Shenmue III Out November 19: Interview With Yu Suzuki

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Shenmue III Out November 19: Interview With Yu Suzuki

The legendary designer talks about meeting fan expectations, past projects he's most proud of, and forklifts.

Shenmue III releases on PS4 on November 19 — that’s less than three weeks! — continuing the story of one of gaming’s most influential series. We had a chance to speak with Yu Suzuki, the legendary designer whose name is attached to dozens of titles including Virtua Fighter, Out Run, Daytona USA, and After Burner — and who more recently (relatively speaking) directed the original Shenmue, its 2001 sequel, and now Shenmue III.

Read on to learn about Suzuki san’s plans for the Shenmue series, the projects he’s most proud of, and what he really thinks of forklifts.

PlayStation.Blog: Can you tell us about how you got your start in games, and how that led to the development of the original Shenmue?

Yu Suzuki: At first, I was aiming for a job as a system engineer of large computer system at the time and had some interviews, but I also took one interview for a video game company—that company happened to be SEGA. As the interviewer was intriguing, I decided to choose SEGA. My earlier works focused almost exclusively on arcade games where gameplay time is rather short, and the impetus came when I found myself wanting to do a home console RPG where I could take the proper time to get messages across.

PSB: Is Shenmue III planned as the final game in the series, or have you explored the idea of continuing Ryo’s story in the future?

YS: The series will not end with Shenmue 3. Rushing to tie up the plot here would have made for a flat game. And I hope to continue the series as long as people are interested.

PSB: Revisiting PlayStation’s 2015 E3 press conference announcement, it’s still emotional watching videos of fans’ reactions to the announcement of Shenmue III. Looking back four years later, what kind of effect did that outpouring of fan support have on you, or on the development of the game?

YS: I made the game with that image of joyful fans always in mind, and it made Shenmue III grew in scale and quality. I feel confident that we made an even better Shenmue game.

PSB: You’ve been directly involved in some of the most influential games of all time over the past 35 years, including Outrun, Virtua Fighter, Daytona USA, and, of course, Shenmue — among many, many others. Looking back, what are some of the projects you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?

YS: That would be the Virtua Fighter and Shenmue series. And I really hope that now with Shenmue III, it will again find a place in the hearts of everyone who plays it.

PSB: Are there any secrets you hid in any of your past games that remain undiscovered?
YS: Yes, there are. (But they remain secrets.)

PSB: Having been such a prominent figure in the gaming industry since its inception, are there any trends or technology you’ve seen develop that you’re particularly curious about or interested in?

YS: Brainwave sensors, holography, AI, automobiles and foldable screen devices would be a few.

PSB: What is the emotion you hope players feel immediately after finishing Shenmue III? Do you think most players will have a similar reaction to it?

YS: It would be nice if players felt like coming back from a journey. If you hurry through the game, there is a good chance it will just stress you out. Rather, by taking your time, the experience will be one of trying all the different things the game has to offer.

PSB: The original Shenmue was seen as an advancement both in terms of technology and storytelling. Did you approach that game’s development from the technological or narrative side first? What about with Shenmue III?

YS: Many of the times you want to do something new, it necessitates new technology and taking on new challenges. With Shenmue III, there were again new challenges we took on.

PSB: What’s something you think Shenmue has contributed to the overall DNA of the gaming industry, be it a specific mechanic, a way of telling a story, including arcade-faithful ports of retro classics, or something else entirely?

YS: After Shenmue I & II, the word “open world” came about. In that one world, there were lots of different game elements you could have fun with. Many people have said that kind of style had a big impact on games to come, and for that I feel highly honored.

PSB: How has the combat system of Shenmue III evolved since you first began the project?

YS: To make the combat system of Shenmue III fit as an RPG game, we needed to make the battle engine from scratch. The system is designed so that even if you are someone who is not necessarily good at fighting games, by raising your level you can be confident that you can move the story along. People who are used to the VF2 engine, for example, may not feel enough, but this is how I feel it should be evolving in Shenmue.

PSB: Has your perspective on forklifts changed at all in the past 20 years?

