Monday, February 27, 2023

Shenhua's Home Renovations - What Changed in Shenmue III

It has been a while since our earlier post on the blog in which we looked at changes in appearance to the exterior of Shenhua's house and the surrounding landscape from Shenmue II compared to Shenmue III. In this post, we'll turn our attention to the house's interior to cover what changes have been made within.

House Footprint

One notable difference seen from external observation, even before Ryo steps inside, is that Shenhua's house in Shenmue III has a difference in shape compared to Shenmue II.

Originally, the house's footprint was previously a simple "L" shape:

Shenhua's house, Shenmue II

However in the later game, the right-hand side of the house has been extended with a new wing:

Shenhua's house, Shenmue III

Floor plan

To get a handle on what has changed inside, let's start by examining the floor plan of the house in Shenmue II. It consists of three main areas:
  • Kitchen/dining area
  • Main living room, and
  • Bedroom (with beds for Shenhua and her father).

In Shenmue III, these rooms still exist, but the sleeping quarters have been altered.
  • The bedroom at the front is now exclusively for Shenhua and has only a single bed.
  • A second bedroom has been added at the back, with a doorway leading through from the living room. This is Shenhua's father room, which Ryo makes use of during the third game.

Room by Room Comparison

With Shenhua's house having gained an extra bedroom, one obvious point of interest is whether anything has changed in terms of the items that are contained within the house in Shenmue III compared to its previous rendition. To answer this, let's go through room by room - including Shenhua's bedroom! - and see what matches up and what doesn't.

Main Room (Living Room)

The general layout of the main living room is the same for both games, with a raised platform of mats and a hearth. There are some differences in the special items that Ryo can ask Shenhua about in Shenmue II.

Tapestry of Luoyang: Shenmue II

In Shenmue II, upon entering the house through the front door, we see a tapestry hanging on the wall to our left showing a Chinese city.

Shenhua explains that it is the city of Luoyang, and that she feels a special connection to it.

Ryo: This is embroidered?
Shenhua: My father has had that tapestry for a long time.
Ryo: Where is this place?
Shenhua: Luoyang. An old city that flourished during the Tang Dynasty. The sunset colors the whole city beautifully.
Ryo: Have you ever been there?
Shenhua: No. But for some reason it gives me a nostalgic feeling. I see it when I close my eyes. The landscape of the city and the people bustling by...

Tapestry of Luoyang: Shenmue III

However in Shenmue III there is no trace of the tapestry, and a drawing of Bailu village can instead be found in its place.

Shenmue II has a tapestry of Luoyang (left) which is replaced in Shenmue III (right)

Painting of Mountains: Shenmue II

In Shenmue II, further along the same side of the room, hangs a black-and-white ink painting of mountains.

Painting of mountains, Shenmue II
Ryo: This painting?
Shenhua: Somewhere in Guilin. I heard these mountains are scary. Those who set foot in these mountains have never returned... it's an old tale.
Ryo: Why?
Shenhua: I don't know. But no one goes near these mountains today.
It's worth taking a moment to highlight the astounding level of detail to which this hanging painting was modeled.

Astonishing detail!

Painting of Mountains: Shenmue III

In Shenmue III, this has also been replaced, this time with an ink painting of a large eagle-like bird swooping over a rocky peak.

Painting of an eagle, Shenmue III

Examining either painting in the third game does not trigger any conversation, nor a comment from Ryo.

Book on Constellations: Shenmue II

In Shenmue II, on the wall adjoining the one with the painting stands a wooden bookcase. On this lies a red-covered book that Ryo is able to ask Shenhua about.

Close-up of the book's cover

Shenhua explains that it is a book about the constellations.
Ryo: This book?
Shenhua: Book on constellations. The Xingxiu* are explained. The stars that affect the fates of people. The Big Dipper is one of them. The North Star is said to be the god that deals with death. 
Ryo: The harbinger of death...
Shenhua: When the North Star flickers, something bad happens... Like last night. I was watching the Big Dipper when I got this bad feeling... That's why I couldn't go to sleep and started singing. 
Ryo: So that was why...
*Note: "Xīng Xiù" (星宿), referred to by Shenhua above, refers to the 28 traditional constellation groups defined in Chinese astronomy and astrology.

