Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Mystery of the Hazuki Handguard and the Sword | Unused Game Assets

The Mystery of the Hazuki Handguard and the Sword

The sword (katana) and handguard, that latter being a Hazuki family heirloom, play an important role in progressing through the story of the first game. The relationship between these two objects is an enigma, as during the game we learn that, despite their apparent connection, the handguard is not able to be fitted onto the sword blade.

In this post, we will consider the question of whether the handguard was ever meant to have fitted onto the blade, and dig through a number of clues and evidence that were left behind in the game files that indicate that in fact this had been the case - at least during an earlier part of the game's development.

Story spoiler warning: this post discusses how the sword and handguard are used in the game.

Special thanks to SkillJim for his helpful discussions & to LemonHaze for examining the game code for model usage.

The Hazuki handguard (left) and sword blade (right)

Hazuki Family Crest

First, let's look at some of the clues that are already present during the game.
The handguard itself takes the shape of the Hazuki family crest, as Ine-san explains to Ryo in the game - "the snow ring, the two stars and the sword." This crest appears both on the wooden box in the dojo that holds the sword, as well as on the scabbard of the sword itself as can be seen in the image below, drawing the player's attention to a link between the sword blade and the handguard.

The family crest is visible both on the sword's box and its scabbard. (Contrast has been enhanced).

Attempting to Attach the Handguard

Given the above indications, it is natural for a first-time player to try to fit the two items together, but if the player tries to do so, they are met with the unexpected result that they are not a match:

Ryo is unable to fit the handguard onto the sword blade

However later on in the story, when Ryo meditates in the dojo later in the game, a flashback / vision shows Iwao wielding a sword that has the Hazuki handguard fitted:
A later cut scene shows Iwao holding a sword with the Hazuki handguard fitted

If we compare the appearance of the sword Ryo finds with the one from the Iwao cut scene, it can be seen that they are practically identical:

The sword found by Ryo vs the sword in the Iwao flashback scene (which has a handguard fitted)

It would be reasonable to conclude they were originally intended to represent the same sword.

Next we'll examine evidence remaining in the game files, starting with one that was mentioned in our most recent post about unused inventory items.

Unused Sword Inventory Icons

Located on the What's Shenmue demo disc are inventory graphics for the sword, which were not used (in the game Ryo sheathes the sword while walking around the dojo, but the sword itself does not appear in his inventory).
Unused inventory icons from the What's Shenmue disc

One shows the sword blade in its scabbard; the other has the Hazuki handguard fitted to it, suggesting that Ryo was originally going to have been able to successfully fit the handguard onto the sword blade at one earlier point of the game's design:

Unused Sword Models

While we are on the topic, it is interesting to note that a number of additional, unused sword models are present among the files on the What's Shenmue and Shenmue discs, some with the Hazuki handguard attached. Although similar in appearance to the sword seen in the game, they have differences in things such as the pattern of the handle and the length of the blade. These may have been earlier designs for the sword used in the game.

Additional sword models that were unused in the released game. Some have the Hazuki handguard attached.

Unused Sword Rack

While exploring the object models on the discs, I ran across another sword-related object that I hadn't seen anywhere in the game: a large wooden rack, capable of holding two swords.

This is the model of the empty rack:
Empty sword rack (present in both the Shenmue & What's Shenmue files)

A second model shows the rack holding swords of different lengths. While neither scabbard has the Hazuki family crest marked on them, the shorter sword has the handguard attached:
Rack with swords in position

The shorter of the two swords has the Hazuki hand guard attached

LemonHaze has scanned through the configuration files and confirmed that this rack is not used or displayed in any cut scene or location of the released game.

Perhaps the sword that Ryo retrieves from the dojo was originally going to be accessible on this rack, but an adjustment was made later to the game design and it was instead locked inside a wooden box. This would have avoided the situation of Ryo being able to accost Lan Di with the sword at the beginning of the game!

Hidden Basement Entrance - Early Model

In the game, Ryo triggers the opening of a revolving wall in the dojo that gives access to the basement by placing the handguard and sword in slots in the dojo wall. Below is the model for this section of wall, which is T-shaped and features separate slots for the handguard and sword, and hooks at the top for the scrolls which hide the mechanisms:

Secret revolving wall in the dojo as seen in the game, with two separate mechanisms

An earlier version of this secret entrance can be found among the disc files, and it contains some interesting differences: Firstly, there are no hooks on the wall, suggesting the hanging scrolls were added later. More importantly, however: the handguard insert and sword slot are not separate, but are integrated into a single mechanism.

Earlier version of the wall which had a single combined mechanism

3D model: the wall section is T-shaped

This gives us clear evidence that the earlier design of the game did indeed have Ryo combining the handguard and sword, and using these to open the secret entrance!

Metal Door in Secret Basement - Early Model

In the game, once Ryo has used the axe to break open part of the wall in the basement, he discovers a metal door bearing the Hazuki family crest, and this opens easily to reveal the treasure behind.

Among the object models on the What's Shenmue disc, there is in fact an earlier unused version of this metal door: in this version, the crest is not fully rendered as there is no "snow ring" pattern around the outside.

The most interesting aspect about this unused model is that there is a keyhole embedded in the lower of the two circles:
Change of design for the metal door in the basement: final version (top) and unused model (bottom)

It seems reasonable for Iwao to have locked this door to protect its valuable contents. Perhaps the lock was removed from the final version when making the decision to store the sword in a locked box rather than on the rack. This would improve playability by avoiding a repetition of a "find a key for the lock" type of puzzle for the player.

Which key might have fitted this lock? There is an unused key model among the What's Shenmue files that seems a possible candidate for the shape of the keyhole:

Unused key model on the What's Shenmue demo disc

Final Comment

There are a number of clues and pieces of evidence left behind in the files that present a compelling case for an earlier design where Ryo had to combine the Hazuki handguard with the sword in order to unlock the secret door and gain access to the basement. These include:
  • The Hazuki family crest in the shape of the handguard design, marked on the side of the sword box and scabbard.
  • Various unused models of swords found in the game files, both with and without the handguard fitted
  • An unused model of a sword rack, holding a sword fitted with the Hazuki handguard - perhaps the sword's original location before it was decided to lock it inside a box?
  • An alternative version of the dojo wall-opening mechanism that only accepts the handguard and sword combined together
This hopefully helps to paint a clearer picture of the development background behind the handguard not fitting the sword in the game. Leave any thoughts and comments below!

Side note: BlueMue explains in his blog post that Ryo's effort to slide on the handguard as portrayed in the game is not the correct method - the developers made sure Ryo was never going to be successful in fitting the handguard on.
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