Ever hear of a horror game called White Day: A Labyrinth Named School? It’s okay if you haven’t. The Korea-only title released way back in 2001 for Windows. 16 years later, a remastered version has been released for the PlayStation 4, following a mobile port two years ago. Have Western gamers been missing out all this time, or is this one game that didn’t really need to be dug up after such a long absence?
A Trusty Engine
White Day was re-created using the Unity Engine. Perhaps owing to the age of the original game (the original Max Payne came out that year, for reference), the graphics are not going to make your PS4 break a sweat any time soon. This does mean the game keeps a high frame rate throughout the experience, but the simplistic physics and lighting on offer here also mean puzzles and encounters are limited in their interactivity.
While some horror games try to scare you with grotesque visuals, oftentimes the scariest games include things which you can only hear, but cannot see. White Day does a fantastic job at providing a nonstop feed of unsettling noises. Playing with a good set of headphones or surround sound at high volume is recommended for full effect. Walking up to a keypad, only to hear someone (or something) knocking at the window behind you, when you’re already on alert for a homicidal janitor is unnerving the first time it happens, and even when you know it’s coming. Hiding in the dark is a valid way to stay safe, but is fraught with its own psychological challenges – you’ll hear voices come and go, and the soundtrack ramps up the tense music whenever danger is nearby.
In White Day, you play as Lee Hui-min, a new transfer student to a high school in Korea. Your crush accidentally left her diary behind, so you use that as an excuse to sneak onto campus after hours in order to return the diary and perhaps leave a gift for the annual celebration of White Day, a holiday in which men give gifts (usually of chocolate) to women as a show of affection, one month after Valentine’s Day in which the reverse occurs. Naturally, this being a horror game, all is not as it seems in the high school, and before long Lee is sent running from a crazed janitor who is apparently nice during the day and homicidal at night. Isn’t that nice of him to wait until the sun goes down?!
The story in White Day includes branching dialogue. While many of the horror-laced cutscenes are jump-worthy, the interactions between Lee and the other students can be groan-inducing. You are forced at certain points to choose between two vaguely-worded choices, with moral ambiguity. Even though these conversations don’t have much substance to them, they apparently mark your path leading up to eight different game endings. It’s hard to tell which way the story is going, until the very end, which may feel kind of cheap when you compare this aging game’s story mechanics to the subtler branching storylines of today’s games.
Plenty of games have different difficulty levels. Most simply increase enemy health while decreasing the player’s, but the experience generally stays the same. White Day changes things up not only by decreasing the player’s health, but also by increasing the number of paranormal encounters at the school. At the same time, fewer hints are given out as the difficulty level is increased – at Normal and above, your cell phone will not work, and no text message hints will come in. To top things off, the number of felt-tip pens you’ll find are decreased, which are used for saving progress.
Choosing a difficulty level is something that many of us don’t really think much about when starting a new game. Often, if we don’t like the way a particular difficulty level feels, we will choose a new one on the spot. Sadly, this is not a feature in White Day. The difficulty level you choose at the start of the game is the one you must stick with. Your only recourse is to start an entirely new game. Furthermore, there are also only a handful of save slots. While White Day’s ambiance has survived the test of time and still manages to frighten, its antiquated way of handling difficulty mechanics is stubbornly stuck in the past.
Another mechanic popular in many horror games is puzzle solving. White Day features these in spades. Often, Lee is tasked with finding a passcode to a lock, which can only be discovered by taking in his surroundings. Since this is a port/remaster which has already seen release on mobile platforms two years ago, there are a few guides and video walkthroughs available on the internet. However, any puzzle that involves numbers or symbols is randomized with each new game. So, while a random walkthrough on the internet may show you the general way to solve a puzzle, it will ultimately be up to you to figure out your exact permutation. This is a feature rarely seen in games, and something we could certainly use more of.
White Day’s puzzles may delight some, but others may be frustrated by the necessity to comb over the schoolgrounds in order to pick up key items. The game’s lower-resolution textures don’t really help things – I often had to back-track to areas I was sure I had searched every corner of, only to find out that what I thought was part of the floor texture ended up being a key to the only door I had yet to unlock. Key items do project a glint of light every so often, but unless you’re moving your view slowly, you might miss it as the glint occurs on a slow regular basis. Then again, if you’re not looking for a handout, then this is a mechanic you won’t mind dealing with.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is worth checking out if you’re into horror games. While the main story is a bit simplistic, and it is far too easy to overlook a key item resulting in unnecessary time spent back-tracking, White Day has a perfectly terrifying ambiance. A campaign length of 8-12 hours is also justified by its $29.99 USD asking price. Sure, some of White Day‘s mechanics may be stuck in the past, but there’s a certain charm in being limited in the number of saves you can have, and experiencing new and exclusive horrors at higher difficulty levels.
White Day A Labyrinth Named School review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.