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Shenmue Community Interview With Yu Suzuki – May 2024

Posted on May 10, 2024 at 12:00 PM BST

Hello, and welcome to an exclusive Shenmue interview with the man himself, Mr. Yu Suzuki! Exactly one month ago to the date, Shenmue Dojo and Phantom River Stone were both incredibly fortunate and honored to have been invited to YS NET in Japan for an hour-long sit-down interview with SEGA legend and the creator of Shenmue, Yu Suzuki. This interview actually spanned around 1 hour 20 minutes in total, as Yu-san was kind enough to extend our chat with the remainder of our questions before treating us to lunch, where we also managed to sneak in a few more relaxed questions! We wish to extend our sincerest thanks to both Yu Suzuki and Joel Tess, who helped provide interpretation on the day. Our utmost gratitude to them both for not only the warm and comfortable hospitality that we received but also for relieving the nerves that had built up over the weeks prior to this date by creating a relaxed environment. Below is the interview that we conducted, kindly transcribed by Switch (Phantom River Stone), in its entirety. We hope that you will find something from this interview that will be new and interesting to learn, we also hope that the sentiments of the team’s message at the end will leave us with more determination than ever before to provide support as a Shenmue community to strive for more Shenmue. #LetsGetShenmue4 💪



Many thanks to Joel Tess for providing us with a full transcribed Japanese translation of the interview for Japanese fans to enjoy as well! (Link above)

Yu Suzuki Interview
Conducted: 10th April 2024 at YS NET
Shenmue Dojo & Phantom River Stone

Thank you for having us today. It’s truly a pleasure to be here and have the opportunity to discuss your remarkable creations which mean so much to the fans.

Q: As Shenmue fans, we’re very interested in the early form of Shenmue, which was going to be a project called Virtua Fighter RPG. Do you still possess the original design documents and other materials that you created for Virtua Fighter RPG? 

Yu Suzuki (YS): Virtua Fighter RPG was my first RPG title and it was creating something that was entirely new, which carried a risk. So, I thought that creating an RPG using the Virtua Fighter IP might be safer, which led to the project. However, not a lot of material remains now.

Q: [Showing photo] In your interview with Game Informer in 2019, there was a photo showing these scripts… 

From 2019 Game Informer interview

YS: These are almost “Shenmue”. They’re not VFRPG. 

Q: What is the difference between the blue books and the white pages?

YS: The white pages are the novelized version. The blue books contain the scripts.

[Suzuki leaves the room, and returns with the set of five Legend of Akira blue books.] 

YS: These are the scripts with the dialogue. They’re for the cast. They were given to each of the voice actors. The pages have space at the top for the actors to write notes. 

Yu Suzuki showing us the “Legend of Akira” scripts

Q: Were these scripts used for the actual Shenmue? 

YS: Yes. The name was later changed to “Shenmue”.

[The books are around a B5 size, and have slightly yellow-colored paper] 

YS: They are printed on a specific kind of paper. There is a serial number on the back to keep track of them all. 

Q: Are these the ones that were in the Kickstarter reward? 

YS: That’s right. They go up to Chapter Five. This one is Yokosuka, Chapter One. Chapter Two is Hong Kong, where Ren shows up. The progression of the game differs from the way I had first planned, though. This one contains the script for Suzhou. But in the game, Guilin is shown first, so the order is reversed compared to the original order. Suzhou will be in Shenmue IV instead.

[Suzuki shows the fifth book: Baisha] 

YS: This one is Baisha, which hasn’t appeared yet. 

All 5 of the “Legend of Akira” script books

Q: Baisha was mentioned during the Shenmue III Kickstarter but ended up not being included in the game. Is there a possibility it will turn up in future? 

YS: It depends on how things go. [Pointing to the book] This contains the lines for some of the cut scenes.

Q: Does a novelized version for it exist? 

YS: It does… but that’s top secret! The novelized version is thicker.

