Over the past few months I have been working on a project previously alluded to in other posts – a database providing a definitive list and guide for all of Shenmue III’s characters. Today I am finally ready to release the completed database – you can download it via the link below:
Below, you can read about how I obtained the necessary images/information to complete this project, and some of the challenges along the way – in short, I wouldn’t have been able to if not for the efforts of the fan community in general – as always, our crazed obsessiveness and persistence pays off! As ever I am proud to contribute something to the community and hope you find the database itself and the ‘making of’ I’ve documented of interest! Enjoy…
Way back in 2012, I finally completed my long-running project, the Shenmue II Character Database. This project aimed to catalogue all 700+ characters in the game, using information sourced by various Japanese strategy guides, that was never translated or made available in the West. Using the help of various members of the Shenmue Dojo forums to obtain scans of these books, as well as translations of each character name, I eventually finished this project. Back then, the prospect of a Shenmue III ever materialising seemed more and more unlikely, but I was still happy to see the project through to completion.
However, everything changed in 2015 when Shenmue III was finally announced, as a Kickstarter game. After the initial exhilaration and joy had calmed a little from this monumental announcement, I did ponder if one day I would end up putting together a character database for the third game as well!
Facing numerous delays and some content unfortunately having to be cut along the way, the game finally came out in November of 2019. I had booked two days off from work especially to enjoy it on release day (in the long 18 year gap between games, I had rather inconveniently become an adult with responsibilities to bear!), and was giddy with excitement upon starting the game up for the first time. While the game is widely agreed to ultimately be a bit of a mixed bag, with little plot progression and not feeling quite as epic as the game before it, it was still unbelievable that a game with such scope and beauty had been made on a Kickstarter budget. Despite some of its flaws, I largely enjoyed the game and gladly took on a second playthrough after completing it to mop up the trophies I had missed.
It was during this second playthrough that my thoughts turned to creating a Shenmue III Character Database, much like my one for the second game. On first inspection, this seemed it would be an easier task than it was for S2, as not only are there less characters overall, but the names of NPC’s are actually seen on-screen when you get close enough to speak to them – a new feature for the series. This is probably just as well, as in the long gap between the second and third games the internet had risen in popularity and accessibility, meaning strategy guide books were not considered as vital as they once were; meaning there were no such books released for S3 to rely on for character information. This in-game feature already made the task to catalogue each character a bit less daunting.
So as I proceeded through my second playthrough of the game, I kept a notebook where I documented each NPC as I encountered them in the various different areas of Bailu Village and Niaowu. One thing I did have to be aware of however, is the fact that certain characters only appear at very specific points in the game. For example, a lot of characters are only seen during certain sidequests, and then never again. Take the ‘Capsule of Love’ sidequest, where a young boy tasks you with getting certain capsule toys, so he can sell them and get money for some medicine for his sick grandfather – you find the boy with his grandfather at the end of the quest, but you can only encounter him at this specific point. Given I was aiming for the trophy that’s awarded upon completing all the sidequests anyway, I made sure to pay particular attention to the unique characters exclusive to them. There are also certain characters who only appear in cutscenes, so I had to make sure not to miss them as well. Added to that, some characters are only added upon downloading DLC for the game.
I then created an extremely basic spreadsheet based on my notes (pictured above), with separate tabs for both Bailu and Niaowu. I inputted the location each character could be found in, so I could then filter and reference for easy to access information. I used this to then create a more elaborate spreadsheet, akin to the one I created for S2. I also created a separate word document with each character listed and numbered, discovering there were exactly 317 named characters in the game.
The next challenge I would face would be obtaining head-and-shoulder portraits for each character – there was no strategy guide I could rely on for scans this time! I had a lightbulb moment for how I would do this for the Niaowu shopkeepers and vendors however. Each of these characters is represented in-game on a ‘shop card’, which can be obtained if you find the hidden ‘Chobu-Chan’ character in their shop. I realised this would be a good source to obtain character portraits for a significant number of NPC’s in the game overall. So I created a topic on the Shenmue Dojo forums asking if anyone would be able to rip these images directly from the games. Tech wizard member LemonHaze gladly obliged and sent me the files. However, they appeared to be in a strange aspect ratio compared to how they are seen in the game itself…
So I had to re-size each one so they better resembled how they appear in the game itself – a somewhat onerous task, but I was determined! I then cropped what I needed for each character from the images, for use as reference images in my database:
This meant that images for a good chunk of the characters was sorted. However, I still needed to obtain images of the Bailu Village characters and the various other NPC’s found around Niaowu. A lot of these I was able to obtain by taking screenshots as I watched Dojo owner Peter’s wonderful playthrough videos of the games:
This was an excellent resource to obtain character images, but there were still a fair few I needed to get. Realising that the PS4 gives you the ability to record video of your gameplay to then upload onto YouTube, I loaded up the game and set about on a whistle-stop tour to get footage of these remaining characters. If you are interested, you can watch the footage below:
With this footage I then freeze-framed and print-screened as necessary in order to obtain decent images of all the other characters. While time-consuming, this ended up actually being sort of a fun endeavour! It made me think of the snapshot feature in the Xbox port of S2, where you had to take photos of certain characters to unlock bonus content.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
As I mentioned, while the majority of NPC’s in the game have their names appear on-screen during gameplay, there are an awkward few where this does not apply.
