White Day: A Labyrinth Named School
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Steam
Release Date: August 22, 2017
Price: $29.99 USD
When White Day: A Labyrinth Named School released on PC in Korea way back in 2001, it was widely considered one of the scariest horror games of all time. As Lee Hui-min, a new transfer student returning to school after hours to return a girl’s lost journal, you find yourself trapped on campus with a few of your fellow students. The school itself was once a hospital used during the Korean War and rumored to be a concentration camp for political prisoners during the occupation, which, of course, resulted in torture.
With nasty spirits said to be haunting the halls of Yeondu High School, and a violent janitor stalking the halls with a baseball bat, Lee and company have their work cut out for them if they hope to survive the night.
In many ways, White Day reads off like a brilliant horror title that could have existed during the genre’s glory days on PS2. There are tons of notes scattered about which give insight to the various hauntings and how to trigger them, offer verbose puzzle solutions, and provide general background information to build context for the story. Puzzles are somewhat vague, with many requiring keys, items, or numerical combinations found while exploring, which leads to a fair amount of backtracking. Most of the school is locked off as well until the proper keys are located or specific story events are triggered by the player. Even the save system feels like an old-school Resident Evil title, where Lee can only save his progress at certain locations and requires a one-time use item in order to do so.
Reading through that list of bullet-points would likely excite any fan of the genre with fond memories of Silent Hill 2 or Fatal Frame, or even more obscure titles like Clock Tower 3 and Rule of Rose, and while White Day: A Labyrinth Named School certainly has loads of potential and endearing qualities, the overall experience is ultimately unsatisfying.
The story itself does little to move along in an interesting manner, mostly through brief chats with fellow students and weird cut-scenes or monsters that feel somewhat out of place, but there are also plenty of optional events that will largely go unnoticed on your initial playthrough. Many of the ghosts, which are arguably the coolest parts of White Day, need to be triggered in specific locations after solving certain puzzles, but end up feeling like random occurrences. So much of their backstory is tucked away in found documentation, which I normally love, but juggling an overabundance of notes that I stumbled upon at different points in my journey made it difficult to keep everything organized.
Some of the ghost stories were rather interesting, with one, in particular, focusing on the wife of a draft dodger who was shoved into a locker for refusing to disclose her husband’s whereabouts. When her corpse was discovered, she could barely fit in a coffin due to her cruelly misshapen neck and limbs. Upon Lee’s finding of this note, the ghost will randomly jump-scare your pants off whenever he opens one of the various lockers throughout Yeondu High. I wanted so much more of this, but the game focuses entirely too much on the janitor as the antagonist instead.
With an unpredictable and frustratingly ruthless A.I., Yeondu High’s janitor patrols the halls looking for kids to rough up who are trespassing on school grounds after hours. Making noise, running, or turning on lights will quickly draw his attention, so much of the game is spent slowly crouching and stumbling around using a lighter as your only light source.
Should Lee become spotted, you’re forced into running and hiding by ducking behind desks or diving into bathroom stalls. While the janitor always seemed to be patrolling a stairwell or hallway I needed to reach in order to progress the story, his A.I. went practically braindead whenever I used a stall for a hiding spot — even when standing in the same room. This became a reliable cheese method whenever I needed to lure him away for a bit, but the tactic never made for an enjoyable experience. If anything, the janitor makes the game so much worse.
Although White Day released to a Korean audience back in 2001, playing through the remake was my first foray into the hidden horror gem. It may have paved the way for others that followed, particularly games like Slender or Outlast, but most of my experience felt like a massive identity crisis where too many ideas were thrown into a horror stew. The elevator pitch led me to believe White Day was a ghost story, wherein I explored a haunted school and solved puzzles (immediately drawing a comparison to the original Silent Hill), and while that was certainly par for the course there were also weird tree monsters, broken puzzles, and an overly annoying janitor to contend with.
Where the game excels, though, is in its atmosphere and intense sound design, using both effectively to deliver some rather good jump scares. As with most horror titles, White Day is best played with headphones on where the pestering jingle of the janitor’s keyring and spectral whispers of the recently deceased funnel directly into your ear canals. The slamming of lockers or rustling of papers inside of an empty room was far more unsettling and enjoyable this way, where it lost quite a bit of tension with the sound coming directly from my television. Horror is all about immersion, after all.
Yeondu High provides plenty of dark rooms and corridors to explore and some neat ghost stories to uncover but I spent most of my adventure either lost or simply waiting for the janitor to stop patrolling the areas I needed to investigate. It’s a frustrating experience, to say the least, but an accessible one. If the “survival” aspect of survival horror isn’t your thing, or the janitor becomes too bothersome, you can tone down the difficulty significantly — lower settings add the “eye” icon from the above screenshots that warn you of the janitor’s proximity, but at the cost of having some of the ghost content and endings locked away. To my knowledge, the true ending can only be achieved on the hardest setting and I certainly have no interest in putting myself through that.
It’s always a shame to write negative reviews for games I genuinely looked forward to. White Day: A Labyrinth Named School had so much potential but left me wanting an entirely different experience, one without the annoying janitor and far more emphasis on ghost interaction. Graphically, it’s a solid looking remaster, and as I mentioned earlier, the sound design and atmosphere deserve applause. It’s just not very fun to play, which is the most important part
So, where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money. I trust in your ability to make the right decision!
Full disclosure: This review was done using a digital PS4 copy provided by the game’s publisher, PQube. While I’m sometimes given games to critique, I pride myself on providing an unbiased review to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for a game is irrelevant.