Q: With the 25th anniversary of Shenmue I coming up this year in Japan, do you have any exciting plans or events that you’re looking to do? 

YS: With the Shenmue Dojo and everyone in the community always supporting and thinking about Shenmue, and it being the 25th anniversary, we really should but we don’t have anything planned. We’re just so busy and it might be a little difficult to find the time. 

Q: Yes, we understand. We’ll definitely celebrate it! Next we have a couple of story questions. On the Japanese website for Shenmue I & II there are some character bios. The one for Ren talks about his Mongolian background. Could you tell us a little bit more about Ren’s origins and his Mongolian tribe link? 

Ren’s Profile on Shenmue 1&2 Official Japanese Website (translation by Google)

YS: I can’t say too much about it because I’m not yet sure exactly how secret we have to keep this information. I don’t want to give something away. You’ve kind of put me on the spot! It might be a spoiler, so I don’t think I can say, sorry!

Q: No problem. This next question might be a spoiler too! It’s about the era and the environment behind these characters: Shenhua as a baby and her parents. We are interested in the location of this scene. 

Shenhua’s parents naming her during a flashback

YS: The same thing applies here, as to giving too much away. What I can say is that the game differs from the story outline of the original novel. The novel is used as a reference when creating the scenes for the game, and contains various plotlines. I don’t know exactly how this will turn out in the game, but in terms of what I am envisioning, the location of this scene is Luoyang. It’s an ancient capital. 

Something else I’d like to mention is that before VFRPG, we made a prototype called the Old Man and the Peach Tree. That became VFRPG, which in turn became Shenmue. The setting of the Old Man and the Peach Tree prototype was Luoyang. So the setting for China I had in mind at the beginning was Luoyang. 

Q: In Shenmue II there is a tapestry of Luoyang in Shenhua’s house…

YS: It’s the place of her ancestors. 

Q: I see! And in Shenmue III, the Luoyang tapestry was replaced with a picture of Bailu village. Was there a reason for that change? 

YS: That was just something that resulted from the game-making process. 

Luoyang tapestry comparison between Shenmue II and Shenmue III

Q: Oh, so there isn’t any particular meaning behind the change? 

YS: Not really. During the development of Shenmue II, originally the plan had been to include Luoyang, you see. But portraying Luoyang turned out not to be feasible due to the increased content that would have required. So, in order to keep things manageable, Shenmue II was kept to Guilin. I had to pare it back a little. 

Q: Is there a possibility we will visit Luoyang in the future? 

YS: Hm, that depends on how many more chances there will be to make a Shenmue game.

Q: [Showing a screenshot of the Yu Suzuki character model from the pre-release Game Jam build of Shenmue II] We were wondering if you have seen this? It is from a Shenmue II prototype.

Yu Suzuki model found in the Shenmue II GameJam beta prototype

YS: Yes, I have! Wasn’t it something created recently?

Q: It was discovered recently, but was in the actual game files.

YS: Ah, it was probably someone’s prank!

Q: The fans were really delighted with a Kickstarter being announced for Shenmue III and loved elements such as the Save Shenmue Hall which created a special connection with the fans. With Shenmue III now approaching its fifth anniversary, how do you feel about the project’s journey and outcome now that you look back on it?

YS: Well, for me Shenmue I, II and III are game projects that are finished. So what I think about are the next games, like IV or V. Although a remake of the first two games using something like Unreal Engine 5 might be fun, if we had a partner for it.

Yesterday I was watching a YouTube gameplay video of “What’s Shenmue”, where you have to find Mr. Yukawa. It made me want to try remaking it with Unreal Engine 5! It had its own flavor.

Finding Mr. Yukawa in the Shenmue Demo “What’s Shenmue?”

Q: That certainly would be fun to see! With the many years between the development of Shenmue II and III, it must have been a challenge to keep track of the story and other details from the earlier games. What process did you use to help preserve continuity between the two games?