Shenmue II: a painting of mountains & book on Chinese constellations

Other items can be found in a drawer in Shenmue II: a book, scrolls and an inkstone (Ryo wonders to himself whether these belong to Shenhua).

Book on Constellations: Shenmue III

In Shenmue III, the wooden bookcase has gone completely, being replaced by the doorway that leads through to the new room, so the book is not available to be examined.

There is, however, a hidden related item that can only be discovered using debug tools - see the later section on Shenhua's room.

Loom: Shenmue II

In Shenmue II, on the raised area of mats near the hearth is a small, half-woven blanket on a loom.

Ryo: What's this?
Shenhua: A blanket. I'm making one for my father. An old lady from the village taught me. One of the village elders. She has bad eyesight but she knows about everything. She knows about the forest and the history of the village. She might know about the person that you're looking for. You should go visit her sometime.
Ryo: Yeah.
The old lady from the village with bad eyesight is a nice reference to Elder Yeh, whom Ryo will go on to meet in Shenmue III.

In fact, this loom was modeled in more detail than might be apparent from the game due to the dim lighting. It also seems to have been positioned incorrectly, clipping through the mat so that it is not fully rendered. The full model is shown below, and it's easier to see that it includes lengthwise threads and even the shuttle (the part that passes between the threads):

Model of loom that is next to the hearth, Shenmue II

Loom: Shenmue III

The loom with the work in progress is no longer to be found in Shenhua's house in Shenmue III - although she can be seen knitting.


Further along the same wall sits a wooden flute on a stand. Examining this triggers another short conversation with Shenhua.

Ryo: A flute...
Shenhua: My father made it. He made it from a Shenmue branch when I was a baby. I always stopped crying whenever I heard its sound. My father told me.
Ryo: It was like a lullaby.
Shenhua: Yes.

In Shenmue III, the flute is still present, and it is a nice touch to have Ryo recall what Shenhua told him:

Ryo: Shenhua's flute. It was made out of the wood from the Shenmue tree, wasn't it?

While the drawers of the cabinet cannot be examined in Shenmue II, in Shenmue III Ryo is able to open them and comment on some small containers ("What's this? A medical salve?") and a plate of seeds ("Sunflower seeds? What're they doing here?").

Rock Sculpture: Shenmue II

The other main item of interest in this room is a distinctive chunk of green stone on display, which can be assumed to be Phantom River Stone although Shenhua does not directly name it: 

Ryo: An interesting sculpture...
Shenhua: The mountains of Guilin, made from stalactite.
Ryo: Stalactite? From a cave nearby?
Shenhua: It was brought from the stone pit. Father likes to look at stones. He says he hears voices. Although, I don't know what he means. 
Ryo: Voices from the stone...

Rock Sculpture: Shenmue III

This rock sculpture is not present in the same room in Shenmue III. There is, however, one that's similar in Shenhua's father's room but it's appearance differs significantly from the stone depicted in Shenmue II.

Phantom River Stone?

Front Bedroom (Shenhua's Room)

In Shenmue II, there are only a few drawers and cupboards in this room that Ryo is able to open - Ryo comments on some items such as cushions and wicker baskets, and there are some mysterious-looking plans rolled up inside one of the cabinets.

Mirror Plans: Shenmue II

The main item of interest, however, are the plans that are lying out in plain view on the desk in the corner. The top one is a map of a cave that we later realize represents the Stone Pit, and underneath this Ryo discovers a parchment that contains a diagram of the mirrors.

Plans lying on the desk

After Ryo lays his mirror on the mirror plans

This leads to a key conversation with Shenhua, in which they decide to go together to the Stone Pit in the morning.
Ryo: Thi-This is...
Shenhua: What's wrong?
Ryo (overlaying the Phoenix mirror): It's the same! What is this drawing?
Shenhua: My father told me this has been in our family since long, long ago. But he wouldn't tell me anything else about it. Ryo, what is this mirror?
Ryo: I heard that it was given to my father.
Shenhua: To your father? (Picks up the mirror). This Phantom River Stone can only be found in Bailu Village.
Ryo: Phantom River Stone?
Shenhua: How did this mirror get to Japan?
Ryo: I don't know.
Shenhua: My father might know something.
Ryo: Where is your father now?
Shenhua: He's at the Stone Pit, gathering Phantom River Stone.
Ryo: Where's the Stone Pit?
Shenhua: Over on the other side of the mountain. He said he was going to finish something. It's been days since he left for the stone pit.
Ryo: Can you take me there?
Shenhua (nods): I'm going to bring him food tomorrow morning. Come with me. (Hands mirror back to Ryo).
Ryo: All right.
There are also some more interesting-looking rolled-up plans in the nearby cabinet, one of which appears to contain a mirror-like design, but Ryo does not take these out.

