Not very far I'm afraid! I think the Shenmue the Animation event came along just after I had planned to commence so my time got diverted. (I'll add it in as an option in the blog's Patreon poll for the monthly blog topic, as I think there would be a lot of interest in getting started on this).
It's certainly tricky to find consistency across various years and interviews. As you say, this thread
on the old Dojo forums has a quote from Yu in a English-translated 2000 interview that supports the "one large game" and then a three-part scenario:
"The original plan was to go with three different chapters, but this was changed to a huge story with 16 chapters. Then, these 16 chapters were divided into three parts (slash, slash), with sections 1-5, 5-10 and 11-16 incorporated into Shenmue 1, 2 and 3 respectively. At its grandest scale, Shenmue 1 was supposed to contain all 16 chapters".
With even the decision to release the Yokosuka section as Shenmue 1 being made quite late in the process, it seems that the number of games & chapter split were in an ever-changing state of flux!
Yes this caught me by surprise also. A great question from Esra as it's something you wouldn't think to ask normally. That's an interesting theory about the elixir of youth, @Seaman
, do you think that's why that bottle remains in the basement?