YS: We used the 11-chapter novelized work as a reference point when creating the scenarios for the new game, so that avoided uncertainties. The novel has the complete story, you see.

Q: Did that reduce the amount of time needed to replay the previous games?

YS: Well, it was of course still necessary to go back and play through them, to check.

Q: Could you tell us about the motion capture process for Shenmue III? We heard that it was done in-house?

YS: Not all of it was carried out here. Some was also outsourced.

Shenmue III motion capture process

Q: Was the in-house capture perhaps done in that area? [pointing to nearby room]

YS: Hm… I think it was done on the floor below us.

Q: Would the motion capture be handled differently for Shenmue IV?

YS: With Shenmue III, we did a lot of the motion capture using a magnetic detection system. Motion capture technology has advanced now, so for Shenmue IV, we would probably use optical detection. We would do the prototyping here and outsource for the final.

There are some things that still need to be done in-house, though. When striking someone, they are going to get hurt, right? But I want to see that reaction when they get hit. 

[Suzuki demonstrates a slow-motion punch to his own cheek and humorously distorts his face].

Actually hitting someone would be dangerous, so we can’t use full contact during motion capture. So we create those kinds of effects in-house, using manual or physically-based rendering. This is what I want! 

[Suzuki gives a second demonstration of his face distorting under a slow punch, causing laughter].

Q: During the Shenmue III Kickstarter period, we saw a stretch reward for Bailu Village called Magic Maze, and a development video clip showing boulders falling down onto Ryo. [Shows pictures]. Could you tell us what was planned for these?

Left: Highest stretch goal in Shenmue III Kickstarter / Right: Development shot

YS: The Magic Maze was to have been a procedurally-generated maze. I don’t remember offhand what was planned but it’s something that could be applied to a forest area, or equally to a rocky area. It’s something that can’t be made completely random, as that would make it difficult to design around. In general, the shape of the forest would be created using splines, for example, and realistic foliage would be generated automatically.

Q: Was there any particular event planned for the Magic Maze?

YS: Yes… I don’t recall the details but there would have been something planned for it.

Q: During Shenmue III’s development there were some indications of other potential minigames such as a “ring toss” game, or remote-control forklifts and boats [shows picture]. Were any of these originally going to be playable?

Promotional image showing unreleased mini-games in Shenmue III

YS: Wasn’t this one [pointing at the ring-toss board] in there? I guess not, since you’re asking about it!

Q: There is a ring-toss board in the game, but it’s not playable.

YS: We started making it, but it must have been dropped partway through. For the forklift game, there was even a proper engine inside the vehicle that could be controlled. You had to collect balloons and carry them all to a certain spot.

Q: Was there a working prototype created for the remote-control forklift game?

YS: Yes, there was.

Q: There is a Shenmue tree outside Shenhua’s house. There is also a large tree in the area called Ternary Spring. Is that also a Shenmue tree?

Shenmue tree’s in Shenmue III
Top: Shenhua’s House / Bottom: Ternary Spring

YS: Yes, it is. And there are also some in Luoyang.

[Suzuki draws some Chinese characters on a piece of paper].

莎木 in Chinese is pronounced Shāmù. That’s how “Shenmue” is written. The second character (木) means “tree”. If that is replaced by the character for “flower” (花), it becomes Shenhua.

Q: In a cut scene, Ryo talks about feeling a special connection with the tree outside the Hazuki Dojo in Japan. Is that tree…?

YS: That’s just a cherry tree.

Q: This may be a spoiler, but there is a scene in Shenmue III where the thug called Yanlang is interrogated. Are you able to tell us what Shenhua did to make him talk?

Shenhua “interrogating” Yanlang in Shenmue III

YS: [Smiles] That’s a secret! 

Q: [Showing picture]  On the scroll found in the bell tower at Bailu Village, there is an image of Niaowu. What is the reason that Niaowu is on the scroll?

