In 2001, a little-known game called White Day: A Labyrinth Named School released to a Korean-only audience, and amongst those who played it, many considered the title to be one of the scariest games of all time. 16 years later, this slice of Korean horror has finally made its way to western shores thanks to an English translation and a remake for the PlayStation 4. However, the survival-horror genre has evolved and progressed numerous times since the game’s original release, so does White Day manage to hold up in 2017?
The game takes place on the eve of White Day, a day in the East that celebrates the act of boys giving romantic gifts to a girl of their choosing. Lee Hui-min, the main protagonist, is doing just that as he prepares to leave chocolates at school overnight so they can be found in the morning by his love interest, Han So-young. He sneaks into the school after hours, only to find himself locked inside as the halls and classrooms have become infested with ghosts, monsters, and a terrifying janitor. This leaves Lee with only one option: escape the school grounds by any means necessary.
What appears to be a rather basic premise on the surface becomes much deeper as you uncover documents spread throughout the school that add some much needed backstory. A White Day gone wrong quickly turns into a story of a music teacher who believed he could raise the dead using the power of feng shui spread throughout the area. Alongside a dive into the past, the current events of the game are supported by a basic dialogue system that helps to shape your relationships with other classmates. Although you’re never presented with more than two different options, the choices are given weight as they lead to one of eight different endings. The plot weaves in with the dialogue tree seamlessly, and it helps to create a much better storyline that you come to care about as you interact more and more with the characters that you meet.
The gameplay takes cues from the early Resident Evil titles’ notion of gathering tools and equipment within the environment to aid your progress, and then combines it with the absence of combat you’d see from an entry in the Outlast series, as you must avoid enemies by either running away or taking advantage of hiding places. To progress through the game you'll need to find magical seals that unlock new sections of the school, and it’s the two aforementioned mechanics that will make the act of finding them a much tougher ordeal.
Puzzles can either be fairly straight forward and easy to solve, or incredibly vague and convoluted. Some can task you with simply adjusting a collection of clocks to the correct time or figuring out a safe code via looking at a collection of war medals, and then there are some that require an understanding of the Chinese language in order to be solved. There’s no natural progression to the difficulty of the puzzles, and this can become a huge hindrance if you’re left baffled at one of the first hurdles.
The other stumbling block to your progress is the presence of enemies, whom become even more frightening due to the lack of a combat system. The main antagonist comes in the form of the school’s janitor who will relentlessly stalk you for the majority of the game. He comes equipped with a baseball bat and a torch, and the rattle of his keys are enough to send a chill down your spine every time you hear him coming. Three hits from him results in death, so he’s most definitely one to avoid.
However, this can provide quite the challenge even on the normal difficulty setting, because at times his behaviour can be a little unfair. The janitor will regularly hear your footsteps from two to three floors away and come searching, which means you’ll never really feel like you’ve got any breathing room. Some may see this as a positive as it means you’ll never feel truly comfortable in your surroundings, but when this is combined with the fact that the caretaker can literally walk through locked doors - something we witnessed ourselves - it starts to feel overly harsh.
And this brings us on to one of the most important questions surrounding the game: is it still scary in 2017? Unfortunately, no, it’s not. A huge amount of tension is built up by the soundtrack and a combination of audio effects within the environment such as bangs behind you and knocking on the window panes, but there is very rarely any sort of payoff to this in the form of a scare. Sure, the janitor is absolutely a horrifying figure, but once he's chased you a couple of times, the shock factor begins to wear off and he starts to become more of an annoyance than anything else. The custodian does have some support in the form of bosses spread throughout the school, but we’d never actually describe them as terrifying. Much like the entire experience, they’re weird, bizarre, and surprising, but we would not define White Day as scary 16 whole years after its release.
This then brings us on to the fact that this is a remake of a 2001 title. The remade graphics are of course not on par with today’s standards thanks to this release being a fairly low budgeted project, but the style the game goes for actually compliments this somewhat. The clean, minimalist approach to characters’ faces helps to embellish their emotional expressions when they’re in a tough spot or meeting someone for the first time, and this, supported by a fair English translation, makes you care for the plight of certain figures that little bit extra. There is the odd misspelling, poorly constructed sentence, or incorrect use of grammar, but overall it gets the job done to a decent standard.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School may not be the king of fear and terror anymore, but it could still be a worthwhile experience for horror fanatics. This blast from the past certainly brings with it a lot of baggage such as the clunky puzzles and glitchy AI, but it has enough intrigue to it that we’re still left pondering its story and themes long after the credits rolled. White Day is most definitely not a remake for everyone, but those wanting to take a trip down memory lane may leave somewhat satisfied.