We smiled, laughed and even cried when legendary Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki announced Shenmue III on Sony Computer Entertainment’s stage at E3, and during my latest trip to Tokyo, I had a chance to talk with the man himself about the game, and on what we can expect in the future.
Suzuki-san talked about many interesting factors like gameplay, what kind of romance we’ll find in the game, the relationship with Sega, the platforms, technical elements like the use of Unreal Engine 4 and the tentative frame rate on PS4, and he even gave some uplifting details on how a talented fan like Nocon Kid joined the team behind the title.
Without further ado, you can check out what he told me just below.
Giuseppe: First of all, thank you for your time. We are very honored to be able to ask you some questions in person. How is development going?
Yu Suzuki: It’s going very well. We’re currently testing the Unreal Engine 4. We’re also undergoing testing for maps of the three areas that will make up Shenmue III.
G: How is the process of improving the character visuals since the early prototypes proceeding?
YS: They are being improved. Also, the person who originally created Shenhua, is collaborating with us on her character. Thanks to him, Shenhua is looking a lot cuter.
G: Will there be many new main characters introduced in Shenmue III that never appeared in previous Shenmue games?
YS: Yes, of course there will be.
G: Do you have any hints about those characters?
YS: There will be many new characters. There are the four main bosses. There will be Lan Di from the previous games, and two more fighters. One of those is an extremely beautiful and sexy, but cruel woman. I briefly introduced her image in Shenmue II, but in Shenmue III she will have a proper and extensive role. The last one, on the other hand, is strategist using more cunning than head-on fighting.
G: Personally, I feel that modern games lack a bit in romance, which is baffling considering how deeply rooted it is in other media like movies and anime. How important is romance going to be in Shenmue III?
YS: Yes, it will be an important topic in Shenmue III, and I will try to portray the differences in how men and women think in the game.
G: How extensive is the weather system going to be? Can we expect the whole range between sun and snow? Will it be dynamic?
YS: Yes, it will be dynamic. I would like to improve the quality compared to Shenmue II. Also the mornings and evenings, the lighting of sunsets and sunrises will be really beautiful.
G: The game is partly set in the depths of a mountain region. Will we be able to explore every part of the map and actually climb those mountains, or there will be areas we won’t be able to reach?
YS: There will be areas of the map where you cannot go like in Shenmue II, you won’t be able to explore everything.
G: Could you explain what the “AI Battling” part of the seven million stretch goal entails?
YS: It’s a system that will make the character respond intelligently to the commands given by the player during battle. With simple commands you’ll be able to execute complex techniques.
At this point Suzuki-san showcased how it’ll work visually, showing that if the player and the enemy are not correctly aligned, pressing the punch button without the system would cause the player to hit the air, punching straight in front of him. With this intelligent system, the character will perform steps to dynamically align with the enemy, coming at them with a hook motion.
Another example shown by Suzuki-san involved a situation with a wall close to the character and the enemy, with the character jumping on the wall and then punching the enemy in mid-air in a movie-like attack. You can enjoy his demonstration in the video below.
G: Besides the AI Battling, What are the biggest changes to your new vision for combat compared to the previous games of the series?
YS: Controls will be simpler than in the past, and combat will be more cinematic. It will look more like a movie.
G: Lately, you mentioned that Chai is going to return in Shenmue III. That surprised many within the community. Can you share more details on how is that going to happen?
YS: That’s a secret for now (laughs).
G: 2017 is still quite far. Are there any plans to tide fans over with the release of Shenmue-related content? For instance, some developers release short stories…
YS: There are no plans for short stories for now, but we will release new information to our backers once a month.
G: Have you ever thought of an anime to recap the story of the first two games?
YS: I have, but the rights for Shenmue and Shenmue II belong to Sega, so it isn’t just my decision.
G: Having worked in the voice acting field in the past, and having seen work on sequels or remakes of old anime series, I’m quite interested in the issue of older voice actors returning to new productions after their voice has changed, and sounds considerably older than the characters they need to portray. Would you prioritize getting the original voice actors back for each character, or do you prefer to employ younger actors that might sound more fitting to the part?
