Thursday, July 20, 2023

"Years ago... I was Chinese" | Translation Analysis

In the past we have analyzed a number of memorable English translations from Shenmue that have tickled the funny bones of fans everywhere, including the classic "Let's Get Sweaty" and of course "Especially since you bought merchandise" which requires a mini lesson in Japanese grammar to unravel!

Today, we're diving into another humorous phrase that has a worthy place in this collection. It occurs near the start of the game, with the owner of the Mary's Patches & Embroidery store on Dobuita Street, the elderly Itoi-san.

Itoi-san's quirky wording here in the English version earns this phrase a place in our "Say What?" series of posts: "Years ago... I was Chinese."

Let's dig into it!
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Sunday, July 16, 2023

Joe & George Kitchen's Magical Fan-made Videos

A hilarious skateboard scene from Episode 7 of the Shenmue Short Stories video series

Anyone who has not yet discovered the collection of fan-made Shenmue videos created by Joe and George Kitchen... you've been missing out on a fantastic experience.

It is truly mesmerizing to see Shenmue's world in such beauty, with a cinematic presentation that pulls the viewer into the stories being told. Joe has hand-crafted the graphics and animations for each video over the course of weeks, months - even years before each video's release. From a technical standpoint, the scenes aren't running on the Shenmue engine, but were built inside animation software from the original assets. The result is just as convincing as if they were part of the original games.

Characters are fully animated and interact within meticulously-recreated environments enhanced with a multitude of stunning visual effects: blossom petals drift down from cherry trees, puddles still glistening from recent rain reflect the surroundings; mist swirls on a mountain road in the evening; clouds gradually change shape as the sun sets behind distant mountains; Christmas lights strung along house roofs softly illuminate a wintry night.

Entirely new environments that weren't present in the original games have been expertly imagined and crafted to the point of being indistinguishable from those of the original games: office and bedroom interiors, mountain cliffs and even the interior of a train.

Making the videos even more special are the gorgeous original musical compositions. Each music piece could easily be mistaken for an official Shenmue track, and they have been written with such detailed attention that the brothers even located and obtained the actual musical instruments and synthesized sounds. The music consists of compositions by both Joe and George.

Some videos bring officially-unused models to life, such as Master Yunhai from Shenmue II's cut Miao Village storyline
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Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Interview with Shenmue Sound Director: Takenobu Mitsuyoshi | Dreamcast Magazine (Dec '99)

In the December 24th 1999 edition of the Japanese Dreamcast magazine, two short yet insightful developer interviews were published as part of a 16-page special feature about Shenmue to generate excitement for the game's upcoming release. The interviews themselves took place approximately three weeks before the release of Shenmue in Japan.

This post is a translation of the interview with Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, Shenmue's Sound Director.

The article translation begins below.

Interview with Sound Director - Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

Shenmue's Sound Director, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

 "Yu Suzuki kept nagging us: the music during the game needs to be there, but mustn't draw attention to itself. For people like us who had previously created ordinary game music, finding the right balance was extremely difficult, and it gave us a hard time." - Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

A Contrary Approach to Game Music & The Challenge of Creating Music That's "Natural" 

Q: When did you start working on Shenmue?

Mitsuyoshi: I've been working on Shenmue ever since it was being made on the Saturn. At the time, I was also working on the arcade version of Virtua Fighter 3, but at any rate, I've done everything that relates to Shenmue's sound since the beginning.

Q: During the Premiere*, it was mentioned that the concept for the game was built out starting from a single song, wasn't it? How did that work?

* The Shenmue Premiere was held in Yokohama at the end of December 1998 (and other cities around Japan following).

Mitsuyoshi: At the beginning, Mr. Suzuki talked about wanting to create something like Disney: the music would come first, and that would inspire the drawing of art and designing of the characters. I thought this approach of building up from sound and music would be worth trying. At that time, there was already a main scenario in place, but it wasn't yet in a detailed form. So the concept for the game  was built up drawing inspiration from a piece that I wrote while actually visiting China.

Q: What did the new hardware (the Dreamcast) allow you to do in terms of music?

Mitsuyoshi: The most obvious thing is the number of [simultaneous] sounds, which is twice that of the Saturn. Things that hadn't been possible on the Saturn due to its low number of sounds now became possible, whether it's the sound effects or the number of drums. Another thing is compression. We were able to compress the data space needed without lowering the sound quality, so we were able to include more sounds. In fact, there are many things we were able to do thanks to the change of hardware.