Further plans are to be found nearby, but Ryo chooses not to investigate these

Mirror Plans & Other Items: Shenmue III

In Shenmue III, in contrast, Ryo is prevented from entering Shenhua's room altogether at any point in the game. However, if debug tools are used to bypass this check, we find that her room has in fact been fully populated with items.

BlueMue has made a video using such tools to allow Ryo to enter and carry out a furtive search of the room's interior:

While most items are not of particular note, on a table next to Shenhua's bed lie two wooden flutes, similar to the one in the living room.

He also finds a book in one of the drawers, and comments: "A book about stars. Shenhua did talk about Chinese constellations". This ties into the book about constellations seen in the living room in Shenmue II, although the title and cover design differ.

In Shenmue III, the designs of the mirrors - but not the plans of the caves - can now be found in a drawer in Yuan's room. Ryo refers to it as containing "designs for the Phoenix mirror", although it actually also includes the Dragon mirror as well.

Perhaps the document was accidentally put through the wash... it's now about the size of Ryo's hand!


Kitchen: Shenmue II

In Shenmue II, Ryo is not able to explore the kitchen freely as interaction with Shenhua is automatically triggered upon entering. In general it is rather basic, with an oil lantern illuminating the room and a simple bench set against the wall for food preparation. Further along the far wall is a stone cooking oven.

Kitchen: Shenmue III

In Shenmue III, Ryo is able to enter the kitchen and examine items if he so wishes. The immediate noticeable difference here is the modernization that the kitchen has undergone in the move from Shenmue II to Shenmue III, notably the introduction of electricity (an electric generator can now be found outside the house). There is a refrigerator and electric cooking ovens, and the overhead lights here and throughout the rest of the house are also electric.

Another addition is running water. In the previous portrayal of Shenhua's house, the only obvious water source was the bucket-drawn well at the front of the house, but in Shenmue III a modern sink is present in the kitchen.

The kitchen in Shenmue III also has a sink.

Shenmue II vs Shenmue III Recap: Some of the Main Changes

That completes our tour of Shenhua's house and comparison between the two games. To what extent might the changes have affected the game? At the very least, they force the player to rethink some of the game's lore and teachings previously presented. We'll comment on the more significant of these here.

The Extra Bedroom

Perhaps the most immediately-noticeable change to the interior in Shenmue III is the extra room that belongs to Shenhua's father, whereas previously the two had shared a room.

This decision appears to have been made after development had started, as evidenced by demonstration footage shown at the Magic Monaco 2016 event, which showcased an almost one-for-one reconstruction of the Shenmue II layout.

Capture from footage at Magic Monaco 2016: layout faithful to the Shenmue II version.

In Shenmue II, Ryo is initially unwilling to enter her room when he first arrives at her house in Shenmue II ("This is a bedroom. I shouldn't go in here"). However, after they have had dinner, Shenmue invites him to explore the house:
Shenhua: Make yourself at home. You can use any space in this house. Father has a small collection of things. Take a look if you like.

After this point, Ryo is able to enter the room and examine items such as the mirror plans on her father's work desk. Furthermore, although not shown in a cut scene, Ryo stays overnight before they leave for the Stone Pit. Shenmue III could have taken the same approach, and the addition of an extra room does feel unnecessary.

However, during Shenmue III gameplay, Ryo refuses to enter her room at all times, even when she is not at home ("This is Shenhua's room").

The reason for the change to separate Shenhua's bedroom in this way is something that hasn't been disclosed by Yu Suzuki. As there does not seem to have been a story-driven reason for this change, it may simply have been to avoid any risk of controversy over having Ryo share a room with Shenhua.


In Shenmue II, during Ryo's walk over the Guilin mountains with Shenhua, she describes Bailu village as being one of the oldest villages in Guilin, existing since the Tang Dynasty. The houses are of simple construction, being made from wooden pillars and earthen walls. Drinking water is taken from the village well. Shenhua tells Ryo that her own house is like a typical house in the village, and upon arrival at the end of their journey, we see that it indeed lacks many conveniences. 

