Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Unidentified Photo in Shenhua's House | Shenmue II

A photograph that may be of significance has been uncovered among the documents of Shenhua's father in Shenmue II, and suggestions are invited as to the location it shows!

Details follow below.

First, we'll recap the documents that Ryo finds on the desk at Shenhua's house.

Documents on Shenhua's Father's Desk

After Ryo reaches Shenhua's house after their trek over the Guilin mountains, Ryo is invited to explore the house and examine her father's collection of items. Eventually, Ryo finds a desk set in the corner of the bedroom that contains various architectural tools and documents.

Although Ryo would not yet recognize its exact meaning, the uppermost document shows a diagram of caves, with several shapes and lines that the player may later come to realize may represent braziers and other special features that have been installed. The writing itself is too indistinct to reveal any clues.
Cave diagram on the bedroom desk

As soon as Ryo zooms in on the documents, a cut scene plays.

Unexpectedly, in the cut scene an additional document has now appeared on the top of the pile - we'll assume that Ryo has shuffled through to find it! This document shows the design of the mirror carvings:

Ryo discovers a diagram of the mirrors on the desk

After discussing this document with Shenhua, and realizing that the design matches that of the Phoenix mirror, the cut scene comes to a close.

Gameplay restarts the next morning, with Ryo and Shenhua setting out to the Stone Pit.

But let's return our attention to the desk.

A Mysterious Photo

Beneath the pile of documents on the desk, a glimpse of a photo can be observed. What looks to be a tree is visible, but the rest is obscured by the other documents, and the player is not able to move these.

Using a model viewer, let's extract the photo for a better look:

The unidentified photo, unveiled!

We can see that the entire photo is in black and white (more accurately, sepia). At the top is a line of distinctive arches that appear to be a building feature. At either side of the photo stands an ornamental tree. In the middle stands what looks to be a monument - possibly a fountain? - above a dark rounded base.

Although the player never gets a chance to view this photo properly during the game, the developers must have decided to place it here for a reason. Why would such a photo be kept together with plans relating to the mirrors?

The appearance suggests it may be the grounds or garden of an important building or palace. This brings to mind the tapestry of the city of Luoyang that is displayed on the wall of Shenhua's house (in Shenmue II only, having been replaced with a photo of Bailu village in the third game). 

Left: the tapestry of Luoyang city in Shenmue II. Right: the tapestry was replaced in Shenmue III.

At the time Shenmue II was created, might this photo have represented a further link with that city; one that Shenhua speaks of feeling a special affinity with?

If anyone can identify the location shown in this photo, we'd love to be able to confirm where this is! Or if you have any other thoughts or comments, leave a message below.

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  1. Maybe this Helps(not a native english speaker)
    I was also under the impression that it is a fountain and searched for an hour but now i think it is a sutra pillar ( "Dharani pillars were usually erected outside Buddhist temples, and became popular during the Tang dynasty (618–907)."
    here is an example:
    i couldn't find any building, temple or palast with that rounded wall design though

    1. A sutra pillar is a great potential lead! I wasn't aware of these before. The shape definitely has similarities with what is seen in the photo. The mention of the Tang dynasty is particularly notable, placing it in the same time period as when Luoyang was a prominent city. Thank you for the research!