Friday, May 31, 2024

Top 10 Shenmue Story Revelations | Shenmue Dojo & Phantom River Stone Interview with Yu Suzuki

Earlier this month saw the release of a brand-new, extensive interview with Yu Suzuki that was held in person by James Brown of the Shenmue Dojo and myself (Switch) for Phantom River Stone at the YS NET office in Japan. 

The full interview can be found at the Shenmue Dojo's website, who have also recorded an in-depth discussion stream but in this post we will focus in on summarizing some of the most surprising story details revealed during the interview, ending with new information regarding the leaders of the Chi You Men!

The Day of the Interview

On the fine Spring morning of the interview, we gathered at a local coffee shop in the vicinity of the YS Net office for a quick run-through of the topics we would be covering, and making sure reference images were at hand and ready. Having been granted such a precious opportunity to spend time with the legendary game creator, we wanted to be sure not a single minute in his company would go to waste due to lack of preparation.
Before we knew it, the appointment time was almost upon us. We navigated our way from the wide main road and headed down some narrow Tokyo backstreets until we stood in front of the unassuming building in which YS Net was located. A short elevator ride took us up to the instructed floor.

Upon pressing the intercom call button, we were welcomed by none other than a friendly Yu Suzuki himself, together with Joel Tess (who would be interpreting for us during the entire interview), and they led us to the conference room where the interview would be held. The interview time, which stretched to over an hour, passed in a flash. Yu Suzuki was relaxed and really made us feel at home.

And not only did he graciously allow us to run over the allotted time, but he even invited us to a meal at a small, local Chinese restaurant which had a definite 1980's vibe - the equivalent of Aji-Ichi in the first game! During the meal, as well as some general chat, we couldn't help ourselves from asking more about his past research travels in China. We have included his replies in the released interview also.

As we left, Yu-san smiled and said, in English, "Shenmue-like", gesturing to the restaurant. We were touched at his thoughtfulness in selecting a venue he knew would be fitting for Shenmue fans. 

Photo with Yu-san after our succulent Chinese meal

Top 10 Story-Related Facts Learned

Onto this post's main section! Interview topics we covered included Virtua Fighter RPG, Shenmue games released to date, the status of a potential Shenmue IV, Shenmue The Animation and more. Being that we were representing the fan community, we had to include some of the very specific story-related questions that have been on the minds of fans over the years!

Below is our Top 10 list of interesting snippets of information learned from the interview that relate to the game's story and locations.

Revelation #10: Baisha's Inclusion Possible But Unlikely

Concept art of Baisha

The intriguing location of Baisha was originally slated for inclusion in Shenmue III, with the intended gameplay described in a Kickstarter update video as "show[ing] off what Shenmue III is all about" with a siege-type battle, but the location ended up being omitted from the release. With this location also representing Chapter 5 of Yu Suzuki's blue "Legend of Akira" books, we wanted to find out whether there were any plans for it to be introduced in one of the future games in the series.

Suzuki indicated that its inclusion has not been ruled out, but explained that there is still a large amount of content remaining in future chapters in order to reach the end of the story. Hence, factors such as the number of future games to be made will come into play in the decision as to whether it will appear. However, it seems that it may no longer be critical to the main storyline.

Revelation #9: No Additional Mirrors

When it comes to the mirrors, there has only ever been mention in the story of two existing: the Dragon Mirror and the Phoenix Mirror.

But there are also several themes and motifs that relate to the stars and Chinese lore, with the four regional Chi You Men leaders each being represented by one of four guardian beasts (Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Tortoise). The Dragon and Vermilion Bird might suggest a potential parallel with the mirrors, so we wanted to ask Suzuki directly whether there might be more mirrors that we do not yet know about in the story.

Suzuki provides definite confirmation that this is not the case. Thankfully, the cave does not need to be expanded to accommodate further symbols!

Revelation #8: RC Forklift & Ring Toss Minigames Were Prototyped

The first hint of a possible remote-controlled forklift game for Shenmue III came in the above promotional image that was released during the game's development, which shows a mini forklift on the grass.

Later, a music file with the names "RCForkRace" and "RCboat" was uncovered by fans exploring unused sound files in the backer demo, another indication of plans for remote-controlled games. (The track can be heard here).

Another object seen in the promo image above is the board for a ring toss game, although there's no such playable minigame in the released version of Shenmue III.

Many believed that these were originally planned as minigames, which Suzuki confirmed. Not only that, but he went on to say that the forklift game had been prototyped. The aim of the game was to gather balloons and carry them to a collection point.  It would have been brilliant if these minigames had been released as DLC! 

Revelation #7: Ren's Background May Hide Story Spoilers

Ren's background is not really discussed in the games, but there have been some clues elsewhere, such as the early concept art above which shows him on horseback and holding a banner with an illustration of a mythical creature similar to the one on the back of his jacket.

More recently, Sega's official site on Shenmue I & II offers some background information on his character:
"Like the bandana on his head, the back of Ren's distinctive blue jacket is embroidered with a Qilin, a Chinese mythical beast. No one in The Heavens knows his true identity, but it seems that he is actually from a Mongolian horse tribe".
When asked if more can be shared about Ren's background story, Suzuki deliberated for several seconds, eventually telling us that he shouldn't say anything for fear of a spoiler. That's an interesting response! It suggests that Ren's tribal roots are an important factor in the story further down the line. 

Revelation #6: Xiuying & Ziming Storyline May Become a Side Story

One plot thread that runs throughout Shenmue II, is Xiuying's relationship with her older brother, Ziming. Ryo learns that their parents were murdered when they were young, and once older Ziming decides to set off to seek revenge on those responsible, deciding to join the Chi You Men organization. Xiuying has never since heard from him again, and has only half of a yin-yang pendant he left her to remember him by.

