Monday, September 11, 2023

Japanese Idol Group Plays Shenmue on TV Tokyo

TV Tokyo is showing a new video game-related variety show series called Game Majime-san which roughly translates to "Serious Gamers". It bills itself as a series in which "top idols of the Reiwa era [i.e. those of the modern day] play famous games seriously" and features the reactions of members of popular female idol groups playing classic video games for the first time.

The first two episodes covered Metal Gear Solid 3, and the latest episode was Shenmue! It features  comments from Esra Krabbe of IGN Japan as well as Susumu Aketagawa (the original voice recording director of the first two games).

While the title of the show is clearly somewhat tongue-in-cheek - you'll find several references emphasizing how "serious" the players are with respect to their respective missions - it should help to introduce Shenmue to a younger generation of game players who may not know about it, and the background information it shares about the game is accurate. It even contains short interviews with journalists and a former project team member (not Yu Suzuki!).

As the broadcast was in the Japanese language, we present is a full transcription of the show in English, below.

Narrator: Good evening, everyone. This show delves into classic games in an academic way. Idol heartthrobs of the Reiwa era make a serious effort to clear the games. This is a "Super-hard Educational Game Variety" show!

TV Tokyo's new series, "Game Majime-san"

The classic game we'll be talking about this time is...

Esra Krabbe (IGN Japan)

Esra Krabbe (IGN Japan): I don't think I'd be sitting here right now if this game didn't exist.

Narrator: Released in 1999, it's the first entry in the legendary Shenmue game series. Developed on a massive scale as a flagship title for the dream game machine, the Dreamcast, its attention to detail is so impressive that it was even praised by Steven Spielberg.

So, how did Shenmue influence the gaming industry at the time?

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Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for September 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:

"Concept Art from the Shenmue The Animation Promotional Event in Dobuita (2022)"

In April to June 2022, Yokosuka City ran a promotional event in celebration of the Shenmue's adaption anime form, which was run in collaboration with IGN Japan.
There were various activities arranged including give-aways of Shenmue The Animation themed postcards at participating stores and an online gacha-gacha game.

In addition, there were physical exhibits of concept art and sketches from both the early days of the game's development as well as during the anime's creation, to be found on display inside a number of stores around the Dobuita Street area.

In this post, we will aim to bring together and present as many pieces as possible of the fascinating art that was displayed during this event.

Coming soon to the blog!

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Monday, September 4, 2023

"Bailu Cave" in Kamakura, Japan | Real-life Location

Engaku-ji is the name of a peaceful temple compound in Kamakura, Japan that houses over twenty temples and halls, and is considered to be one of the most important Zen Buddhist complexes in Japan.

At Engaku-ji

On visiting the temple, a small cave entrance can be discovered at one side, just off the main path, with a stone post next to it engraved with the kanji characters of its name.

A mysterious cave

The first two characters of the name look strongly familiar: 白鹿洞 = White Deer Cave! You may recall that these are the same written characters of the name of Shenhua's village of Bailu in Guilin - she explains to Ryo the white deer is the guardian of her village.

How did this cave come to have this name? A sign nearby gives some additional background. 

White Deer Cave

According to this sign, legend has it that on Engaku-ji's opening day, a herd of white deer emerged from this cave to listen to the sermon of Zen master Mugaku Sogen, the temple's founder, along with a great many people. Hence, the cave was named "White Deer Cave". (Note: in Japanese, the pronunciation is "Biyaku Dou", however, with no similarity to "Bailu").

Kamakura is a place we know Yu Suzuki has visited in the past - a recent example being with the Kickstarter super backers on the day of their Kickstarter Backer Dinner. Perhaps Yu Suzuki and team were inspired in the naming of Bailu Village through this very legend.

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Friday, September 1, 2023

Sacred Spot Guide Map (Shenmue The Animation Version)

In Dobuita, June 2022 witnessed the emergence of an electrifying two-month spectacle known as the "Shenmue x Yokosuka: Anime Commemoration Project," coinciding with the highly-awaited broadcast debut of Shenmue the Animation. Amidst this festivity, a renewed rendition of the much-beloved Sacred Spot Guide Map was introduced by Yokosuka City. The map can be collected on location for those visiting the area.

