Deep Silver and Ys.net are prepping for the release of Shenmue III this fall on PC and PS4. The long awaited sequel to the 2001 outing on the Dreamcast and OG Xbox will release in multiple regions, including China. However, the Chinese version is already reportedly undergoing some localization changes leading up to release.
Given that we’ve known that Shenmue III was going to arrive in China since as far back as March, 2016, no one should be too surprised that we’re starting to see some of those localization changes manifest in the new trailers. However, I’m sure a few of the changes will leave people scratching their heads.
According to Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad, instead of being set in Guilin, China, it’s now set in a fictional town of Xilin, China. Also, Ryu is no longer from Japan but simply a “foreigner”. Ahmad included the new Chinese trailer based on the “A Day In Shenmue” trailer that originally aired at GamesCom this year in Cologne, Germany.
The Chinese publisher of Shenmue 3 released a subtitled version of the Japanese trailer. Some changes have been made, clearly so it is inline with regulations.
– The game is set in Guilin, China > Now set in a made up place, Xilin.
– Ryu is from Japan > Now from a foreign place. pic.twitter.com/rzwilZQMTB
— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) September 16, 2019
So why the changes?
Well, China and Japan still aren’t on the best of terms. Having the hero hail from Japan might be frowned upon by the censorship officers from the Ministry of Culture, and obviously Ys.net would want to avoid raising any eyebrows from the Communist Propaganda Department, which oversees how content is allowed to be depicted in media that’s published or distributed in mainland China. Making Ryu from a “foreign place” means that there’s less geopolitical baggage attached to the character.
That’s not to mention that China recently underwent some major overhauls in video game licensing and content curation, with censorship policies being hiked up a notch to reduce any kind of negative influences on the mainland’s population.
Ahmed also poses a question about potential changes being made during the localization process for the Chinese audience regarding any mention or depiction of Hong Kong in the game.
Games must receive approval from a gaming regulator in China before they can be distributed in the country. Game publishers and developers do follow strict guidelines, but also make pre-emptive changes.
I wonder how they will change Hong Kong given the current situation there.
— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) September 16, 2019
For those of you who don’t know, the mainland is currently locked in a vicious civil showdown with protestors in Hong Kong. Attempting to display Hong Kong in a positive light could be seen as anti-socialist propaganda by the Chinese State party.
Hong Kong was a prominent location in Shenmue 2, and Ryu spent a significant amount of time there. So it will be interesting to see if Ys.net and the localizers make changes to accommodate the current political turmoil unfolding in the region or if they will stick to their guns and feature Hong Kong in all its uncensored glory?
Now if you think that these changes aren’t that big a deal, keep in mind that anti-State propaganda is handled with very serious repercussions in China. For instance, Chinese publisher Indievent had their publishing license revoked because Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games included a crude but harmless joke about Chinese President Xi Jingping in their horror title, Devotion.
Circling back to Ahmad’s point, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see any direct mentions of Hong Kong in the game since, according to DualShockers, it will be distributed on PC via WeGame, which is Tencent’s digital distribution service in China. It should go without saying that Tencent is a stickler for the mainland’s rules, even going so far as to completely transform PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds into nationalist propaganda to promote the Chinese military. It’s even rumored that Tencent has direct ties to the State party, as reported by Quartz. This makes it highly unlikely that the Chinese mega-publisher would let anything through on Shenmue III that might jeopardize their reputation or put their publishing status at risk.
Alternatively, Shenmue III’s PS4 release in the mainland will be handled by Oasis Games, a Chinese publisher who has been responsible for releasing a number of PS4 and PSVR titles in the mainland for the last several years.
Meanwhile in the West, Deep Silver will handle the launch of Shenmue III on PS4 and PC. Unfortunately for PC gamers, they’re forced to deal with a year-long exclusivity contract that Deep Silver signed with the Epic Games Store, which spawned all kinds of strife related backer refunds.
Anyway, Shenmue III will release on November 19th, 2019.
(Thanks for the news tip anon)