YS: Why does the forklift get singled out for so much love and attention? That fact is still beyond me. (laughs)

PSB: Can you tell us about the development of the soundtrack for Shenmue III? Did you follow a similar process to that which you did for previous games in the series?

YS: This time around it may seem like there are not so many new songs, but we did add a lot of new ones. I hope everyone looks forward to them.

PSB: What’s an example of a small detail in Shenmue III that you think will enhance players’ experience with the game?

YS: I would ask everyone to take your time to play and not hurry through. When you come upon something you like, just stop and hang out for as long as you like, trying all things the game has to offer. For example, if you’re someone who doesn’t like gambling, try it in Shenmue and you may just have fun.

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  • I can’t wait for Shenmue 3!
    20 years in the making and it’s a unique series that deserves a lot of attention.

  • I’ve been wishing for more Shenmue since the first two were released, and i can’t believe III is almost here. Backed the Kickstarter the second it went live and has been following its progress since, and i’m so excited to get to play it soon. I hope the series lasts for many more installments to come.

  • Thank you Yu! I am so excited to play!

  • Yeah, it is almost finished. Fantastic.

  • Shenmue 2 came out in 2001… 18 years later, Shenmue 3 is about to release, and it won’t finish the plot of the trilogy? Big mistake. You should complete the story and then look to the future for other storylines instead of stringing fans along for who knows how many more years to experience the conclusion.

    • I’m divided on this.

      I loved the old games, and they felt less like watching a traditional story like a movie or book with a beginning, middle, and end, but felt more like living in another person’s life. In that sense, I could keep playing enjoyable games in the same vein for awhile.

      But in support of your points, I look at games like XenoBlade and Xenosaga, where the dev had a grandiose 18-chapter series planned out, but always ran out of budget and momentum by the second game. It is human nature to have difficulty to drive a project steadily to an ending, and Yu Suzuki could easily retire before making a 5th game. Shenmue 1 was a system seller, but incredibly expensive, the 2nd game saw limited release (I had to import a European version and a special boot disc, and I don’t think the XBox version sold well), and it was extremely difficult for any team to want to take on the third game. Also, I like a long game, but viewing the series as one long game, adding new allies and sub-bosses under Lan-Di eventually starts to feel like the goal post is moving away as fast as we progress towards it, and putting more stuff inbetween feels like padding.

      It totally could have been concluded in this third game without feeling “flat,” and the narrative strength might benefit from the focus. Just do the whole “Your father wasn’t perfect, Lan-Di and Father had a history that mirrors you and Wuying Ren, you have a lot more in common with Lan-Di than you expected, and at a critical point Shenhua Ling helps you make a choice to take the Golden Path instead of repeating the cycle of the path of darkness and becoming like Lan-Di.” If that had been successful, Suzuki-sama would have the capital and momentum to adapt his original 8-chapter (or so) saga to spin off characters, maybe pick up where Shenmue II left off but you play a prequel as Lan-Di or Iwao Hazuki and continue what would have been Ryo’s story, or have Ryo and Lan-Di suddenly working together to resolve the legend of the jade mirrors.

      Future Shenmue games are going to completely rely on this game capturing NEW players, making MORE sales than Shenmue II and maybe Shenmue I, which is difficult for a story-based RPG in its third entry. Many nostalgic fans and I really want to buy this game and see how the story plays out, and I count myself as a really big fan (Imported the second game from Europe and a converter just so I could play, bought a leather jacket and the same time watch, learned Japanese in school, contributed to the Kickstarter too), but I’m concerned Suzuki-Sama may not be taking this extra and possibly final chance seriously enough.

  • I backed the Kickstarter and the Limited Run Games Collector’s Edition! Shenmue III and Death Stranding will make November 2019 one of the greatest gaming months ever for me! So happy and excited for these games!

    And if anyone from Sony is reading this, thank you so much for having Yu Suzuki out on your E3 stage to give his Kickstarter the promotion it deserved! Keep building that fan list! Keep supporting the gamers, and we’ll stick with PlayStation long term!

  • Is it recommended that I play the first two Shenmue games before I play the 3rd?

    • I would think it would help pull you into the story more but I believe there is a lengthy recap included with this one. I was hoping to replay them before playing this but haven’t had time so now I’m not sure if I should still try to or just jump into the third part.