One of the most confounding parts of this project in particular was determining the names of the thugs in both the Blue Spider and Red Snake gangs. While the leaders’ names are easily identified, it was a lot trickier for their right-hand men, as while the four of them are all named anecdotally in conversations with other NPC’s, it is not made clear which one is meant to be which!
Therefore, I had to do a bit of detective work to make sense of this, as documented previously on the blog:
As mentioned in both of the above posts, there is an internal file which lists the names of every character in the game. This proved useful in making sure I hadn’t missed any, but also raised some questions as I found several names that don’t appear to match anyone identified in the game. I assume these may refer to various minor characters such as the Red Snake thugs besides Xiang and Lu, or perhaps even Lan Di’s three henchmen seen near the end of the game. While I’ve attempted to root through the game’s files to see if there’s any way of matching these names up with the right NPC, I’ve not had much luck with this thus far. However, I was able to identify one particular character…
Pictured above is a phone card that can be obtained in the game, which features the lady that very kindly took Ryo’s bag as he and Shenhua got off the boat arriving in Niaowu. This character is only seen during that one cutscene, so we don’t see her name flash up like the in-gameplay NPC’s.
With the combined power of the Google camera translate app and some searches for Chinese text on Google itself however, I was able to determine that the card refers to this character as Zhang Xiaoying – which matches one of the mystery names listed in the internal game file!
While there are many other names I have not been able to conclusively match to any NPC seen in-game, I will endeavour to find out if there is anything concrete linking the names with certain NPC character models/dialogue files etc. – and if so, you can be assured the database will be updated! The case of above for Xiaoying was a bit of a fluke due to her being identified on the phone card. There are after all a handful of characters left who are unnamed in the game itself, such as the other Red Snake thugs and Lan Di’s henchmen as previously mentioned, and also the two thugs who Ryo encounters in ‘The Greatest Fortune’ sidequest…
Going back to characters who are named however – during the Story Quest DLC, there are certain NPC’s who only appear when you are searching for Zhang Shuqin, who has disappeared. I thought I had found and catalogued all of these NPC’s, and I indeed found that they were grouped together in the internal character list. However, one had apparently escaped my notice!
Given the proximity to all the other characters involved in this DLC to the list, I knew that this one had to be around somewhere. Luckily I had a Niaowu save file where the quest could still be triggered, so I loaded up the game and did a sweep around the city to find this mystery NPC. Eventually I found him – in the Diner Jet Shin burger restaurant in New Paradise, seemingly trying to charm the female owner, Yang Honghua:
As before, I recorded video so I could then upload to YouTube, in order to screenshot images of the character:
And with that, I had managed to obtain images of every named character in the game – showing just how valuable the internal character list was in ensuring I didn’t miss anybody! Thanks again to LemonHaze for sharing this valuable document with me, as the database could not claim to be complete otherwise.
From there, it was simply a matter of adding each character and their portrait to the spreadsheet, split into sections to cover the main characters, and then the various locations in Bailu and Niaowu, and finally the members of both the Blue Spiders and the Red Snakes. I was also able to determine a few extra details for some NPC’s, thanks to the great work of SalsaShark and his articles posted on phantomriverstone.com, all certainly worth a read:
I was also able to get some clarification on how some characters are related to each other within Bailu Village – a lot of the characters are actually part of a larger family, some of these relations only made clearer through easily-missed conversations. By combing my way through the game’s files and finding the text related to NPC conversations, some things became clearer. While some family relationships are still unclear, I’ve added every detail I’ve been able to unearth within the character descriptions.
And that, as they say, is that! I hope you find the database to be a useful resource, I was determined to create a full character listing with images and details. The only real drawback is that, unlike the first two games, we are not made privy to certain details for most of the characters in any official material, i.e. their ages, birthdays, blood types etc. This is a shame, but I have included these details we were already introduced in the first two games, such as Ryo, Shenhua, Ren etc. A select few NPC’s actually do tell you their age in the game as well, so I’ve detailed this where relevant.
Thank you again to LemonHaze, Peter and SalsaShark for your assistance with this project, whether directly or not. (and Switch for your assistance with naming those pesky Snakes and Spiders!) The material and documentation you had already completed made this undertaking a lot easier. It is a testament to the tireless efforts and downright obsessiveness of the Shenmue online community that I have been able to complete this. Here’s hoping that Shenmue IV will eventually materialise one day, and that I will end up creating a database for that as well!