Niaowu pictured on the scroll found in the bell tower

YS: The Chi You Men had to be prevented from finding out about Niaowu’s connection with the two mirrors. So a hint was left in the scroll.

Q: At the end of Shenmue II, there is a cut scene in the stone pit in which Shenhua reads a letter left for her by her father where he tells her to “Find the proof”. Is this scroll from the bell tower the proof that he was referring to?

Shenhua’s father’s letter to Shenhua at the end of Shenmue II

YS: He’s not talking about the scroll. He is referring to her meeting Ryo, and accompanying him to solve the mystery together.

Q: So the “proof” has not yet been found?

YS: That’s right.

Q: Shenmue III touches on the Emperor and his commissioning of the mirrors. Is the Emperor based on the real-life Emperor at the time, Emperor Pu Yi of the Qing Dynasty – the so-called “Last Emperor”?

YS: Yes, he is the model on which the game’s Emperor is based.

A 3 year old Pu Yi, in 1909

Q: In real-life, at the time of the mirror commissioning in 1910, he would have been only 4 years old. Is that also the case in the game?

YS: I don’t recall his precise age, but the dates and so on are something that we carefully researched on our side.

Q: In the ending scene of the game, Ryo leaves Niaowu by boat, together with Ren, Shenhua and her father. Where are they heading to next?

The ship leaving Niaowu at the end of Shenmue III

YS: To Suzhou.

Q: [Showing picture] In the Shenmue III Story DLC, Zhang shows up in Niaowu. Is he there on the orders of Yuanda Zhu to watch over Ryo, or was it a coincidence that he was there when Ryo was there?

Promotional art of Zhang appearing in Shenmue III’s Story DLC

YS: Zhang is a bit of a fan favorite, so I really just wanted to include him in the DLC. [The group laughs].

[More seriously] But… of course, he was sent there on the instruction of Yuanda Zhu.

Q: [Showing picture] Can we expect the story of Xiuying and Ziming that was started in Shenmue II, to be continued in future games?

Photo of Xiuying & Ziming as kids

YS: It might be too much of a stretch to be able to include it in the main story. Possibly as something like a side story.

Q: Shenmue fans would love to see a new entry in the Shenmue series. Could you tell us anything regarding work or plans for Shenmue IV?

YS: We’re not working on it right now. It is still in the planning stage.

Q: What would it take to get a Shenmue IV?

YS: A partner.

Q: Have people expressed interest?

YS: Well, yes, there has been interest shown by a lot of people.

Q: In terms of the story, do you see Ryo’s journey ending in China, or another country?

YS: Singapore! [Laughter] It will be China.

Q: So there’s no chance we’ll see him go back to Japan?

YS: Not currently.

Q: We have heard in previous interviews that the Chi You Men organization has four leaders, with a single boss known as Tentei above them. Have there been any changes to this structure?

Concept art of the 4 Chi You Men Leaders

YS: Actually, there is one more person…

Q: Oh, really? Another boss?

[Suzuki sketches a tree diagram on a piece of paper showing a single circle at the top level, with four circles in a row below.]

Zoomed in diagram that Yu Suzuki showed us of the Chi You Men leader tree

YS: [Indicating the top circle] This is Tentei, the “big boss”.

[Indicating the four circles] These are Lan Di, Niao Sun and so on.

[Drawing an extra horizontal branch between the two levels, with an additional circle]. There’s one more person here: the “Chief of Staff” [参謀 in Japanese, see photo above, where the pencil sits].

Q: Is that person a male or female character?

YS: He’s male.

He’s highly knowledgeable, like an expert strategist and advisor.

Q: Perhaps like a strategist from China’s Three Kingdoms period?

YS: Mm.

Q: Will this strategist make an appearance in Shenmue IV?

YS: He probably won’t appear until Shenmue V… Maybe at the end of Shenmue IV.