For preservation purposes, we've scanned all pages of the map for download at the link below. Note that this version of the map was released only in Japanese.
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Sunday, August 27, 2023

What Has Changed? Sacred Spot Guide Map (Shenmue The Animation Version)

Since its debut in December 2017, a result of a collaboration between Yokosuka City and SEGA, the Shenmue Sacred Spot Guide Map has become an essential companion for Shenmue enthusiasts exploring the nostalgic charm of real-life Dobuita Street and the surrounding area. This sought-after map holds the key to exploring many of the real-life locations that inspired the immersive world of the first game. From the serene Suwadai Shrine to Kurita's military surplus store, visitors can uncover the connections between reality and the virtual realm, stepping into the footprints of Ryo Hazuki in his hometown.

The following year, during the 2018 Tokyo Game Show (TGS), the map received a rejuvenating update. With a brand-new cover and subtle tweaks, it paid homage to the momentous release of Shenmue I & II.
Covers: original (left) and Tokyo Game Show 2018 (right)

In June 2022, an exciting two-month-long event called the "Shenmue x Yokosuka: Anime Commemoration Project" unfolded in Dobuita, marking the much-anticipated release of Shenmue the Animation. As part of this grand celebration, a fresh iteration of the Sacred Spot Guide Map was unveiled, igniting a wave of enthusiasm among fans, (although unfortunately Japan had closed its borders to overseas visitors at this time due to the Covid pandemic).

Cover: Shenmue The Animation version

Shenmue The Animation version: inner pages

In this post, our focus will be on exploring the changes and distinctions found within this version of the map compared to its predecessors. Specifically, we will be delving into the Japanese-language editions, as although the original release and the Shenmue I & II versions were available in both English and Japanese, the anime edition is exclusively offered in Japanese.
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Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for August 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:

"Translation of an early 'Muecas Dan' edition"

What Was Muecas Dan?

The "Muecas Dan" (ムーキャス団, meaning Muecas Club) page was a regularly-published online section of Japanese-language Shenmue content which ran from early 2001 to 2004.

It was introduced in the March 2001 (Vol. 62) edition of the Weekly AM2 online magazine, inside a section called 'Shenmue Cast Fan' - with 'Shenmue' of course referring to the game, and 'Cast' referring to the voice and motion actors/actresses. The name "Muecas" (ムーキャス) was formed from an abbreviation of  the words "Shenmue" and "Cast".

Logo for the "Shenmue Cast FAN" series which ran for only a few weeks before being replaced.

Muecas Dan was presented as a shadowy, elite organization with members known only by a code number or alias.

Two members gave their own tongue-in-cheek introductions:

"T.C." (which stood for "Top Cat")
T.C: "I'm T.C, Code Number 001 of the Muecas Club. I've got the vigor of a Wednesday morning and no one can beat my hourly voice dubbing output! My special skill is imitating Ryo's voice!"
Giwara: "Hic. I can't drink anymore... Oh, it's my turn? I'm a sabotage specialist, Code Number 00... hic, 002. I'm also known as 'Giwara.' I can destroy everything from a chicken coop to a satellite - except for twelve things."
Although never stated outright, the more perceptive readers may have realized from the humorous hints that these two members were, in fact, the genuine Masaya Matsukaze (the Japanese voice/actor for Ryo Hazuki) and Takumi Hagiwara (the Japanese voice/actor for Wuying Ren) themselves. Together with other members of the Shenmue project team, they would go on to write humorous responses to fan submissions each week.

Before long, the new Muecas Dan page would grow in size and become the main place for Shenmue-related content, replacing the earlier Shenmue Cast FAN page and branding, and finding a new home on the official website.

Muecas Dan logo and slogan ("We are the Muecas Club!! ~I Love Shenmue Deeply~")

Post Topic

In the near future we will be translating into English one of the first editions of Muecas from 2001. Watch for it to come!

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Sunday, August 6, 2023

Weekly AM2 Volume 8 - Results of the 1st Network Rankings Competition | 1st Feb 2000

In this series we translate Shenmue content from Weekly AM2, the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 development team back in the day. News and information about the Shenmue series could be found regularly within these pages from the end of 1999 through to 2001 with the release of Shenmue II.

Vol. 8 reveals the winners of the First Network Rankings Competition, and announces a second tournament.



Vol.8: 2000.2.1

Hello, I'm Takuan, and I spend all my time in Shenmue working as a forklift operator.

This week we will be announcing the results of the Network Rankings Competition. Is your name included? Check now!

