Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Unused Inventory Icons Discovered in What's Shenmue

All Shenmue players will be familiar with the inventory screen and its depiction of small icons that represent the things Ryo is carrying at the moment.

An example of Ryo's inventory (Dreamcast)

These inventory icon graphics are of course stored in files on the game disc; but now an earlier version of these icon graphics has been discovered by LemonHaze, project leader of the Dragon & Phoenix project. These are to be found among the game files of the What's Shenmue demo. This was a playable game demo distributed in Japan while Shenmue was still finishing up development, allowing a fascinating glimpse back to an earlier point in the game's development.

Where things get especially interesting are where icons differ from the ones in the final version of the game, with the identity of a few of them being up for debate.

Many thanks to LemonHaze for providing the graphics files and discussion on the icons for presenting in this post.

Below we will walk through each of them to evaluate whether they appear in the released game, and for those that aren't, try to identify what each represents.

The Inventory Item Set from What's Shenmue 

The set of icons are stored in two image files on disc, and appear as shown below. 

Next we'll step through and comment on each item in turn, starting with the most readily identifiable ones.

Set A: Icons That Were Kept In the Full Game

First let's check off those icons that are identical to the ones in the game's released version.


Canned Tuna

"Majin" Milk


C Size Batteries

Box of Matches


Letter to Father

The icon representing the letter that arrives at the Hazuki residence after the death of Iwao Hazuki, addressed to Iwao Hazuki from a man named Zhu Yuan Da.

Phoenix Mirror

An interesting fact observed by LemonHaze regarding the Phoenix mirror in the full game, is that there is a separate Phoenix mirror model used in the initial scene when it is first discovered by Ryo, showing it in a grey and "dusty" state. Furthermore, this is the only time this model is used in the game.

When first found, the Phoenix mirror is grey and dusty.

In the subsequent cut scene when Ryo shows it to Fuku-san, and throughout the rest of the game, the mirror in cut scenes is green and polished - presumably Ryo has given it a clean!

When Ryo later shows the mirror to Fuku-san, it is clean and bright.

However the inventory icon only has one version, which is the original "dusty" state.

The icon for the mirror in the inventory

Mysterious Key

The icon for the key found in Iwao's room that unlocks the chest in the Dojo.

The What's Shenmue set of images also has this second key icon:

Although the key is drawn at a different angle here, it can be seen that the shape is the same as the first. Hence, this icon may have been an alternative Mysterious Key graphic during development of the game, rather than a different key.

Update: there is in fact a separate unused key model in the What's Shenmue files that is similar in shape to this icon; there may have been plans for its use which were eventually dropped. The model looks as follows:

Sword Handguard

White Leaf

"What's this leaf doing here? That's strange. It's not even dry."

Dried Fish

Sliced Fish




A readily-recognizable object, but like the watch is not one that Ryo can actually collect during gameplay. It is interesting to see how this icon was changed for the main game: the old version (which is how the icon actually appears when playing What's Shenmue) has the ring-binding along the top, rather than down the spine as in the final version. It is amusing to imagine Ryo turning the pages vertically rather than side-to-side.

Notebook icon (What's Shenmue)

Notebook icon (Shenmue)

Mysterious Scroll

Although not identical, this icon strongly resembles the one used for the Moves screen in the full game:

Unused inventory icon (What's Shenmue)

Moves page icon (Shenmue)

Set B: Objects That Cannot Be Taken in the Full Game


The comb is one of several objects that Ryo examines in the Dojo basement in the full game, however he is not able to keep them with him; the only option is to place them back again. The existence of these unused icons in the What's Shenmue files indicates that there may have been an earlier plan to allow Ryo to take these, but the eventual decision was to prevent this, presumably to avoid cluttering the inventory with items.

"It's beautiful! I wonder who used it."


This icon, again present in the What's Shenmue files but unused, may not be immediately recognizable. At first it almost looks to be some kind of bracelet:

However SkillJim has managed to identify this mystery object as a compass ring from earlier in the game's development! Here is its object model which was also left behind in the game files:

The compass ring can be seen briefly in pre-release footage that was part of an early Shenmue trailer that featured on a promotional video tape for the Dreamcast that was released in Japan, called ドリームキャスト入門ビデオ ("Dreamcast Introduction Video"). The same trailer was also included in another promo tape, ドリームキャスト大入ビデオ 魅力満載ビデオカタログ '99春 ("Dreamcast Video Catalogue '99 Spring").