Q: By the way, at the Premiere, I saw the names of many people involved in sound, including Yuzo Koshiro. Around how many people were involved in the music for Shenmue?

Mitsuyoshi: It would be about 30 people.

Q: Er, would that be a large number? Or a small one?

Mitsuyoshi: In an ordinary game, there are usually one or two people in charge of sound [laughs].

Q: Is there a reason why there were so many?

Mitsuyoshi: I think it's because everything needed to be at such a large scale. That goes for the number of requested music pieces, as well as their quality, and speed [of delivery]. I guess it wasn't a case of "the more, the better", but it speaks to the scale of Shenmue itself. 

Q: Ah... By the way, while listening to your response, I was just thinking that when you play Shenmue, it doesn't seem like there are that many songs. It seems so natural.

Mitsuyoshi: That's very perceptive of you [laughs]. But I'll take that as a compliment.

Q: This is just my own thought but... Shenmue's music doesn't sound like game music. Game music is written to stick in your head once you hear it, like Daytona USA for example, right? But Shenmue sounds as if it's trying to do the opposite of that. It feels so natural that you don't notice it. But it conveys the atmosphere subtly.

Mitsuyoshi: You've hit the nail on the head [laughs]. Actually, that's something Mr. Suzuki has kept nagging me about - he said the music during the game needs to be there but mustn't draw attention to itself. For people like us who previously created typical game music, finding the right balance was extremely difficult and challenging for us. We went back and forwards like this many times: "I've tried writing it like this" and "No, not like that" [laughs]. In the end, it sounded natural. It took a lot of hard work to get to the point where the music is present without drawing attention to itself.

Q: That's a first, isn't it? As game music, it seems like it would be very difficult to compose.

Mitsuyoshi: It was difficult, it really was [laughs]. It's not really my strong suit. I think my songwriting is all about "standing out" [laughs]. Nevertheless, I emphasized the music in places like significant cut scenes or the prologue, as opposed to the free quest music. But it was a good learning experience. I learned how hard it is to make normal music.

Q: What would you say is one of Shenmue's highlights?

Mitsuyoshi: Lately, I've been thinking over the fact that it's fully voiced. Also the attention to detail in the sound effects. I'd like people to take a moment to listen to the details of the sounds in the city.

[Screenshot from Shenmue I & II release]

Fully Voiced: it's not about the songs, but also the voices, which are a major attraction of Shenmue: a work of such a grand scale that is fully voiced. Once you've tried Shenmue, other titles may feel lacking.

[Screenshot from Shenmue I & II release]

Music that sounds natural in a game: a concept that's actually more difficult than one might imagine. Listening attentively to its craftsmanship and attention to detail, which appears to challenge the conventional wisdom of game music, will make you realize just how remarkable it is.

About Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

Mitsuyoshi has led the sound for some of AM2's best-known titles, including Daytona USA and the Virtua Fighter series. The reason he hasn't been visible for a long time is due to his involvement in Shenmue. He was in charge of the entirety of the sound in Shenmue.

Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

-- End of translation --

Source: Dreamcast Magazine, 24th December 1999

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Monday, July 10, 2023

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for July 2023

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 that has been voted this time is:

"Unlocking the Mystery: The Significance of Two Letters"

Within the world of Shenmue, a tale unfolds that revolves around two intriguing letters near the start. These letters set the stage for the enigmatic narrative to unravel.

The first letter, written by Ryo's late father, Iwao Hazuki, takes on a poignant meaning after his untimely demise. Ryo discovers it on his father's desk, and as he reads the words of advice and wisdom, a realization strikes him.

It seems clear that Iwao had a sense that his life was in peril, prompting him to leave the letter out for Ryo to find.

Adding to the intrigue, a second letter arrives from Hong Kong, sent by a mysterious individual whom Ryo later learns is named Zhu Yuan Da. It is written in cryptic Chinese script, and arrives shortly after Iwao's passing.

As Ryo has it translated, he uncovers that it was sent as a warning to his father but its arrival was too late to have served its intended purpose.

This raises an important question: how did Iwao Hazuki come to be aware of the imminent threat to his life? To explore this further, in this upcoming post we will examine the letters closely, comparing the Japanese and Chinese sources with the English translations provided by the game. Perhaps within these texts, additional clues or alternative interpretations may be discovered that can shed light on this mystery.

Stay tuned for the upcoming article, where we delve deeper into the secrets of the letters.

This topic was suggested by blog patrons Patrick Fuller and James Brown.

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