Ahead of its time
A game so scary players emailed the developers imploring they make it less frightening so they can beat it, or even horrifying enough to drive them to suicide? Such stories developed around this game similar to the mythical Polybius arcade game. The former I still see posted around the web, with people citing the emails as the reason multiple difficulty levels were created with different amounts of scares, the latter not so much.
I could not find definitive proof that either was true, but with those stories and a lack of a release outside South Korea, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School developed a cult following and gained a reputation as one of the scariest games (somewhat) available at the time despite being relatively unheard of. Now it’s not only been given a full, official localization treatment including English voice-overs, but the game has been remade with new semi-modern graphics and animations.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School (PS4 [reviewed], PC)
Developer: ROI Games, Gachyon Soft
Release Date: August 22, 2017 (Europe-PS4: August 25, 2017)
ROI Games has done a fantastic job on the remake, not only having the game run very smoothly and consistently with shiny new graphics, but fixing all the bugs and glitches people had trouble with in the original game. The PlayStation 4 version is cleaner and has better textures than the mobile version of this remake which released back in April, but not by a lot (which is not a bad thing, in fact I’m surprised how they managed to make a game like this on a phone).
It’s no Until Dawn in the graphics department, looking like it could work on a PlayStation 2, but the stylized design looks great and captures the feel of the original. Some of the ghosts still feel a bit dated in their model and animations, and a few seem a little too clean or cartoon-ish, but those are negligible nitpicks at worst.
In White Day you play as a Korean male student who has a crush on a beautiful girl named Han So-Young. To both return a diary she dropped and give her a White Day gift, he follows her into the school at night, which is haunted to say the least. Inside are two other girls and based on choices you make with the three girls, you earn one of eight different endings. New to the remake is a section of gameplay that unlocks if you get the best “White Chrysanthemum” ending with So-Young on hard difficulty and get “certain collectibles.” It probably includes the pig-tailed girl seen in trailers, because I never encountered her in the main game.
Weaponless, the core gameplay revolves around solving puzzles while avoiding an insane baseball bat-wielding janitor and of course, ghosts. The ghosts are mostly just for scares; the janitor is your only real threat as he hobbles around the school halls with a flashlight and whistle. If he sees you, you must run and duck away to hide in a room or perhaps a bathroom stall. Most of the ghost scares are entirely optional, many you’ll never ever see without a guide telling you exactly how to see them which is a bit disappointing since it’s the best part of the game.
Difficulty changes various things, including the janitor’s AI, how dark the game is (null with brightness options), number of felt tip pens (needed to save a la Resident Evil ink ribbons), and help. On hard you don’t get hints on your phone, and you don’t get an eye on your HUD telling you when the janitor is nearby. Certain ghosts and puzzles are only available on higher difficulties, so you will miss out if you play on easy. Even if you play on hard though, many of the puzzles are as missable as the ghosts.
Throughout the game you will find miscellaneous inventory items as well as interactable objects which serve as a puzzle, but in my playthrough many were left undone. It would warrant more playthroughs to see all the ghosts and solve all the puzzles, but the core gameplay of avoiding the janitor, which involves a lot of just sitting and waiting for him to pass or running in circles til you find a room he doesn’t follow you into, isn’t worth it.
Longtime fans of the game will vehemently disagree, but the janitor is really not that scary after the first encounter or two. He becomes nothing more than a nuisance, especially when he seems to love staying in the stairwells which is the hardest place to lure him out of while not getting caught. It feels like you’re fighting the game at times. He is so difficult to avoid on hard difficulty that I became frustrated to the point of quitting and started over on easy, sacrificing the extra scares and new content.
I don’t know what the puzzles I didn’t solve amounted to (some I couldn’t even access, likely due to the difficulty setting), but I achieved 35% of the ghosts and watched the rest on YouTube from the mobile version. Turns out most of the ones I saw were on the critical path, only discovering one or two optional ones on my own. They are good scares, far spookier than the janitor ever is, which makes it a shame that they are locked behind certain difficulties and are hard to find without explicit instructions.
To be fair, a large reason those optional scares are spooky is because they are optional and you can just stumble upon them, which makes you feel more vulnerable than when something scripted happens in a story cutscene. Having a lot more isn’t quite the answer, as too many would dilute the effect of building tension, which this game does excellently with great sound design. A ghostly threat would be better than a janitor though.
Your experience with this game will be greatly improved by A) playing with headphones, and B) not turning the brightness all the way up. I never played the original so I can’t compare, but there is a nerve-wrenching ambiance throughout much of the game. Sudden banging on the window or sounds of objects moving or falling seemingly right by you never let you feel safe. They sound great and terrifying, but they repeat regularly and never manifest as any real scare or threat, so in ways it feels a bit cheap.
When you have to adjust the brightness to make some logo barely visible when starting most games, it tends to make the game too dark. The same is true here, but I advise you not turn the brightness up so high that you can see everything perfectly; you’ll be robbing yourself of a creepy environment.
Puzzles are a mixed bag of both unique and clever, such as getting a combination from medals, as well as familiar like changing a clock according to one of your many, many notes and documents. There is one puzzle that really helps if you are familiar with Chinese characters (or Japanese kanji), which will require a bit more thinking if you don’t and I’m curious to see how people deal with it.
The cool thing is that all the puzzles and combinations change on each playthrough, so according to the game description you can’t just look them up in a guide. Though at times when stuck a certain combination was exactly the same in a video as in my game, so either not all of them randomize or there are not many possible combinations.
Reading about the old game, I saw many claims of bugs and glitches, but I encountered almost none. Near the end when I had to trigger an event to get a pair of keys, I died from the janitor, reloaded, and then suddenly I couldn’t get the event to trigger again no matter what I did. I couldn’t progress until I loaded an earlier save and did it all again, but that was it.
The choices with the characters aren’t particularly deep. They don’t need to be overly elaborate, but with multiple endings, affinity score, and unlockable costumes I feel there could have been just a bit more. I can’t speak for the extra section after clearing the best ending on hard, but the endings aren’t particularly satisfying, like the story overall. It functions to put you in a scary environment, which is enough I suppose.
In any case, White Day has some good scares and decent puzzles that you have to play hide-and-seek to reach, but it doesn’t quite live up to its legends. In 2001, it was probably one of the scariest games in existence, and you can’t fault it for not matching modern horror heights, but in any era the backtracking and waiting for the janitor to pass over and over isn’t the greatest gameplay experience. Still, this will do the job if you can’t wait til Halloween for a six- to eight-hour ride.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]