The released game instead displays a two-dimensional on-screen compass ring that surrounds a watch face. However the existence of this icon suggests that it may once have been planned as a collectable object or, at the least, was to have been a feature that required its own menu icon).

The trailer can be found on the "Dreamcast Introduction Video"...

...and also on the "Dreamcast Video Catalogue '99 Spring".

Bottle of Elixir

In the basement, Ryo finds a small white bottle which has the label (蓬莱白薬) which he recognizes as an elixir of eternal youth. The name can be translated as "Penglai White Medicine", which refers to the legendary land of Penglai in Chinese mythology where fruit granting eternal youth are said to grow:

Ryo is able to pick it up and examine it - but he's not able to carry it with him. However, we can see that an icon was in fact created for it, so it seems the possibility was once considered.

"Elixir of eternal youth... I remember my father telling me about it being used by martial arts experts in China. Where did father get this?"

Bottle of Medicine

Another similar bottle to be found in the basement is one labeled "Hachirisan" (八里散) sitting on a chest of drawers in the basement. This also has its own unused inventory icon.
"Hachirisan? Some kind of medicine... It looks pretty old. Maybe my father used it"

Wall Drawing

A small drawing on Chinese paper is another item that catches Ryo's attention in the basement. This appears to be an illustration of Guan Yu, a Chinese military general during the Three Kingdoms period who was later deified. An inventory icon was created for this, but in the final game Ryo only comments on the paper without taking it.
"What strange paper. It doesn't look Japanese at all. Where did father get this?"

A statue of Guan Yu.

Zodiac Book

When Ryo picks up a certain book in the basement, he comments that it is about Zodiac signs, another link to celestial elements in the Shenmue story such as the Heavenly Beasts and the prophecy. He isn't able to take the book with him (although when he opens it, a White Leaf falls out from between the pages). I believe this icon may have been created for the possibility of Ryo taking the book with him:

Something interesting can be noticed here: the Zodiac book that Ryo picks up is plain and doesn't seem to have any writing on the cover (although the room is dark, so it is not easy to tell), as shown in this screenshot:
"Zodiac Signs? These are also Chinese."

In fact, there is a more likely candidate for a Zodiac book, which Ryo also examines up elsewhere in the room:

If we enhance the contrast on this image, we can see that it has writing on it, including the kanji character 星 meaning "star":

It would seem likely that this book model was intended to be used as the Zodiac book, but instead a plain book cover was used. This book cover would also be a closer match to the icon, which has some red coloring at the top where the title is.


A small amulet found in the basement, which has the character 福 (good luck) on it. It can't be taken in the game, but nonetheless was also given its own inventory icon during development.

Amulet inventory icon
"It says Good Luck. Some kinda amulet? What an unusual shape. It's not from Japan".

Set C: Obscure Inventory Icons

This section is where guesswork comes into play! These are the inventory icons that have few clues about them, and due to their low resolution it can be challenging to identify what they represent.


Unused Icon: Photo of Two People

This intriguing icon shows what appears to be a photo of two figures. Although very indistinct, it seems that the figure at the left may be in the foreground, with the one at the right standing further away. Although it is hard to tell, it looks as though the right figure may be side-on to the camera in a fighting stance, with a fist held up.
Unused icon (What's Shenmue)

One photo of two people that plays an important role in the full game, and thus might fit this scenario, is the photo of Iwao Hazuki standing with a man at Bailu village. It must be admitted that the image in the released game does not have much resemble the icon above, though:

Photo of Father (Shenmue)

SkillJim has proposed that the two figures in the icon photo actually represent Zhu Yuan Da and Master Chen, who we know from conversations held in the game are acquaintances. His comparison image below is compelling!

Unused Icon: Travel Flyer

In this icon, the characters for "Hong Kong" (香港) are clearly visible, suggesting that this may have been an earlier version of an icon for one of the Hong Kong travel advertising pamphlets that Ryo obtains:
Unused icon (What's Shenmue)

In the main game he collects one from both the Global Travel Agency and Asia Travel Co, but neither resemble the one above.

Example flyer icon from the full game: the Hong Kong travel flyer from Asia Travel Co.

Unused Icon: Letter of Introduction

At the end of Shenmue, Ryo receives a letter of introduction from Master Chen to Tao Li Shao. As this occurs in a cut scene, we never get the chance to view the inventory and see the icon, but it seems likely that this icon was created just in case:

Inventory icon

This model of the Letter of Introduction can also be found in the game files, but is not accessible during normal game play. It is similar is appearance to the inventory icon.

