Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Unused Shenmue Map #1: Suzhou City

During the 1998/1999 Shenmue Premiere showings in various cities across Japan, ahead of the game's original release on the Dreamcast, a 36-page art book was available as merchandise. It featured concept art, photographs, design diagrams, and other materials related to the game's development.

Cover of the Shenmue Premiere Art Booklet

In past posts on this blog we have analyzed some of the fascinating snippets of early design documents that can be glimpsed in this booklet, such as:
This booklet makes creative use of charts and drawings as decorative images to accompany the pages describing the making of the game.

Unseen Maps in the Art Booklet

On one page of the booklet, two maps can be found that don't match any of the places Ryo has visited so far in his journey. One map sits at the top left in blue ink, and the other, which lies to the right further down the page, is in black. (The maps are partially obscured by an image of an early map of Aberdeen/Wan Chai, and a photo of a computer monitor displaying a map of Dobuita).

The page containing the mysterious maps

In this post, the first in a two-part series, we will start to examine the maps and labels in detail to uncover hints about Ryo's initially-planned or potential future travels.

Image credits: thanks to James Brown for providing the booklet page images

About the Creation of Maps for Shenmue

A short paragraph in the booklet describes the creation of maps for Shenmue.

"New maps based on existing real-world maps have been drawn up especially for Shenmue. By studying actual maps, the layout of a city can be made as realistic as possible. Moreover, the buildings and distances between them, variations in elevation, and the views from different locations are faithfully reproduced."
Yu Suzuki's emphasis on grounding Shenmue in a realistic world can be felt again here.

Inspecting Unused Map #1: Suzhou

Let's start with the map in blue ink.

Page detail

This map appears to be part of a city or town that is surrounded by water, in the form of canals.

Map Close-Up

Below is a closer view of the full map, with the labels translated into English:

Map of the canal city with translated labels added. 

A major clue as to the real-life city on which this map is based can be found at the top or northern-most end of the map. Here, a large space is given the label 盤門 - this is the Japanese kanji for the "Pan Gate" (written 盘门 in Chinese), a historical landmark found in Suzhou (蘇州), China!

Apart from the presence of the Pan Gate, the map itself does not match the real-life layout of Suzhou, which is not unexpected as previous locations in Yokosuka and Hong Kong locations also took similar license in changing the layout while staying true to the overall feel.


  • The city contains several types of shops and restaurants.
  • Each rectangular building contains tiny, indistinct text such as "R-24", "R-32" and "I 5". There are several different ones across the map, but the same code often appears for buildings with similar shapes. These may be some kind of identification codes used by the developers, such as to indicate the style of each building.
  • There are 7 star indicators spread throughout the map at the water's edge, supporting the theory that these may represent fishing spots for Ryo.
  • Several stores are labelled with a name - such as the "Long Life" herbal medicine store - and can be readily distinguished as they are filled with color, flagging them as locations of interest. 
  • As seen in Shenmue II in Hong Kong, one of the areas within the city has also been named according to the type of specialty shops to be found nearby: Altar Shop Street.
  • One of the buildings is labelled as "Hu Hao's house" (pronunciation for the name 胡浩 is a best guess, as only the Chinese characters are given). This name has not appeared in Shenmue as far as I know. Who might it represent? Perhaps a friend or acquaintance Ryo makes while in the city, who helps to advance the story.
Map detail

This connection to the city of Suzhou, a city located on the eastern side of China, is of particular interest.
Location of Suzhou, near China's east coast

This city was included in one of the slides Yu Suzuki presented at his GDC 2014 talk on the making of Shenmue, on the topic of his research trip to China in the early 1990's. The slide contained two photos of Suzhou. (Interestingly, his visit to Suzhou was not mentioned in the magazine series about his China Trip that was published afterwards).

Slide from Yu Suzuki's GDC 2014 talk: Suzhou features in the photos at the bottom left and right.

On another slide of the same presentation, Suzuki showed a "map image" that displayed the various locations that had been planned for Virtua Fighter RPG, which formed the backbone of Shenmue's story. Here, "Suzhou" can be seen hand-written on it in kanji, together with an oval illustration representing one of the 11 VFRPG chapter tile illustrations (these are indicated in yellow):

Suzhou's VFRPG chapter illustration can be recognized as the one for Chapter 4, which features Ryo in various fighting poses, close-up illustrations of four men (one of which appears to be Lan Di), a man in a wheelchair and a raised martial arts ring inside some kind of large stadium:

VFRPG Chapter Tile #4 

Below are photos of Suzhou's Pan Gate, and a view of a canal.

Pan Gate in Suzhou (by 钉钉 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

A bridge over a small canal in Suzhou

Suzhou is a location that has taken on heightened significance due to the confirmation from Yu Suzuki in his recent Shenmue Community interview that this will be the next major destination for Ryo, Ren and Shenhua on their journey (when Shenmue IV comes to be made) - although whether or not any use will be made of this historical development map of course remains to be seen.

Second Map in Part 2

That brings us to the end of the first part. Continue on to Part 2, where we look at the second map from the Premiere art booklet.

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