This week's contents:
  • Results of the 1st Network Rankings Competition
  • Announcement of the 2nd Network Rankings Competition
  • News: Creation of a "Shenmue Spoilers BBS"
  • What is 18 Wheeler? [omitted from translation]

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Friday, August 4, 2023

Tomato Convenience Store Spotted in Real Life?

"Especially since you bought merchandise..."

Located in Nagano city - not strictly speaking a convenience store but a Tomato-branded supermarket!

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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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Thursday, June 15, 2023

Interview w/ Shenmue Main Designer: Masanori Oe, Dec 1999 | Dreamcast Magazine

In the December 24th 1999 edition of the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine, two short but insightful developer interviews were published as part of a 16-page special feature about Shenmue, serving to stir up excitement for the game's imminent release. The interviews themselves took place approximately 3 weeks prior to Shenmue's release in Japan at the end of December.

This post is a translation of the interview with Masanori Oe, who is credited as Shenmue's main designer.

Shenmue's main designer, Masanori Oe (also written Ohe)

The article translation begins below.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for June 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:

"More tweeted anecdotes from former Shenmue developer Morio Ashizuka"

"Morio Ashizuka" is the pseudonym used on Twitter by a former developer who was deeply involved with development of the first two Shenmue games, in particular character animations and motion capture. He tweets prolifically about video games, SEGA and other topics - along with occasional fascinating insights and anecdotes from the day.

Last time, these were the topics we included in our original post:
  • Revelation #1: Dyeing Yuan's Hair for Muecas
  • Revelation #2: NPC Recycling in Shenmue II's Opening Scene
  • Revelation #3: Ryo Hazuki The Walking Legend
  • Revelation #4: Shenmue I's Opening Scene Polish
  • Revelation #5: Character Skeleton Changes from Shenmue I to II
  • Revelation #6: Round-the-Clock Debugging
  • Revelation #7: Reuse of Ryo Hazuki's Bowing Motion
  • Revelation #8: Shenmue I's Bad Ending Created In One Night
  • Revelation #9: Ryo's "Cola Face"
  • Revelation #10: Joy's Original Costume Design & Motorcycle Branding
  • Revelation #11: Fuku-san Avoided a Kidnapping
  • Revelation #12: A Comedic Version of What's Shenmue
  • Bonus Revelation: Yu's Favorite Character in Shenmue I
This time we'll be translating a whole new batch of Shenmue-related tweets from Ashizuka, again touching on his many experiences during the game's development.

Hiroshi Fujioka (voice and motion capture actor for Iwao Hazuki in the Japanese version) at the SEGA motion capture studio (Tweet source)

To be published in an up-coming post on the blog. Early preview available on Patreon!

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Monday, May 15, 2023

Suka Pass RELEASE v1.9: Free Market!

James Brown (from the Shenmue Dojo) and myself have just released a new update for Suka Pass, the fan-made app that recreates the Shenmue Passport for your mobile device, so we wanted to let you know what it's all about.

Version 1.9 introduces the Free Market, which was a section of the Passport that let you exchange capsule toys for various animal toy prizes. The screen below shows the original screen in the Passport for the Dreamcast.

Oishi-san has set up a stand at Suzume Park, and the board behind him explains which type of capsule toy is needed to swap for a toy on the table (the cloth color on which the animals sit indicate the type of toy).

The original Free Market section of the Shenmue Passport

The Free Market in Suka Pass has been recreated with the same concept, together with some added twists.

17 capsule toys have been hidden inside the app to find, and they can be unlocked by performing certain actions. Once a capsule toy has been found, visit the Free Market to trade and start your animal toy collection.

An additional bonus item is awarded if you can successfully find them all!

James has put together a fantastic video showcasing this new feature, as well as giving an overview of the the app's other sections.

Suka Pass is available for iOS and Android devices.

Head over to the official Suka Pass site for download links!

We'd love to hear how people get on with locating the capsule toys. James has made a thread about the new release over on the Shenmue Dojo forums for any feedback or comments.
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Saturday, May 13, 2023

Phoenix & Dragon Mirrors: Lore at a Glance | Mind Map

In our recent lore-related posts, we carried out a detailed examination of the lore surrounding the Mirrors, and all the various events, beliefs, clues and motivations surrounding them that we as players have learned (along with Ryo) during the first three Shenmue games. These were also covered in depth by SkillJim in his stream for the Shenmue Dojo channel (which are linked at the end of each post).

