Shenmue has been in the SEGA fanbase spotlight for many years, and its particular gameplay and storytelling set the milestone for upcoming generations of open-world titles. Sadly the story was left unfinished at the time, but thanks to this year’s Shenmue III Kickstarter success, the flame has been reignited for all of those who wanted to see the story go on.
Occasionally, SEGA throws some official merchandising once in a while (like the Insert Coin Ryo Jacket or the First 4 Figures statues), but it’s clear, Japan always gets the most of it. Among that, there have never been proper book releases about Shenmue outside Japan, they even have a marvelous artbook with lots of info about its development.
In the spirit of this, “Héroes de Papel”, a Spanish videogame book publisher, released what has become the only and most complete book about the history of Shenmue for the western market ever released to date: “La Odisea de Shenmue” (translated: “The Shenmue Odyssey”). SEGA Nerds approached its authors, Ramón Méndez González and Carlos Ramírez, two Spanish University Master degree teachers. The interview is as follows:
Hello Ramón and Carlos, we thank you in advance for taking the time to answer our interview, let us start by telling how thrilled we are that such a complete book about Shenmue like yours has been released for the Shenmue western fans. That being said, let’s start this!
(SN) Marcin: Looking at the content index for “The Shenmue Odyssey” book, it’s clear how much effort has been put into it. How did this book come to be?
Carlos Ramírez: It was a proposal from our Publisher, Héroes de Papel (Paper Heroes). I had already spoken many times to Ricardo Martínez (one of Héroes de Papel’s editors) about this game I liked so much, but it never occurred to me that this could have a commercial use of any sort. One day Ricardo came over with the idea and both of us thought it would be great. We wanted to take advantage of Shenmue’s European first entry release 15th Anniversary, which celebrates this season, as an excuse to launch it, but at most we wanted to write a book about a game we were so fond of. There’s nothing better than writing about what you like for making sure something goes right.
Ramón Méndez: When I was told about the possibility of getting on board the Project, first thing I thought was: “Why there isn’t more written published material about this cult game around?”. So I did not hesitate, I joined the project, Shenmue is one of my favorite games and I still consider it an honor that we have become one of the first to be able to publish a book like this for western audiences. Precisely, the fact of this being a passionate topic already, made this book easy to do, as if it became written by itself, it made very clear what we wanted to tell since the very beginning.
(SN) Köpke: As you stated before, “Heroes de Papel” is already a videogame book Publisher, which is very fortunate for a topic as Shenmue, we lack of books about this in the west, practically all of them have been Japanese only releases, hence the big importance of this. Did you guys aim to fill the gap for the western fanbase?
Ramón Méndez: As we already stated, the book publisher wanted to push for a product like this. Héroes de Papel is still a young book publisher, but with very clear ideas, and as such being targeted to videogames fans as us, they clearly know which are the right buttons to push to reach the readers. Since the book’s production was greenlighted, the only thing that we were focused on was to offer the reader a book we could want on our hands ourselves. So, based on the feedback reactions of those who already have read it, it seems we have accomplished our goal, as long as the Shenmue loving fanbase is satisfied, we’ll be satisfied with the work done.
(SN) Köpke: As it we previously stated, looking back at the topics and how much effort was put into the book… How complicated the research process was? We know sometimes SEGA might not be that open to make some information public. Did Yu Suzuki help on it?
Carlos Ramírez: SEGA did all they could to make “The Shenmue Odyssey” easier for us to publish and we thank them for their support. Though, the ones who can give better answers to this are the editors, they did all the “internal” negotiations for the book.
(SN) Marcin: How did you guys decide what was the most appropriate content for the book? Which one was your favorite while you were at it?
Carlos Ramírez: The index was all Ramón’s thing. Dude did it in minutes! I think we barely touched it since he sent it to us via mail. It was like he already thought about it before we even started the book! My favorite parts were chapters 6 and 7. I did not have a very clear idea how to board them at first, but ended being the ones I learned the most about. I like when work research process implies learning so much, especially about history and culture.
Ramón Méndez: As I stated before, when you have been following a franchise around 15 years and replayed a lot of times the title around that era, you already know what are the most important things that have turned the game into the milestone it is today. Hence, it became about fitting that available information into the editorial benchmark limits. I think my favorite (chapter) was the Yu Suzuki interview. It may sound weird that my favorite moment about the book’s production might not have to do that much with us directly, but he was always a role model to follow and not being able to speak to him during my time as specialized press was a stitch that I was finally able to remove.
