The Ghost of the Ghost Hall Building


published on 7/21/2018

I'm not even sure why I had picked up Shenmue originally, maybe it was a Game Informer magazine or some kind of Dreamcast demo disc. It was early 2000, and the game was just released. After a number of hours playing it, I realized that I was playing the future. There were really only two moments which gave me this experience. When I was playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Ecco the Dolphin and NHL '94 for the Genesis one day, and the next, I'm in Resident Evil 1 getting chomped in half by a giant snake. The second and final time was when I realized you could leave the Hazuki Dojo in Shenmue and there was a living, breathing world to explore. So I played it and loved it, I won't go into the details of that, but it was a magical experience in my gaming career.

Fast forward to continuing the story with Shenmue II. Shenmue II's North American Dreamcast version was cancelled in favor of an Xbox version. I blamed Sega of America executives for this, for giving up, and I opened tech support cases with Microsoft Xbox support to troll them, asking brazenly "how much Billy Gates dropped on the table to kill the DC version?" I was quite obnoxious about it. There was an unfortunate corporate stance by Sega during this time in my opinion.

As Sega continues its platform agnostic strategy here, our direction is to work with the right partners that allows us to bring our content to consumers as quickly as possible with the right support behind it. And there are some instances, such as our relationship with Sony in Europe and with Infogrames, that allows us to do that with the lowest cost possible. Shenmue 2 is an example of working with Microsoft with them and their marketing budget to bring that title to the US market with a respect to marketing programs it deserves and a great partner. Unfortunately that would mean there will be a cancellation of the Dreamcast version and Shenmue 2 will ship in the Fall of 2002 for Xbox. Our concern at the moment, the forecast that we got back from retailers for Shenmue 2 on Dreamcast wasn't big enough to make this title popular for us; it wasn't covering our cost by miles! And Sega can't afford to continue to go down the path in coveting games that makes us unprofitable. By working with Microsoft, we have a great partner that's going to put in a lot of expertise in development and a great marketing program to make this title successful by using the Xbox technology to improve the quality of the game. I hate the fact we're going to have to delay it by a year, but the game will be stellar, it will be brilliant, and I'm much more interested in focusing on building a business to continue making this type of content for the next generation of platforms going forward. And that is a passionate plea from the soul of Sega; that's not me as a spokesperson spinning you, that's what we believe in. And I'm saying this with passion to you because that's what we believe in and that's the truth behind this. There's no other hidden truths here, that's the real reason."
-Charles Bellfield, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Corporate Affairs for Sega of America

I knew I needed to play Shenmue II somehow, and I wasn't going to wait a year for some Xbox port, since I don't own an Xbox (and never will, because of this, to this day) So, I imported the European version, and got it running using a boot disk.

This was very late 2001, December. I successfully got the European version running, but between the lack of the main protagonist's (Ryo) English voice dub, and it running like junk on the Dreamcast, actually, I didn't prioritize playing it.

I made it quite far into the game, up to the point about 2/3rds in, when Ryo is in a location called the Ghost Hall Building.

What's housed in this building is no good for anybody.

Ryo is tasked with getting across deep chasms in a condemned building by walking across a large series of planks. You're then given a string of quick-time events, pressing left or right as directed on screen, so that Ryo keeps his balance and makes it to the other side. They kept throwing this function at you over and over, maybe 6-7 times at least.

I kept dying on one section in particular (you lose your balance and fall to your death), and it was annoying. So between me having trouble completing it, and I believe I also had to go outside and clear a recent snowstorm (it's December of 2001 remember, pretty early for snow), I decided to stop for now and come back to it after I went outside.

The exact spot I left off, before shoveling the driveway.

After I shoveled the driveway I must have eaten dinner, maybe I went onto another game for a while, I had a PS2 at the time and good games were coming out for it. Then I started playing DDR a lot with a friend, and we played a lot more, and then I met a girl and we dated, and moved in together, and she went to college. That inspired me to go back to college, so I went and got two degrees, and re-entered the workforce in 2010, had some other relationships and then worked for a few years and met another girl, and we moved in, got married, and was living my life.

I had thought every now and then, like once every few years, that I still didn't know how Shenmue II ended. My personal incarnation of Ryo was still waiting on a cliff's edge, waiting try and cross those stupid planks one more time. By mid-2017, a combination of four factors aligned themselves:

  1. Shenmue III was unexpectedly announced at E3 2015.
  2. I made GD-ROM modifications to my original Dreamcast to allow it to play legal backups (I had since sold off 99.64% of my 1,115 game collection to help pay for college. So that I could play Dreamcast games on original hardware again. (My 1,115-game collection on Completionator is itself a ghost of my old pre-college game collection, only existing now in ROM format and in my brain.)
  3. I modified my Dreamcast with VGA to HDMI-out devices to play on modern TV's.
  4. The impending feeling of having children soon, and to "get gaming things cleared up" (though my wife insists that I don't need to do this.)

So in July 2017 I finally sat down and started from scratch on Shenmue II. I secured a special Dreamcast version that someone meticulously edited to insert the English dub from the Xbox version into a European Dreamcast version. I did this to help my immersion into it.

As the days and weeks passed and I was getting further into the game, I recall seeing the Ghost Hall Building in the game's world, but couldn't access it yet. I wondered if that was the building I left off at. (I had since forgotten the name of the building with the planks.) I remember an exhilarating feeling as I knew I was getting closer and closer to the point at which I never made it before. And then I finally got to the planks.

I took my time, despite that I was now 38 years old and not 23, and my tastes have changed a little, and my life's changed a whole lot, and my reflexes are slower. I crossed those planks with the patience of an adult in contrast to the gamer rage of a kid not really going anywhere in life.

I beat Shenmue II on a Wednesday, August 9, 2017, nearly 16 years after I started playing it. As I loaded up my old memory card and saw my old game save from a previous life, it was a glimpse back to who I was back then, in another life. The ghost was hidden from me in a Rubbermaid storage container for over 15 years, and I finally revealed it, here it is:

The Ghost of the Ghost Hall Building

When I beat the game, I sort of got the intended cathartic feeling of completing unfinished business that I hoped to get after such a long absense. What if it didn't snow that day back in 2001? What if I sat down and finished the game back then? Would it have mattered today? Would I have replayed the game today? Does any of it really matter?

With our first child on the way in December 2018, it's going to be really interesting to see when and how I play Shenmue III. I could be stuck in a village's puzzle and have to change a diaper, and then mow the lawn, and then cook dinner, and Ryo spends then next 16 years on my hard drive, stuck in what is essentially and symbolically a locked room, along with the ghost of my gaming past, but the Ghost of the Ghost Hall Building won't be there to taunt me, that one has been set free.

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