Growing up, one thing that used to really get me fizzing at the bunghole were scary ghost stories; The Liver Boy, Bloody Mary, The Hotel Room — I’m sure you can remember a few yourself. I’m happy to report that White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is a terrifying, bloody love-letter to those creepy folk tales and urban myths you used to share around the campfire with your friends. And if you’re a massive horror fan - like yours truly - chances are, you’re going to really dig it. I certainly did…
White Day is a first-person survival-horror with classic (read: obtuse) puzzles, bereft of traditional combat, a lot like Outlast or Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Originally only released in Korea in 2001, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School was remade and re-released to Western audiences in 2015 for mobile. Luckily, the remake is finally landing soon on PS4 and PC. Halle-bloody-lujah.
The game is set in Korea and begins somewhat pleasantly outside of Yeondu High School. You play as the protagonist Lee Hui-min who is the new, unassuming pupil in town. Proceedings take place during “White Day”, a Korean festival that closely resembles Valentine’s Day, and because of this Lee wants to give his hot, new crush So-yeong some fancy chocolate, along with delivering her lost diary which she left behind on a bench earlier that day. Long story short, Lee must enter Yeondu High School under the shadow of night, in his bid to find So-yeong, and this commences the slow, unravelling psychological white-knuckle experience that awaits you in White Day.
Much like its aforementioned more modern horror brethren, White Day focuses on careful exploration and fairly complex puzzles in favour of balls-to-the-wall action combat. It’s a measured, nerve-racking descent into a myriad of otherworldly Eastern-flavoured ghost stories that chillingly coalesce in its eerily familiar school environments, oblique inter-connecting narratives and ethereal, unearthly bosses. One bizarre creation that stands out is a giant, sobbing baby that threatens to pull the entire school down. Very creepy stuff.
These bosses require timed, multi-step puzzles to defeat and sees the player flitting around the school completing objectives busier than a blue-arsed fly in a tripe shop. Another antagonist that hounds you on your travels is the Janitor, who’s taken to beating hapless wanderers to death with a baseball bat. He’s surprisingly zippy for an old guy with a limp, so you’ll have to keep your wits about you while you explore the dimly lit hallways in case he catches you. If so, you’ll have to run and hide in a similar fashion to Outlast or Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The cat and mouse gameplay dynamic is implemented well, and though it can occasionally get a little frustrating (his vision is perhaps a touch too sensitive), you’ve luckily got a plethora of health items at your disposal to re-invigorate your battered protagonist. And to be candid, getting hounded and mauled to death by a vicious killer is pretty much par for the course in this current “stalk-em-up” genre.
One of the game’s strongest elements, along with its wonderful assortment of creepy, poetic ghost stories, is the title’s audio design. De-tuned, scuzzy guitars are intermixed with bold aural cues while both exploring environments and interacting with the game’s menu system. There’s a terrific sense of foreboding in each panic-stricken note and ghastly refrain, and this, accompanied by every fragile footstep that you take, would make even Akira Yamaoka (of Silent Hill fame) proud. It not only sounds the part but it also looks the part, too; environments aren’t quite as gritty and realistic as its more modern kinship, but what it lacks in realism, it makes up for in atmosphere. Put simply, this may well be one of the scariest games I’ve ever played.
It’s always refreshing when a game you’ve never heard of comes out of the blue and knocks you off your feet, and it’s especially impressive when you factor in the reality that White Day was made nearly a decade before its more contemporary genre cousins. The game veritably drips with an oppressive ambience that is rarely seen in horror games these days and though some repetitive gameplay (namely, the nasty unforgiving Janitor) may try and rain on your parade, it’s more down to the nature of the genre, than the actual game itself.
White Day is a very potent slice of horror that harkens back to the era of the old-school, adventure games of yore, and because of this it may be a tough blanket recommendation for all who seek its unsettling, dastardly motley-crew of devilish chicanery and chilling sleight of hand. Conversely, I do believe that what we have here is a cult-hit in the making; an intense, well-executed nightmare for the senses that’ll get any horror aficionado’s heart pumping and screaming for reprieve. It’s scary. Like, really scary. But what may be the scariest thing of all, is the fact that you’ve probably never heard of it. So I implore you to change that. Sharpish.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
It’s scary. Like, *really* scary. But what may be the scariest thing of all, is the fact that you’ve probably never heard of it. So I implore you to change that. Sharpish.