YS: For women, there’s no problem, because their voices do not change much. For men it’s different, because their voices do change, and it’s not just that. It’s been fifteen years since I created Shenmue and Shenmue II, so many voice actors actually retired.
Some voice actors have been requested by the fans, so I’m trying to bring them back, at least those whose voice did not change much.
G: Is Sega involved in any way in the project, or they just gave you the rights to create the game without being involved at all?
YS: It’s difficult to explain. I am the one who created Shenmue, so Sega allows me to take decisions for the game. They trust me because I know more about the workings of the game more than anyone else.
G: Was it difficult to convince Sega to let you create Shenmue III?
YS: There were no problems. Sega is very helpful and collaborative with me. They hope the best for Shenmue III. I actually still work for Sega as an adviser, so we have a very good relationship.
G: Is the game being developed first on PC or on PS4?
YS: It’s not so simple. The prototypes are being made on PC, but then production shifts to PS4, and then to PC again. It’s like PC, PS4, PC. It really depends on which phase of development we are in.
G: What frame rate are you aiming for on PS4?
YS: For the moment, I’m thinking about 30 frames per second. 60 might be too difficult, but I’m not sure yet.
G: What dictated the choice of Unreal Engine 4 for the game?
YS: It was the portrayal of colors, the shaders and the rendering engine. They’re close to the image I have for the world of Shenmue III. Unreal Engine 4 allows me to portray what I think the humidity and the smell of the world should be. If you see a scene in the desert, you will feel the dry air of the desert. I feel that I can bring those abstract qualities of climate and atmosphere to life using Unreal Engine 4.
G: Xbox executives talked about Shenmue quite a bit in the past over social media, and that’s why I was quite surprised to see the deal with Sony. I honestly expected to see you appear on Microsoft’s stage at E3. Was there any contact with Microsoft in the past year about making the game for their console?
YS: I’ll let you use your imagination on this one (laughs).
G: Do you play any games nowadays?
YS: I don’t really play other games, because if you play games it’s too easy to be influenced by them, and even if it is unintentional, one ends up losing their originality. On the other hand, I’m watching movies.
G: Are there any movies that inspired you?
YS: For instance a Chinese movie named like Reign of Assassins [by Chao-Bin Su]. I really liked the fight scenes in that one. But there are many. There’s also Interstellar, and quite a few old movies like Casablanca and Roman Holiday.
Since you asked about romance, for the game I’m drawing inspiration more from old movies than from new ones, like Casablanca and Roman Holiday, and their idea of pure and platonic love. This is what I want to portray.
G: That’s why you’re going to implement phone calls between Ryo and Nozomi?
YS: Yes, and Americans look at Ryo and wonder why he’s not doing anything (laughs). I’m also watching many action movies like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. I really love Bruce Lee.
G: I heard that you hired Kid Nocon that created a Shenmue HD Remaster fan project to work on Shenmue III, how did that happen?
YS: Kid Nocon is a big fan of Shenmue. He recreated the image of Shenmue in Unreal Engine 3. Because of that I asked him to work on Shenmue III, since his work on CG was really high quality. Many fans already knew about him.
I met him during a lecture I had in Korea last year. I knew that he was Korean, and I wanted to meet him. He came to my lecture. During the autograph session afterwards, he introduced himself and I invited him to have a coffee together.
Nocon Kid told me he wanted to help with development and that he’d come to Japan as soon as I called him. After the successful Kickstarter I called him, and he came from Korea to come join us.
G: That’s a great story. So now he moved to Japan?
YS: Yes, now he lives here.
G: To conclude, would you like to give a message to the fans that followed you faithfully for all these years, and that can’t wait to play Shenmue III?
YS: We are really doing our best to create a great game, so hope you will continue to show your support for us.
Shenmue III‘s crowdfunding is still ongoing, and at the moment of this writing it’s sitting on $6,402,184, which is quite close to the stretch goal that will allow Suzuki-san and his team to implement the AI Battling system showcased in this interview. If you want to help with funding, you can do so here, and find the game’s official website here.
Full Disclosure: the editor in charge of this article is among the 70,188 gamers who backed Shenmue III, and he’s damn proud of it.
[Interpretation by: Valeria Costarella]