(SN) Köpke: The book contains a deep analysis about the game, its gameplay system, characters and personal experiences. As you both are University cathedratic professors, how much did Shenmue influenced you to make this academic jointure to happen?
Carlos Ramírez: I think Ramón and I never wanted this to become an academic book, but we didn’t want it to become a fan exclusive book either. Personally, I have tried to imbue rigorist work, in all seriousness and exactitude, without trying to use obscure and annoying language. Academic people don’t know their limits, you can get surprised sometimes about how far can they get relating ideas and authors that appear to have nothing in common. I didn’t want to do anything like that with this book. I wanted people to know at all times what I was talking about.
Ramón Méndez: It was a subject we discussed at the beginning and I think we achieved finding a perfect balance. It is a serious and well documented book but also light and enjoyable to read. Suitable for the biggest Shenmue fans but also for those neophytes about the franchise who want to discover it reading our book. We have put a lot of effort into it, as Carlos said, in creating an enjoyable text, complete, educational, fun and, at most, centered on a fundamental element: communicate by word all the deepness and feelings the game is able to convey through screen.
(SN) Marcin: As Shenmue fans, what was your favorite part about the series?
Carlos Ramírez: By replaying both I have discovered that my favorite sequence is the one on the Dojo’s basement when Ryo is searching for the Phoenix Mirror and discovers all those Iwao Hazuki life memories. It is a moment full of nostalgia and mystery. You start to feel the main character barely knew his father, which scares a little.
Ramón Méndez: I’m romantic so I have a special weak spot for Nozomi’s story. The first time I played I missed many of her scenes, I started to root for Ryo and her to be happy. Each time I replayed the game I found new scenes, like the one in the park. Her painful departure to Canada, parting ways, suppressed feelings in spite of the loved one’s own good during a hard time… I find superb the fact that a game’s secondary plot can become so real, so felt and convey so much to the player. It is a part of what makes Shenmue so unique, small things are not just a tone, but an essential importance and great transcendence in the character’s development. Unbeatable.
(SN) Köpke: The book has a complete Yu Suzuki interview and a prologue by Cédric Biscay. How did the approach with them take place?
Carlos Ramírez: The idea at first was to do an interview at Japan. I traveled to Tokyo last year by chance and Ricardo suggested to contact him there. In the end it became too complicated for me, I was too busy preparing my trip and the appointment with Yu Suzuki required a transalator to be present at the time.
Ramón Méndez: Funny thing about it is I didn’t know the publisher was contacting them already. After Shenmue III’s announcement everything became crazy. The new setting made us to go back over an already closed text work and opened the stage to contact new people we never dreamed about being able to speak to. While everything was building up backstage, the editor wanted to give us a surprise, I was sending my CV and messages to both Shibuya Productions and YSNet to offer my Spanish translation services for Shenmue III (my main job is as a videogame localizing producer). When we were noticed about having both for the book, I didn’t know what to do after nailing such a “lucky hit” turn, I’m pretty sure millions of Shenmue fans have already requested this from them for a trillion of different things already. Luckily, everything turned alright and it’s been an honor (and a dream come true) being able to have both for the book.
(SN) Marcin: Now, we know it’s a bit complicated to ask for spoilers, but for those like me who only speak English and are not able to read the book for now, could you explain what the Yu Suzuki interview in the book is focused about? It certainly has piqued our curiosity.
Ramón Méndez: The interview is focused on what Yu Suzuki expects for Shenmue III and some aspects of the saga we found interesting to be commented. In reality, it has been really hard not to repeat anything he has been asked before on these past 15 years.
(SN) Marcin: The book contains a special chapter dedicated to E3’s Shenmue III Kickstarter announcement. Did you know this was going to happen beforehand?
Ramón Méndez: We didn’t know until everybody else, in that same E3. We were following all the rumors, as everyone else, and Yu Suzuki’s “Forklift tweet moment” made us imply some puns about the announcement. As for the same industry itself, all of the sudden the scene changed so we had to rewrite some parts of the book, we added “the Shenmue III case” and, as we stated before, took a chance to contact people we thought it would be impossible to reach before June. It was worth it, of course.
(SN) Köpke: Which were your reactions when you knew about the Shenmue III Kickstarter? And also when you knew it reached its goal and was really going to happen?
