White Day: A Labyrinth Named School was actually first released way back in 2001. It never saw a full release outside of South Korea, so it really is known only by reputation, and what a reputation it has! Often referred to as the scariest game ever made, there were stories that developers Sonnori were flooded with requests from players to tone the game down as they could not bring themselves to finish it. So, it really was a game that a lot of people had heard of, but only a small minority outside of South Korea actually got to play. This all changed in 2015 when White Day was released on iOS and Android mobile devices. With the mobile release a lot of horror fans were hoping a ported full console release would be on the way and, obviously, their prayers were answered. But, would a game originally released in 2001 still have the scare factor it was famous for today? Unfortunately not, but it is still a fun ride.
White Day is somewhat of a new tradition in East Asia. First taking place in 1978, it is celebrated one month after Valentine’s Day, and it is where the men will return the favor of gifts and present them to their love interests. Gifts usually include chocolates, marshmallows, and other such tasty delights. Men can either give their wives or girlfriends small tokens of affection, or gifts can be given by secret admirers like, for example, a newly transferred student going into their school late at night to leave a box of chocolates at the desk of his crush. You play as Lee Hui-min who, on the night before White Day, sneaks into his high school to leave a gift of chocolates and return a lost diary to his secret crush, Han So-young. Straight away upon entering Yeondu High School, you feel something isn’t quite right. Empty buildings at night that are usually full of life during the day always do feel a bit creepy, but this is something different. Trapped in the school with Han and two other students, Lee has to escape the school, all the while learning about the paranormal activity that has taken place in previous years.
When White Day: A Labyrinth Named School released in 2001, I could see why it had the reputation it had. As a first-person horror title, much like the fantastically terrifying Outlast, there is no combat. Lee explores the school, solves puzzles and runs away from the stalking janitor (more on him later). The problem is there is nothing new here, and it just feels a bit dated. The atmosphere created from just the school itself is great. Corridors are barely lit, and classrooms lay in complete darkness until you dare turn on a light. The soundtrack also adds to this atmospheric tension with a mixture of traditional East Asian music with some haunting paranormal sounds. White Day also features the tried and tested horror tools of having random noises behind you and objects hitting the windows. All of this, for a short while at least, puts you on edge so when you encounter the school’s janitor during your escape, it will be a frightening experience.
So, let’s talk about the lovely school janitor. You encounter him early on during your playthrough where you see what he does when he catches students at school after hours. While hiding, you see him beat to death one of your fellow classmates with a baseball bat. After this brutal execution, he becomes the central antagonist throughout. He will patrol the corridors of Yeondu High looking for some more students to introduce to his bat. The first handful of times you encounter him, it will be alarming and at sometimes frightening, but it doesn’t take long for him to go from intimidating to just, well, an annoyance.
The difficulty setting you choose will also determine if you can pretty much avoid him for most of the game. Choosing the easy mode, you will be gifted with a meter that will alert you if he is nearby. Noise attracts the janitor, so when the logo pops up on the top of the screen, simply crouching and turning any nearby lights off usually lets you escape from a brutal death. There will be times, however, where you will have to intentionally get him to chase you. He might be stuck in a stairwell you need to use, so luring him out will become the only option. If you decide to challenge yourself a bit more and go for the hard mode, then this will remove the meter. You will just have to rely on hearing his keys rattling or his footsteps in the distance to warn you of his approach. When he does spot you, it is time to run. Again, Outlast players will be quite comfortable in what to do when his dreaded whistle is blown. There is no combat at all in White Day. You simply have to run and hide. Sometimes this is really easy if there are a few twists and turns to a corridor with plenty of unlocked rooms to go into, other times it may take a while. The first few chases are anxious affairs, but it doesn’t take long before they become routine and extremely annoying, especially when you are attempting to solve one of the numerous puzzles you will encounter and you have that mad bastard charging towards you with his bat.
Due to this essentially being an early 2000s survival horror game, you will, of course, have to solve numerous puzzles before you can escape. Any veteran of the original Resident Evil games will be right at home with White Day’s puzzles. They mostly consist of finding codes and passwords on numerous objects left lying around the school. Your choice in difficulty setting will also determine how many puzzles you will have to solve during your playthrough. Also taking inspiration from Capcom’s genre defining releases, you will need to have good inventory management, and you need to carefully think about your manual saves as you will only have a limited number of pens to save with. Again, the level of difficulty will dictate the number of pens you will pick up during your playthrough.
As previously mentioned, Lee is not the only student trapped in the school on this fateful night. His crush, Han So-Young, and two other female students are also playing cat and mouse with the janitor. Your interaction with these three will also help govern which of the 8 possible endings in White Day: A Labyrinth Named School you will experience as you will be choosing dialogue responses in your conversations.
There is a third type of interaction in White Day: A Labyrinth Named School, and this is by far the best out of the three. There are a lot of paranormal goings on at Yeondu High, and you will occasionally come face to face with some rather scary looking ghosts. These either come in the form of a character model jumping out at you or a random picture of a ghost flashing up on the screen. Ghosts will be hiding in drawers and lockers ready to jump out at you or will look for you while hiding from the janitor. They are solely there to scare you, and some of the animations do look a bit dated, but they provide by far the best scares throughout the game. It really is a shame that during a first playthrough, a lot of these ghosts will be missed. The amount of interaction will again depend on the difficulty setting, if you are carrying a specific item, interact with something, or if you solve a particular puzzle. There are also several ‘boss fights’ throughout White Day. “How can you fight a boss with no combat?” I hear you ask. Well, you use your greatest weapon, of course: your brain. All the bosses are defeated by completing a puzzle. These can range from giving a clay doll to a giant baby who will tear down the school if you don’t to entering a maze the right way. The bosses’ designs are generally great, but again, this being a game from 2001, they can look somewhat dated.
But the most important question: “Is White Day: A Labyrinth Named School still scary in 2017?” For the most part, no. I can see how and why so many people had trouble finishing the game back in 2001, but 16 years later, it just fails to truly terrify you like Outlast or Amnesia can. This doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to play or that you won’t jump once or twice during your playthrough, but really this is more comparable to a teen scream like, well, Scream than say, a truly terrifying horror like Martyrs.
Developer: ROI Games, Gachyon Soft
Platforms: PC, PS4
Release Date: 25th August 2017