More substantial content will be coming, I can assure you; but I just wanted to share on here a project I completed in 2012 (but had been working on since about 2003!) – the Shenmue II Character Database , which compiles profiles on every single character in Shenmue II – a lot of this information was previously only available in Japanese guidebooks, and it took a lot of effort and collaboration with others in the fan community to translate and put all of this information together. I hope you’ll agree the end result was worth it! I’ll likely be referring back to this database as I dig into the trivia and little known facts about Shenmue II’s characters in future posts on the blog 😉
You can download the database here (also includes scans from the Shenmue II Perfect Guidebook)
It is also available to view online, many thanks to Giorgio of the Shenmue Dojo for providing this:
Below you can read a little history and background on the project and how it came about (originally written in 2012 – before the shock announcement of Shenmue III). I’m sure you’ll agree it is a testament to just how dedicated and persistent this crazy ol’ fanbase is! Enjoy…
HISTORY OF THE SHENMUE II CHARACTER DATABASE PROJECT
Ever since casting my eyes upon screenshots of Shenmue published in the (now defunct) UK magazine Computer and Video Games, I have been absolutely enthralled by the series. This game was definitely something different. As the famous tagline proclaimed in the trailers before its release – RPG had changed. Sure, hailing the game as being its own exciting new “genre” with a somewhat silly acronym as its name (FREE- Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment) was being a tad overzealous perhaps, but you had to admire Yu Suzuki’s ambition for this game. When I finally got to play it on the Christmas morning of 2000, it did not disappoint. The atmosphere created was just amazing to me – a realistic, living, breathing town with over 300 individual characters – all with their own specific daily routines and, in supplementary materials, all named and given detailed biographies! Throw in the fantastic music and the engaging (if not completely original) story and you really had something special. And this was only part one of the saga…
Bundled with the game was the ‘Shenmue Passport’ disc. Through the Dreamcast’s internet connection, this enabled access to all sorts of information about the game, as well as ranking leaderboards for the various mini-games and the chance to get exclusive capsule toys. One of the best features was the character profile section however; as you met and conversed with the characters during a playthrough, their profiles would gradually be added to the Passport. Now to some, giving all 300+ characters names, stats, and biographies may seem extraneous, (especially given characters that Ryo can’t even speak to have detailed information about them!) but it really shows the love and care put into the game by the developers and the amount of depth to Shenmue that few games have matched.
The Passport service was eventually taken offline in April 2002, but thankfully the character profiles had also been published in Prima’s strategy guide book for the game, so the information was still readily available to fans.
Which brings us to the sequel game, Shenmue II – which I got the following Christmas in 2001. This sadly could end up being the last game in the series, despite it ending on a cliffhanger and at a game-changing point in the saga’s story. Nonetheless, the sequel’s world was even bigger than the first’s– Ryo travels to Hong Kong to continue his quest, with most of its areas completely dwarfing Shenmue I’s in terms of size, as well as the amount of characters – around 700. There was also a lot more mini-games and sidequests to discover, and fans generally agree it is more action-packed and that the plot moves a lot quicker than the first game (though some will argue Shenmue I’s atmosphere has more charm)
And what of these 700-odd characters? Were they all named and profiled as per the original game? As it turns out, yes – but these were not readily available to the fans outside of Japan.
Firstly, unlike the first Shenmue, there was no Passport. There was no Prima guide either, as the Dreamcast version had been cancelled in America. America eventually saw an updated version of Shenmue II on the Microsoft Xbox, and a Prima guide was finally published. However, unlike the Shenmue I book, there were only profiles on the main characters; Ryo, Shenhua, Xiuying, Fangmei, Ren, Joy, Wong, Lan Di, Dou Niu and Yuan. The Xbox version, with the new snapshot feature, did include profiles on some of the other characters; unlocked when you took pictures of them, but it didn’t come close to having profiles for all the characters. Would we ever know the names and backgrounds of the reams of anonymous characters?