    • There will be a big summary to help new players in Shenmue 3, so it just depends if you want all the details of the story or if you’re satisfied with the broad strokes. I’ve jumped into third entries before and found I was able to get into the story of the game just fine (Witcher 3, Kingdom Hearts 3).

      It’ll take around 45 hours to play through both. They are my favorite games ever made, so obviously I think it would be worth your time to play them.

    • Well Cusman, I think that’s a personal choice, greatly depending on where you set your expectations. It’s a story based game, and I always like to experience that in-game rather than through a movie, but it will include a MGS4-like video that will introduce all the characters and plot points (no side quests). No major spoilers ahead, but here’s an idea what the game was like:

      Generally, the first game mostly feels like a detective story, searching for leads on the martial artist who kills Ryu’s father in the opening cutscene. Though it’s a revenge story, Ryu doesn’t rush aggressively from fight to fight… everything is set in his 1986 Japanese hometown and a nearby harbor (2nd half).

      Some things may not have aged well and might bother someone mainly seeking story or karate. The plot is mostly believable and there’s lots to do, but it is a longer game. On the Dreamcast, the D-Pad was used for tank-movement style controls, and the thumb stick was for freely looking around and inspecting things. Some of the animations are a little weird, like how people’s teeth seem to move separately from their jaws, but it never goes to Mass Effect Bug Eyes territory (IMO). The fighting system is fairly deep, but there’s only a few scattered skirmishes and boss fights in between a lot of scouting around (the last fight is the biggest and most satisfying), asking questions and looking for people and things. Also, the game is like 2 decades old… so the textures aren’t HD, the voice acting is about as good as anime from that time, etc.

      However, the dev team put in some amazing amount of work (and high budget) into this game, and that can be appreciated even today. Many firsts or popularized mechanics are in this game: cutscenes you can participate in via button and move prompts, you can explore the town and talk to everyone as they go about their schedules throughout a dynamic time and weather system, and there are many mini games and period appropriate retro arcade games. The team used motion capture for almost every animation, from 3 mastery levels of each fighting move to drinking a hot coffee can from a vending machine, making people seem less stiff. The cast and variety of voice actors is huge. Playing the game feels like a vacation to another culture and another time. The fighting system is deep, and though sparring/practicing can feel grindy sometimes if you want to improve the efficiency of your moves, you do become very familiar with the different fighting moves available and appreciate the new moves that unlock. Some boss fights are very challenging (at least when I was a kid), but the last 100-man battle makes you feel like the star of a martial arts movie!

      The second game continues the story and gameplay formula. Set in China, there are larger towns to explore, and more NPCs, more unique locations with landmark features (a couple martial arts dojo’s, more martial arts masters to find and learn from, more ways to gamble money), though some of the cut-paste textures are more obvious. In a nice touch for Dreamcast (and maybe the remaster?), your martial arts mastery can mostly be imported to the second game, though there’s higher levels of mastery available and many new moves to learn and find. The last section of the game may be divisive… it feels less like an urban revenge tale, instead Ryo seems to step into a legend in a beautiful rural setting, and you spend a lot of time walking and talking with one companion down a linear path, and at the very end, there’s suddenly a little “magic.” If you love action and player agency, that last section might seem really slow and end on a cliffhanger (18 years of teasing asdfghjklsjskakdhkaskfs!!), but for a 12-year-old unmedicated ADHD me, after all the in-game focus on learning the way and lifestyle of peace through martial arts mastery (ironic, right?), it felt like a reward after a long journey.

      I have a friend who tells me that the Yakuza series is the spiritual successor, but I think Yakuza is more of an over the top game that doesn’t take itself seriously, like the Saints Row series, while Shenmue and Red Dead Redemption are immersive.

      If you have the patience for an 80 hour journey set in the past, I would definitely say it’s a classic and worthwhile gaming experience. There’s a reason the game has such a loyal and long-lasting fan base. I played through the first game like three times, and I may pick up the remaster for PS4 to relive the whole experience (I’m afraid my DC copies will die due to CD rot, need to find out how to back them up somehow).

  • It’s a dream come true for this game to finally be coming out. I can’t wait for November 19th!!

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