Carlos Ramírez: It seemed to me as if it was never going to happen. It was the first E3 were I wasn’t expecting anything Shenmue related and… when you become totally unaware, things happen. I just don’t know why there were some people heavily criticizing the Kickstarter topic. I think it was terrific and the only thing I regret is how this wasn’t done before. As many, I didn’t expect the campaign to have so much success. Though, I have to point out I didn’t like that much the trailer shown at E3. Luckily, the latest work in progress published images have shown a big improvement on the characters look, they seem a lot more to what one can imagine for a contemporary Shenmue.
Ramón Méndez: In my case, I never lost faith. I have spent almost a decade stating in the internet that, as many other fans, Shenmue III was going to happen, it was just a matter of time. Every New Year’s eve, I celebrated the “Year of Shenmue III”. Somehow, it was a tradition I just lost, I’ll have to switch it for the “Year of Panzer Dragoon” or something else. But it was a marvelous announcement. I wasn’t fully paying attention to the conference. But the moment the Shenmue theme started to play I jumped right outta the couch. I started to cry when the logo showed up on the screen. It was an inevitable instinct act, fruit of being 14 years waiting for this game to continue, just as I narrate on the book’s 10th chapter, it changed my life. Waiting for years, anxiety, and hope will finally took form on a magic night. A lot of people started sending me text messages without knowing anything about the book. I must have been one of the first to throw money at Kickstarter, it was around the 2000 dollars range at that time when I pledged. It was pretty obvious the goal will be met, that didn’t surprise me. Hence, I was betting it would reach the 7 or 8 million benchmark, so it was quite shocking it didn’t reach those amounts. All the first week scandal weighed a lot on the project. Luckily it has become a reality and I have no doubt Shenmue can work better now than in the past and that the tentative Shenmue IV Yu Suzuki wants will be financed on its own. It is just missing an extra little push with a Shenmue I & II HD release.
(SN) Köpke: Now, the book has been out just for a couple of days at Spain and it has already made some international news noise among fans. Did you guys expect such a quick reaction? How do you feel international fans are excited about your book’s existence?
*Being in Spanish the book will be able to reach over 42 countries that speak the language.
Carlos Ramírez: I never saw that reaction coming! I can assure you I was more surprised by the foreign fans reaction that the same Shenmue III announcement (a thing, that sooner or later, was going to happen anyway). I deeply thank all the support it has received. I just hope they keep supporting after reading the book. 😀
Ramón Méndez: It’s an honor to receive such hype. We don’t want to wake up from this dream were our name is being spoken along the franchise. As Carlos points out: Now is the time to see if we are up to the reader’s expectations!
(SN) Marcin: So… about that… Are there any plans for an English version release, or any plans to bring it to other languages? C’mon! Fans need this!
Carlos Ramírez: We can’t confirm anything for now. Only the publisher knows what the future holds for the book outside Spain. We know most of you would like to see it on other languages, like French or English, but outside what the book is all about, can’t speak for sure about anything else for the time being.
Ramón Méndez: It would depend from other countries publishers interests, at most. As a translator, I find the chance to be able to translate it incredible and I would love the moment to happen so all the interested parties can fully enjoy the book, but it is something beyond our control as authors.
(SN) Köpke: To wrap things up: What do you think would be Yu Suzuki’s legacy to the video game industry?
Carlos Ramírez: I think Suzuki-san is a living example of patience, effort, and dedication. He has shown everything is possible even if it looks improbable; in life, and work at most, one must have patience, thank for being able to live day by day and trust in things going well for the future. His commitment to Shenmue and his fans, his optimism… I think that’s the most important legacy he’s leaving as a very creative human being.
Ramón Méndez: At most, never lose passion for what you do. Only a few creative people have so clear ideas as he does and know how to fight with such intensity for them. He deserves what is happening and I hope Shenmue III opens the doors for him to keep revolutionizing the market as he has done several times until today.
(SN) Marcin & Köpke: We congratulate you both for publishing this book! We hope it can reach even more people! And that we can see more language releases for it soon. We thank you again for taking our questions, and we wish you even more success.
Carlos Ramírez: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.
Ramón Méndez: Thanks a lot!
If you would like to get your hands on a copy, you can click here to do so. The normal edition of the book costs 23€ while the limited edition is going for 25€.
Sega Nerds, 2015.