So it comes as quite a surprise on playing Shenmue III to find that her house is now fitted with a number of modern conveniences, in particular electric appliances such as the refrigerator and running water.

This change may have been part of the decision to give the village in general some modern touches - we later find it even has a video game arcade. It does feel like somewhat of a missed opportunity for Ryo to have been able to explore a village that has remained "lost in time" hidden deep in the mountains. Small cut scenes and humorous interactions with villagers could have emphasized the contrast between this slower way of life among nature with the faster-paced life of convenience that Ryo left behind in Hong Kong and Yokosuka. 

Tapestry of Luoyang

Luoyang was the capital of several Chinese dynasties in history, and the tapestry of the city that is seen in Shenmue II has been a point of speculation throughout the years.

Tapestry of Luoyang at sunset (Shenmue II)

The player is alerted to it carrying potential significance through Shenhua's comments that "for some reason it gives me a nostalgic feeling. I see it when I close my eyes".

In Shenmue III, although the tapestry is missing, there is a conversation in which Shenhua makes a reference to dreaming of an ancient city "where the emperor once lived", although the city's name is not mentioned explicitly:

Shenhua: I have these dreams... Really vivid dreams.
Ryo: What happens?
Shenhua: I'm in the city where the emperor once lived, long ago. My father and mother stand before me. I've only just been born... And they say my name.
Ryo: Your name? Shenhua?
Shenhua: Yes. Strange, isn't it? It feels real even after I wake up, like it happened yesterday. Sometimes, I feel like I've lived through hundreds of birthdays.
Ryo: That's intense.
Shenhua: Don't worry. It's only a dream.
This gives another hint about Shenhua's mysterious nature, and also can be recognized as a retelling of the flashback cut scene shown in Shenmue II when Ryo and Shenhua stand next to the Shenmue tree outside her house. The scene shows Shenhua as a baby in a cot suspended from a blossoming tree, with her a man and women standing over her:

Father: The Shenmue tree* has its flowers in bloom again this year.
Mother: Shenhua... a beautiful flower.
Father: I know... we will name our child Shenhua.
Mother: Shenhua. That is wonderful. The Shenhua tree* shall protect her.

*Note: this Japanese words here can also be translated as "Shenmue trees" in the plural, which seems probable as there are a number of similar trees in flower present in the scene.

The tapestry's removal from Shenmue III suggests that Luoyang may no longer be a location that will feature in the game. Perhaps it was originally to have been visited on the journey, but this is no longer the case. Either way, however, Shenhua's conversation in Shenmue III reconfirms that there is an ancient city (whether or not it will be named going forward) that represents a place of importance to Shenhua's background.

Final Comment

This wraps up our comparison of how Shenhua's house changed between Shenmue II and Shenmue III. The changes ranged from the separation of sleeping quarters with a new bedroom, through the addition of more modern conveniences and the removal or replacement of certain objects that had once decorated the home in the previous game.

It can be assumed that these changes were made deliberately as design decisions, as evidenced by the fact that a recreation that was almost "one-for-one" with the Shenmue II version had been demonstrated early on in the game's development.

In the end, none of these differences would appear to impact the story in a significant way. If anything, after many years becoming familiar with every nook and cranny of Shenhua's house through multiple games of Shenmue II, perhaps the biggest impact may have been the surprise felt by existing fans of the franchise on witnessing these house renovations on their first playthrough Shenmue III!

Further Reading & Watching

There is some great discussion about Luoyang and the possible identity of Shenhua's parents in this blog post by Hiki at the Shenmue Dojo.

James & Matt on the Shenmue Dojo Show also spoke about this and the changes inside Shenhua's house in their "Episode 4: Those Burning Questions!" podcast:

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  1. Very Interesting if Shenhua's parents lived in Luoyang during the Tang Dynasty. Tang dynasty was ruled by Li Shimin. When he was born, two purple dragons appeared in the sky and a fortune teller prophesied that he possessed the features of both dragon and phoenix. Li Shimin means "save the earth and pacify the people". This video talks more about it.

    1. A fascinating historical connection, especially with mention of the dragon and phoenix. Might this have been inspiration for, or even part of, the Shenmue lore?