Mind Map:

As a summary of what was covered in these posts, and to make it easier to visualize how the various pieces of the puzzle fit together, here is the complete "mind map" diagram illustrating how these concepts relate to each other.

The diagram can be seen as a preview below.

There is also this direct link to the image for easier viewing and zooming. It has been saved as a high resolution image to retain the text detail, and will require zooming in close!

Mirror Lore Mind Map

A few elements have been highlighted in yellow on the diagram as they represent some of the core recurring themes seen in Shenmue: the Prophecy that Shenhua recites, the symbolism of the Dragon and the Phoenix together with the Mirrors, and the mysterious "Treasure" they may point to whose nature is unknown.

Hopefully it will not be long before we can see how the mystery of the Dragon and Phoenix mirrors and the lore surrounding them plays out in the rest of the Shenmue story.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Free Guy: Interview with Yu Suzuki, Keiichiro Toyama & Kazunobu Sato by IGN Japan (2021) | Video

In 2021, IGN Japan invited three legendary Japanese game creators (Yu Suzuki, creator of Shenmue and numerous hit arcade games; Keiichiro Toyamacreator of the Silent Hill, Siren and Gravity Rush franchises and Kazunobu Sato, producer of The Last Guardian) to a private viewing of the newly-released film Free Guy.

While the interview is based around the movie, several themes that relate to game creation are explored and discussed.

Free City Interview Video

We have added translated subtitles in English to the interview video below. A written transcript also follows the video.

Interview Transcription

IGN Japan: Hi everyone, this is Daniel from IGN Japan. Today we'll be asking three game creators for their first impressions and thoughts on watching the movie Free Guy, which was released on 13th August (2021). This video is a promotional tie-up with the movie.

Let's start by introducing our guests. Firstly: Yu Suzuki. Thank you for being here.

Suzuki: Thank you.

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Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for May 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:

"Sacred Spot Guide Map - Shenmue The Animation version"

Ever since the first version was released by Yokosuka City (with Sega's cooperation) in December 2017, the Shenmue Sacred Spot Guide Map has been a must-get item on the list of Shenmue fans visiting the Dobuita St area. The map provides a guide to various real-life locations that are said to have been the inspiration behind places in the first game, the shrine and Kurita's military surplus store on Dobuita St.
The map was refreshed the following year, being released at the Tokyo Game Show in 2018 with a new cover and other smaller changes commemorating the release of Shenmue I & II.

This brings us to June 2022, when a two-month event was held on location in Dobuita to celebrate the launch of Shenmue the Animation. As part of the celebrations, a third new version of the Sacred Spot Guide Map was launched.

This updated version of the Guide Map features art from Shenmue the Animation prominently on the cover.

In this post, we will examine the changes and differences between this version and the previous versions. 

Coming soon to the blog!
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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Mystery Location in Photo at Shenhua's House Identified? | Shenmue II

Last year, we posted an article about an unidentified photo that can be glimpsed at Shenhua's house in Shenmue II.

The photo can be partially seen on the desk in Shenhua's father's room, in the pile where Ryo finds the plans for the Phoenix and Dragon mirrors. But there is no way for the player to move the other papers aside to examine it, and Ryo makes no comment about it.

It is, however, possible to view the full photo by accessing the game files directly, which looks as below. It appears to be some kind of outdoor scene with arches, trees, and some kind of structure in the center:

The mystery photo uncovered

In our post about this photo, we posed the question of why this photo would have been present among the design documents (albeit largely obscured), whether it had any significance and - most of all - whether such a location exists or existed in real life.

Well now, a possible candidate for this mystery location has been identified!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Mirror Lore & Celestial Connections in Shenmue | Part Two

In this post we complete our investigation into the secrets of the Dragon and Phoenix mirrors and related lore surrounding them as revealed throughout the Shenmue games.

In Part One, we looked at the following topics:

  • Ancient Beliefs: the Guardians of the North Star
  • The Xing Xiu and People's Fates
  • Five Stars Corp.
  • Sword of Seven Stars
  • I Smell Treasure
  • The Chi You
  • The Mirrors & the Qing Dynasty

This time, we will go deeper into the mysteries with the following topics:

  • The Prophecy
  • Shenmue's Bad Ending
  • The Origin of the Mirrors
  • Photo of the Imperial Envoy
  • The Last Emperor: Pu Yi
  • The Purpose of the Verdant Bridge
  • The Envoy's Mission
  • The Scroll
  • The Cliff Temple
Spoiler Warning: This post covers story-related aspects from the first three games.

