound of each individual instrument used by a song had to be sampled one at a time in order to recreate the instrument inside the Dreamcast, which made more efficient use of memory. For example, you might record a single drum loop and import that into the Dreamcast to save memory. 

However later on, it became possible for music composed on a synthesizer to be recorded and played back exactly as it had been written. Shenmue may have been right on that boundary of the change from chip music to streaming.

So I think that the move to streaming is probably the biggest change that has affected the way game music is created since Shenmue. Since anything is possible with streaming, I have a feeling it won't change much further now.

Even earlier on, writing game music required a certain amount of programming knowledge, whether for arcade games or home consoles. It wasn't a case of simply playing music on a keyboard and having it play back inside a game. Back then, notes were entered as individual numbers: for example, those amazing FM-synthesized music pieces that Yuzo Koshiro wrote for the Super Famicom [SNES]. There were even times when you might have to create your own sound driver.

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

Yu Suzuki's Early Days in Manga Form! Part 1/3 | Scanlation by Daniel Mann

We welcome back guest contributor Daniel Mann, who has produced a fantastic scanlation of a manga that was originally published in 2019 by DenFamiNicoGamer, about the early days of the father of Shenmue and numerous revolutionary games: Yu Suzuki.

Many thanks to Daniel for making this fun manga about Yu Suzuki's life accessible to English-speaking fans!

This is the first installation of a three-part series. (Note: the manga panels read right to left).


In “Waka-Ge no Itari: Game Creator no Seishun” (The Youth of Game Creators), Keiichi Tanaka takes us on a journey through the passionate, youthful and excessive memories of the game creators who struggled mightily during the youthful years of the gaming industry (1980-1990). 

For our 20th edition, this week we welcome an icon in the gaming industry: the one and only Yu Suzuki. He created a number of iconic titles in the 1980s before going on to pioneer the 3D fighting game with Virtua Fighter in 1993. He is also the general director of Shenmue III, the long awaited third installment in the popular video game series, which is set for release this November (2019). He is without question a legend in the video game industry.

In this interview, Yu Suzuki reminisces with us about his childhood and his love for handicrafts, his days in college, his early years at SEGA and much, much more. 

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Friday, January 8, 2021

Q&A With Composer Ryuji Iuchi: Fan Questions (Part 1/2)

Recently composer Ryuji Iuchi held a special end-of-year Shenmue-themed livestream for everyone on his YouTube channel, a fun two-hour session that was filled with live music performances and chat. Throughout the stream, Ryuji also answered questions from fans, with many having been submitted from overseas fans, via the Shenmue Dojo.

As there were people who were unable to join the livestream, Ryuji has kindly given his permission to translate the Q&A into English and share them here on the blog.

The translation begins from here.

Q: For musical pieces with lyrics, like Shenhua's Theme and Wish, were the lyrics written first, or added afterwards? If I recall correctly, in the case of Wish, Yu Suzuki requested a song that would be like First Love*...

* First Love was a best-selling song (and album of the same name) by Japanese-American singer-songwriter Hikaru Utada released in early 1999.

Ryuji Iuchi (RI): For both of these songs, I wrote the music first, and the lyrics were added in afterwards. For Wish, I remember that Yu Suzuki did ask for a song like First Love. The thought was that it would be great if it was something that could rank on Oricon [the Japanese music industry-standard singles popularity chart].

Q: Recently you've been creating a lot of music for TV programs. Are you credited in these, and if so, what kind of programs are they? Are they still being shown on TV?

RI: I'm credited in some of the programs, and not in others. I think the ones in which I'm credited have all finished showing now as far as I'm aware, but if you live in Japan, then you'll definitely be familiar with the programs in which my music has played. Many people may perhaps have heard it without realizing. Some of it is background music, but there is also theme music - however, in most cases uncredited. As well as TV, my music can also be heard elsewhere such as on the radio, or at soccer events and so on.

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Thursday, January 7, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for January 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 the start of 2021 is...

Shenhua's house in Shenmue II vs Shenmue III.

At the end of Shenmue II, after a long journey through the Guilin mountains, Ryo and Shenhua eventually arrive at Shenhua's house, on the outskirts of Bailu village. It is a humble abode in a rural setting, without modern conveniences or even electricity. The player is able to spend some time exploring the house, examining various objects and wall hangings to become quite familiar with its contents and layout.

Shenhua's house features again in Shenmue III, and while it unmistakably represents the same house as the previous game, it is not identical and a number of changes can be noted (what has become of the Luoyang tapestry?).

In this post we'll be comparing and cataloguing as many of the differences as we can.

Watch for it on the blog in the near future!
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Monday, January 4, 2021

"Masaya Matsukaze's Voice Work Started with Shenmue" | Susumu Aketagawa Interview

This is a translation of another interview part from a series published by Japanese website Anime Hack in 2019, in which sound director Susumu Aketagawa talks about his time spent at SEGA during the creation of the original Shenmue games.

About Susumu Aketagawa

Susumu Aketagawa is the president of the company Magic Capsule and a director of the Japan Audio Producers' Association. He has been involved in the field of sound since the dawn of Japanese animation, and his works as a sound director include Princess Knight, AKIRA, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Mistin (Kasumin) and many others.

Masaya Matsukaze's Voice Work Started with Shenmue

The reason I was able to continue working on Shenmue over three years was largely thanks to meeting and working with Masaya Matsukaze, who played the main role.

This time, I'll talk about the casting process.

The movements of the characters in Shenmue were mainly created by motion capture, and when we were casting the characters, we asked if we could have the motion actors do their voices as well. Matsukaze was in charge of the movements of the main character, Ryo Hazuki. At the time, he was working as a live-action actor and played the role of Blue in a Sentai series [Denji Sentai Megaranger, as Mega Blue].

At the time of recording Shenmue, Masaya Matsukaze was also a motion actor for Mega Blue in Denji Sentai Megaranger

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