A FAN EFFORT
Shortly after I had completed Shenmue II, I looked around on the internet for fansites/information about the series, ultimately finding the excellent Shenmue Dojo website. I joined the forums, and this was in fact one of the first message boards I signed up to on the internet. My handle on the forum was (and still is) ‘Miles Prower’, as I am also a long-time fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog series of games (and Sega games in general). I made a lot of good friends through the Dojo community and have many fond memories associated with the forums. I think between us we have probably discussed every single aspect of the games to death, but as many fans will attest, you find or notice something new with every playthrough of these wonderful games. Not to mention the very active hacking/modding scene that developed, mostly headed by longtime member LanDC, in which reams of unused content was discovered and many interesting and or humourous modifications made to the game. I still get a warm nostalgic feeling every time I watch LanDC’s Road to Amihama videos in particular.
And indeed, the question of whether detailed character profiles existed for Shenmue II’s cast was raised in discussion. In a thread from 2003, a member named Eek the Cat shared some scans of a guidebook he owned published in Japan called the Shenmue II Perfect Guidebook. The scans showed that there were indeed names and profiles for each and every character.
Eek was even kind enough to put all of the scans together on a CD for me and mail it to me, and even threw in a couple of audio CD’s he had compiled containing music from Shenmue II (sadly the second game never had any official soundtracks released).
The problem? Being that this book was from Japan, the character names were in Chinese and the information in Japanese. Through discussion in the topic, another forum member called khien agreed to help with translating the character names as she could read Chinese. And so began the effort to translate the many character profiles. I began by gradually posting them within the topic, and then eventually creating a website (which, thanks to Web Archive, you can still view here, albeit with most of the images missing). Continuing into 2004 and beyond, progress was quite slow, mainly due to me starting university. Khien’s life ended up becoming quite busy as well, but thanks to the efforts of another forum member, Oda Ryo, the translation work still continued. The forum member Kiyuu (possibly Japan’s biggest Shenmue fan, and often referred to as the ‘Shenmue Queen’), also informed me that another book existed, the Shenmue II Complete Guide, which contained profiles for characters not included in the Perfect Guidebook; namely those for the many pedestrians who wander the streets of Hong Kong. I made the effort to acquire this book myself and make scans for the remaining profiles.
RESURRECTING THE PROJECT
As the years went on, however, my free time became less and less. I studied for three years at university and after graduating in 2008, I was working full time; in short I was growing up. It was also looking increasingly unlikely that a Shenmue III would ever emerge. Life went on. However, my enthusiasm to complete the project was somewhat fired up again when Peter from the forums (who most likely owns the biggest Shenmue collection in Ireland) got in touch with me on Facebook asking if I was still working on it, as the Dojo staff had managed to get an interview with one of the voice actors for the English dub of Shenmue II (a very interesting read by the way, which can be found here), and they had requested that video clips be assembled of the characters he voiced, which he supplied a list of – but only by name and brief descriptions. Using the information from my project I helped with finding some of them. I then found myself wanting to get the project finished once and for all, and got back in touch with Oda Ryo who happily assisted me with getting the remaining names translated. I had also spoken to the member ‘thegreatchai’, who had also been attempting to catalogue the character information on her wiki site, and over time we assisted each other greatly. I began transferring the information to an Excel spreadsheet with the intention of creating a complete database of all the Shenmue II characters – which after assembling a numbered list I discovered there are exactly 700 – surely a deliberate intention of the creators? At any rate, after a few months work the project was finally finished. I am glad that this information is now easily accessible to Shenmue fans, and while some may consider me obsessive or downright insane for pursuing with the project, it was worth it for a game series that I love so much and one day hope will be continued in some form. We can but hope. The saga may still go on….
(And of course in 2015 – the announcement came that it would – with Shenmue III.
So…expect to see a Shenmue III Character Database in a few year’s time, maybe? Who knows? 😉
-Stuart / Miles