Unused Icon: Sword

In the game, Ryo is able to pick up and carry around the sword that he discovers in the dojo, but it is not shown in his inventory (and if the player attempts to leave the dojo while holding the sword, Ryo will automatically place it near the dojo entrance).

Here, we see that an inventory icon was in fact created for it!

Unused Icon: Sword with Handguard Fitted

In the game, Ryo collects both the sword and a handguard, but they do not fit together: if instructed by the player, Ryo will attempt to slide the handguard onto the sword blade, saying "Is this handguard for this sword?". The attempt is not successful, and Ryo mutters "No..." and gives up:

However, one of the inventory icons suggests that, at one time, the handguard was supposed to have been an exact fit for the sword, as it represents exactly that:

Unused inventory icon showing the handguard fitted onto the sword!

Indeed, a cut scene in the later stages of the game does show Iwao Hazuki practicing with a sword fitted with the Hazuki crest handguard; given this finding, it might be showing the very same sword and handguard:

Unused Icon: Key

In addition to the Mysterious Key icon, there is an unused key icon of a different shape:
There are no obvious clues about its use, but my guess would probably be that it may have been originally created as a house key for Ryo, to allow him access to the Hazuki Residence at all times.
If this was the case, then the decision to eliminate this item makes sense, as it would simply have used up a place in the inventory for no real benefit.

Update: the detailed object model for this key has been located in the files. The key has some letters and numbers inscribed on it, but for some reason they are reversed (I believe it's a glitch related to the model viewer being used) - in any case, the flipped image is shown next to the key and we can see that it reads "H214":

Rather than being his house key, perhaps the number is for an apartment that Ryo was to have visited...?

Update: user wataro on the Shenmue Dojo forums has clarified that "H214" represents the key model number (in this case, for Japanese lockmaker Miwa), as shown in the photo below. Many thanks to wataro for clearing this up!

Unused Icon: Unidentified Object

Finally, we come to an object that is hard to identify from its appearance. It is brownish in tone and is shaped like a wallet:
Applying some filtering, the pattern detail is more apparent:
There is a distinctive pattern of dots, and a zig-zag line across the middle: might this represent a Band Aid? It is certainly a distinct possibility, as evidence has been recently found that band aids were once planned to have been sold at the Tomato Convenience Store. Credit to SkillJim for this proposal!This brings us to the end of our investigation of the inventory icons that were found on the What's Shenmue disc. We can see that a number of items Ryo finds (in the basement, in particular) originally did have icons created but in the end a design decision was made to prevent Ryo from taking them with him. Among the other interesting unused icons were the icon of the sword with a handguard fitted, a photo (possible Zhu Yuan Da and Master Chen) and an icon of what may be a band aid.

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  1. I've known about this for over a decade... What's Shenme also has the Sega Saturn interface graphics. The file "COMICON.BIN" in the directory "ICON" has them. I'm not sure if you covered this?

    Also, the textures used on the Phoenix Mirror in the cutscene where Ryo finds it has a different, metallic, reflective texture on the back, instead of the green stone the final model. It's not just "first it was dirty", AM2 redesigned the mirror.

    1. Thanks for your comment. As you say this follows in the footsteps of those like yourself who have been explored many years earlier! Having a closer look at the mirror in the cut scene (PNX02M1G) I see what you mean about the rear seeming to have a reflective appearance. It's fun to explore and discuss these inconsistencies and extra models.

      Some of those interface graphics in the COMICON.BIN file are very interesting. We did a post a bit earlier in the year here:

      I'm planning to do a few more mini-posts about other What's Shenmue models & textures in the coming days.

    2. No, that's not what I was talking about. COMICON.BIN has older graphics. Unlike most Shenmue textures, these aren't upside-down. There's stuff like a C-button icon, symbols for attack, defense, and stamina stats, icons for inventory items that don't appear in the final game (a photograph of Xiuying and Master Chen, the Dragon Mirror).

      Here's a quick upload of the images. I know each image has a filename, which hinted at what each image was for, but I can't get them right now. I don't have access to the Shenmue ripping programs that I wrote at the moment (they're on an older computer).

    3. These are really interesting! I had heard that some Saturn era UI graphics existed but hadn't seen these before. This would make a great future post topic. (If you would be interested in writing about these yourself, I'd be happy to host a guest post).