Q: We know of two mirrors in the game, but do any more mirrors exist? Is there any relationship between the number of mirrors and number of Chi You Men leaders?

Phoenix & Dragon mirrors, and potential tiger mirror design concept artwork

YS: No, there’s no connection.

Q: What would be your preference for the number of games to complete the series?

Trying to get through our huge list of questions!

YS: I think it would probably be best, for the players also, to reach the ending in two more games. And for those people who want to know everything about the story after completing the series, perhaps a novel or similar could be released. 

Q: We would love to see something like that!

How do you foresee a possible development timeframe for the next games in the series?

YS: If there are two more games… then at say 5 years each it would take 10 years. Even if Shenmue IV and V were done together over 6 years…

[Suzuki takes a piece of paper and sketches a line marked out with chapter numbers from 1 to 11] 

If the novel is this long, and so far this much of it has been put into the games [shading approximately 1/3 of the line]… then for example these parts could go into IV and V [shading further areas], and these into VI and VII. Or, alternatively, end at V. And if locations like Baisha and Luoyang were to be included too, then the end might never be reached.

It could be shrunk by telling some of the story, for example, in dreams, or as flashbacks. Include everything in two more games? Include everything in four more games? I don’t think trying to squeeze it all into just one more game is a good idea though. 

Q: In a recent interview with IGN Japan, you mentioned the idea of a Shenmue Zero. We would love to hear more about this concept, if you have anything to share?

YS: Well, it’s only at the level of an idea at the moment.

Q: If it were to be made, would it take place before the events of Shenmue I?

YS: Yes.

Q: Would it follow Iwao as a young man?

YS: No, it wouldn’t.

Q: I see, so it would probably be focused on Ryo?

YS: [Nods]

Q: Fans really enjoyed the anime. It was unfortunate to hear that a second season would not be going ahead [following the Warner Brothers Discovery merger in April 2022]. Is there still any possibility of a second season?

Key artwork from Shenmue the Animation

YS: Actually, it is my understanding that only Season One had been planned for the anime. Season One was based on Shenmue I & II and developed in conjunction with SEGA, although I also supervised. For Season Two, since the rights to Shenmue III are held by YS NET, our involvement would be needed. In the end, though, the decision for a second season is up to SEGA as they own the original Shenmue IP. And we would of course be happy to cooperate if approached regarding it.

Q: I see, and would it be a similar case regarding the creation of a further Shenmue game such as a Shenmue Zero?

YS: Yes, that’s right.

Q: How did you find the reception to Air Twister?

YS: I think it was received very positively overall, especially people who have played Space Harrier before and found it nostalgic. For younger players, it might have been good to include a “continue” feature.

Q: Was there any difference in feedback from players in the West vs Japan?

YS: The reception from Western audiences was even better than in Japan.

Q: Given its success, would you consider creating a sequel to Air Twister?

YS: Yes, if there is a call for one.

Air Twister promotional image

Q: Could you tell us about any other projects or games you are working on or have planned?

YS: There are lots that I would like to make! As for the current project being worked on, I’m not able to talk about it as it’s top secret… but following that I have about 5 or 6 concepts, from small to large projects. Currently I’m looking for a partner.

Q: Is work being carried out on any of those concepts at the moment, prior to a partner being found?

YS: Yes, we’re experimenting.

Q: Can we look forward to a game announcement at some point this year?

YS: There may be a game we can announce later this year. Maybe!

Q: Earlier you mentioned that Suzhou will be one of the locations in Shenmue 4, this was one of the locations you visited yourself in person back in the early 90’s as part of your China research trip for Virtua Fighter II, wasn’t it?

YS: I’ve been to Suzhou about three or four times. Most recently was around ten years ago, I think.

Q: We have also seen a photo of you outside a Fujian tulou. It looks really big. Do families live inside?