The Prophecy

A reference to the Dragon and Phoenix together also occurs outside of gameplay, in the prologue of each of the games in the series, in which Shenhua is heard reciting the prophecy (see also our comparison of the various versions of the prophecy to date).

This wording is from the Shenmue II version:
Shenhua: A Dragon shall emerge from the earth, and dark clouds shall obscure the heavens. A Phoenix shall descend from above, its wings will create a purple wind. In the midst of the pitch-black night, a morning star shall glisten, alone...

These words paint imagery of a conflict or dramatic event involving a Dragon and Phoenix in some form.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Former Developer Anecdote: Shenmue II's Duck Racing Was Created In Secret

A former Shenmue developer has shared a brief but amusing anecdote in response to a tweet from Shenmue Forever that praised Shenmue II's intricate duck racing Easter Egg.

In his tweet, the developer that revealed that the entire duck race event was in fact created secretly by the Game Director* and staff without Yu Suzuki's knowledge!

An image of the original tweet is shown below.

Source tweet

About Satoru Tsuji

Satoru Tsuji (Twitter account mame_XPERIA) was one of the member of SEGA's 7-person Event Planning team on the Shenmue II project. He mentions that he was in charge of the fortune tellers in the game.

* Note: Tsuji's tweet about the duck race partially censors the Game Director's name as "Oka***". At first I assumed this might be (Keiji) Okayasu, however the Shenmue II end credits confirm this refers to Yoshihiro Okabayashi, who both headed the Event Planning team and was one of Shenmue II's two Game Directors.
Shenmue II End Credits: Event Planning team


Guide to Duck Racing in Shenmue II

Video: Shenmue Fans channel

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Saturday, April 8, 2023

Shenmue Chapter Concept Art Released in High Resolution! (Tiles 1-7)

At the 2014 Game Developers Conference (GDC 2014), Yu Suzuki gave a special talk of approximately an hour in which he talked about the development of Shenmue. It covered the early days from its conception as Virtua Fighter RPG, when the protagonist was to have been Akira Yuki.

During the talk, Suzuki revealed a slide entitled "Chapter Concept Art" which showed 11 full-color illustrations that represented the plans for each chapter of Virtua Fighter RPG. These were drawn following Suzuki's trip to China in 1994.

Although various changes and rearrangements are known to have taken place since then, many of the elements observed in these chapter tiles are instantly recognizable including several of the characters appearing in the Shenmue games released to date, and for this reason obtaining high-resolution images of these tiles to study further has been something Shenmue fans have been desiring ever since they were revealed.

The 11 tiles of the Chapter Concept Art revealed at the GDC 2014 conference

The chapter tile illustrations were glimpsed again in footage for Adam Sipione's Shenmue Documentary ("A Gamer's Journey: The Definitive History of Shenmue") - which, incidentally is shipping imminently on BluRay - as the filming crew had privileged access to concept art shared by Suzuki during their time with him.

And now, thanks to Adam, the first seven of the tiles are available in high resolution for all fans to enjoy! There were released recently on a Shenmue Dojo forum post containing updates about the Shenmue Documentary.

Each tile is packed with details, and release of these high-resolution versions has already sparked renewed discussion and exchange of theories among fans on the forums and elsewhere.

The superb chapter tiles are displayed below!

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Thursday, April 6, 2023

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for April 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:

"Weekly AM2 Volumes 8 & 9"

The topic selected this time is a continuation of our translations of the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 team back in the day, the Weekly AM2. This magazine published content about the Shenmue series from December 1999 through to around the release of Shenmue II in 2001, and a link to issues of the Weekly AM2 thereafter became a regular feature of the website.

This time we will be translating two more editions of the Weekly AM2: Volumes 8 and 9, published online in the first two weeks of February 2000.

Weekly AM2 Vol.8 reveals the winners of the First Network Rankings Tournament, and announces a second tournament.

Some of the fabulous Shenmue merchandise prizes for winners of the Network Rankings Tournaments

Weekly AM2 Vol. 9 announces a third Network Rankings Tournament! In addition, this edition contained all the data needed for readers to set their mobile phone ring-tone to Shenhua's Theme (we will create a simulation of the tune for your enjoyment!).

Coming soon to the blog.

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