The official Shenmue Side Story comic expanded on this some more, showing Ziming conversing with Niao Sun, almost as he if were on the same level of seniority, and a silhouette of the 4 Chi You Men leaders unmistakably contained an outline of Ziming. This led fans to believe that Ziming would play an important role in the future story. However, in a later interview, Yu Suzuki denied that he becomes a Chi You Men leader - perhaps representing a change to the original plans. 

In any case, developments on this plot thread is something which many fans will be looking forward to.

In our interview, Suzuki talked about the need for careful selection of story content in order to finish the series within a limited number of games remaining (something which is yet to be decided, although his preference is two further games).

Regarding the Xiuying/Ziming plot thread, Suzuki said that this may need to be shared as a side story rather than as part of the main game itself. Whether or not this means that the entire character of Ziming will be struck from future games was not made clear, but seems a possibility.

Revelation #5: the Importance of Luoyang

The replacement of the Luoyang tapestry at Shenhua's house in Shenmue II, with an image of Bailu Village in Shenmue III, is something that caught players by surprise, and it raised the question of whether the location of Luoyang would no longer be an important part of the story.

We were relieved to hear that its removal did not carry this implication, but was a change that came about during Shenmue III's creation. Suzuki emphasized that Luoyang remains an important location, being the city of Shenhua's ancestors. He even confirmed that Luoyang is the location of the Shenmue II flashback scene of Shenhua as a baby, which is something fans had theorized about but had never known with certainty. 

Suzuki explained that Luoyang is the setting he chose for the prototype of Shenmue called The Old Man and the Peach Tree, and this was carried through as a location of importance in Shenmue.

Revelation #4: Confirmation of Multiple Shenmue Trees

Another topic that has been widely debated over the years, and especially since the release of Shenmue III, is how many Shenmue trees exist. Is there one unique tree, at Shenhua's house? Is the tree at Ternary Spring, which Shenhua likes to visit, also a Shenmue tree? How about the trees in the flashback of Shenhua as a baby? The confusion was not helped by some inconsistent translation (see our previous post called "Shenmue Tree? Cherry Tree?")

Suzuki dispelled any doubts by stating that these trees are, in fact, all Shenmue trees.

Revelation #3: Shenmue's Emperor is Modeled on the Qing Dynasty's Last Emperor

Although his name is not stated explicitly in Shenmue III, hints such as the date of the commissioning of the mirrors suggest that the emperor of China at the time was Emperor Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, as we explored in a previous post.

So we decided to ask Yu Suzuki directly whether the emperor mentioned in the game is in fact Emperor Pu Yi, the "Last Emperor" - and he replied that this is the case.

This makes the story even more intriguing, given that Pu Yi was only a child of around 4 years old when the mirrors were commissioned. We put this to Suzuki, and, while he was not able to confirm the exact age of the emperor in the game, he assured us that the dates and ages were well researched. The most logical explanation would be that the commissioning was made on Pu Yi's behalf by his advisors.

Revelation #2: Ryo's Next Destination is Suzhou

Ryo's next destination is something we thought Yu Suzuki might have wanted to keep secret, but in our interview he revealed that Ryo, Shenhua and Ren will next be heading to the canal city of Suzhou.

Suzhou is a name that is familiar to Shenmue fans, being the title of Chapter 3 of the Legend of Akira books.

This did come as a surprise to us, though, given that there was no hint of this in the ending of Shenmue III. How will they travel from Niaowu to Suzhou, and what prompts them to go there? There is plenty of room for speculation!

Revelation #1: a Secret New Chi You Men Leader

The final, and most impactful revelation in terms of story, was at the point when Yu Suzuki told us with a quiet smile that there is another Chi You Men leader we did not yet know about! There is a "chief of staff" who is the organization's overall leader (Tentei)'s right-hand man.

He sketched a quick diagram for us on paper, which I've redrawn here for clarity (with labels added). 

Although he did not disclose too much about the character, we were able to confirm that he is male and plays an advisory role.

Theories are already being shared about the identity of this mystery person. If it is someone already known to us, my favorite 

Unfortunately, it seems he will not be introduced soon, however, and that he is likely to appear in Shenmue V, or the end of Shenmue IV.

Other Topics

Many other topics were covered during our marathon interview - including, of course, the crucial topic of Shenmue IV and the hunt for a partner to make it happen.

I have not attempted to cover the topic of the series' future in this post, but it is clear that we all need to be loud and visible in our support for Shenmue and desire for further games to be created. Community leaders such as the Shenmue Dojo, Shenmue Forever and Shenmue 500K are playing an instrumental part in helping to channel this enthusiasm and make our voices heard with events such as monthly Twitter (X) campaigns on the 4th of each month.

Full Interview 

Read the full interview at the link below over at the Shenmue Dojo:

Shenmue Dojo Show - Yu Suzuki Shenmue Interview 

James and Matt at the Shenmue Dojo talk through the interview and Yu Suzuki's responses in the video below, which is a fantastic watch if you have not yet seen it.

Shennue Dojo: Shenmue 4 Rally Call - How To Help

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  1. Hi, can you explain how and who contacted you. Do you talk about Shenmue Saturn and the relation between Yu Suzuki and 110 industries? Thank you in advance

    1. All the topics we had time to discuss have been included in the published interview, but there were certainly many more we would have loved to have talked about if there was time! Regarding contact about the interview, all we can say is that it involved a Chawan Sign made at a local diner and a note left by a mysterious figure that read "11 am at YS NET"...