Yu Suzuki outside a tulou building in Fujian

YS: It’s doughnut-shaped. Yes, families live in a vertical section consisting of up to four storeys. The bottom level is the kitchen, then above that are the bedrooms and living rooms, and so on. But the stairs are public.

Q: Oh, so to go from the second to the third floor, for example, you have to go out of the house?

YS: Exactly!

Q: Do you still have the original itinerary from your early 90’s China research trip?

YS: No, not anymore.

For that trip, there were actually two research teams. One went to the mountain areas, and the other on the plains.

Q: Which team were you part of?

YS: The mountain one. We went to Shaolin Temple and Mount Song. Also Mengcun, which is the birthplace of the martial art called Bajiquan, although Shaolin Temple may be more well-known.

When I saw Mt. Song, I shouted, “Oh, Suu-zan!”. [In Japanese, Mt. Song is called Suu-zan, which is pronounced the same as the female name Susan].

Q: [Laughing] Like the female name? My mother’s name is actually Susan!

Yu Suzuki shares a joke with us!

YS: [Laughing] Did you get it? In China, my joke fell flat.

Q: Speaking of languages, can you speak any Chinese?

YS: No… Ni hao!

When I visited the mountains, I met with ethnic minority people there. Deep in the mountains, they speak their own dialect but not English or Mandarin, so we had to use multiple translators. [Gesturing] I spoke, then my words were translated, then once more. A chain of three people.

Q: Literally Chinese whispers!

YS: If you tell a joke, it’s really hard for it to get through. No one laughed!

Q: Was the village you visited in the mountains the basis for Bailu Village?

YS: Yes, it was a Miao Village, but it was the model for Bailu.

Q: Have you visited Guilin yourself?

YS: No, I haven’t. I’d like to go there one day, and also to a place called Zhangjiajie. It’s a place with natural rock formations which became a national forest park in around 1982.

Zhangjiajie in China

Q: The Shenmue fan community continues to show immense support for the Shenmue franchise. There have been a lot of community projects and events such as a recent fan meet-up in Dobuita in January.

Recent fan meetup in Dobuita, Yokosuka Japan

This is also the Shenmue World magazine, with issue 3 coming soon! It will include a complete Chobu-chan Hunt guide.

Sneak peak of cover and a spread inside the upcoming Shenmue World Issue 3

YS: Awesome!

Q: Here is something fun from the community too…

A Japanese Shenmue fan has a Shenmue themed car!

YS: [Laughing] That’s great! Oh, a Shenmue car!

Q: There has also been a lot of fan-made games released recently. This is George Kitchen’s upcoming game. It uses a graphics style matching the Dreamcast games.

George Kitchen’s upcoming Shenmue fan game “Reclaiming the Path”

YS: Ah, it’s set in Guilin.

Q: This is another recent game, which is like a Tamagotchi – a Chobu-chan virtual pet.

Chobu-chan Virtual Pet game available now!

Chobu-chan is very popular with fans.

YS: Oh, really?

Q: Do you follow a lot of these kinds of community projects?

YS: We do check from time to time, and love the great ideas!

Q: Finally, do you have a message for the fan community?

YS: Thank you for everyone’s continuing support. We are ready to create Shenmue IV as soon as the right conditions and opportunity present themselves. I hope to be able to make it happen.

Please continue to invite friends and family and grow the great Shenmue community, as you have been doing. Thank you.

This interview was conducted by James Brown (SkillJim) and Switch ( at the YS NET offices. Joel Tess provided interpretation of our questions to Yu Suzuki and translation of Yu-san’s answers back. Switch also translated Yu-san’s answers for extra clarification in the hope that everything found within this interview is correct, and the best that it can be with nothing lost in translation. We both wish to express our enormous gratitude again to both Yu Suzuki and Joel Tess for making this interview happen, and to all of the Shenmue community who hopefully enjoyed reading through this extensive insight!

Special thanks to Shensun for providing the title banners for both English and Japanese versions of this interview and also Jibby for general support provided.

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