White Day: A Labyrinth Named School PS4 Review

“Hey, did you hear about this game that’s only available in Japan?”

“Did you hear the one about the game that was so violent it was pulled from store shelves within a week?”

“My friend’s uncle managed to snag a rare beta copy from the factory line.”

Such rumors and secondhand information have often spread across the videogame pipeline for years. The rise of digital preservation and social media venues have only increased the awareness of such games lost to time (or held back by language barriers), which has also resulted in obsessive hunts by rabid game collectors. After all, just about anyone can appreciate the thrill of seeking out a “forbidden” work that cannot be obtained through traditional (or legal) means.

Untranslated Japanese games are one thing, but the original version of White Day: A Labyrinth Named School was particularly hard to come across. As a Korean-developed PC game, it took a significant amount of tinkering to get it working on Western PCs, from extensive configuration to third party applications just to apply the fan translation. It was more work than most gamers would be willing to put, which is why reports over just how frightening an experience White Day was had given it the status of a videogame urban legend.

These days, such restricted experiences are becoming less common, thanks to the rising trend of region free consoles, a practice that even Nintendo has started to embrace with their newest console. There is also the added convenience of some games containing multiple language options, making the only barrier of entry a pricier-than-average import from online stores. Then, of course, there’s always the possibility of the original game receiving a modern remake, thus making it more available for a new generation of hardware, and thus a new generation of audiences. This is ultimately the path that developer Sonnori has taken with the original White Day, stripping the original game’s niche luster but welcomingly making it more wildly available.

Originally released on mobile, the remake of White Day: A Labyrinth Named School has rebuilt the original game’s visuals but retained much of its original mechanics and aesthetics. The premise is the same as the original: a Korean high-schooler named Lee Hui-min has entered the building after hours to secretly slip a love letter in the locker of his high school crush So-Young (the title “White Day” refers to an Asian holiday where boys who have received gifts from girls on Valentine’s Day return the favor a month after). In predictable horror fashion, Lee finds himself trapped in the school after the gates mysteriously lock him inside, along with several other high-schoolers who have snuck into the school for various reasons.

This would be the part where the students are haunted by ghosts and other supernatural aberrations, but the main antagonist is the school janitor, who has seemingly gone crazy and will violently beat down anyone trespassing the school halls with a baseball bat. Of course, there are plenty of other spooky spirits about, but many of the otherworldly events are used as window-dressing: mysterious noises permeate every corner, gruesomely-detailed notebooks catalog the school’s dark history, and ghosts will unexpectedly fly toward your field of view to deliver a literal “Boo!” before vanishing. As aesthetics go, White Day certainly checks off all the sights and sounds that makes for a tense experience without resorting to too many jump scares.

Unfortunately, the spooky atmosphere gets repetitive and mundane rather quickly, with new spooky situations created to spice things up happening few and far between. There are only so many times that the same creaking noises and floating ghosts can unnerve players before it gets old hat, and the actual, corporeal threat that follows you throughout the game quickly proves frustrating rather than frightening; on paper, the janitor has all the makings of a persistent threat: patrolling up and down the halls at all times, when the janitor spots the player, he will make a mad dash towards their skull until you can break his line of sight. Hiding in a toilet stall or under a desk will usually do the trick, but make too much noise or leave the lights on and he’ll continue the pursuit.

The big problem is how the game’s level design actively hinders the player, and not in a fun or interesting way. Anyone who has played classic horror games like Silent Hill and the first three Resident Evil entries should be intimately aware of locked doors…. or rather, doors that are permanently locked and serve as window dressing. White Day has plenty of these dead-end doorways, except they aren’t reflected on the in-game map and seem to be completely arbitrary in their placement; all too often can players hit one of these non-door doors in a hasty attempt to escape the janitor (who by the way missed his calling as the physical fitness coach considering how fast he runs), only to get cornered and suffer a couple of swings to the noggin. Chugging some soy milk can partially repair the damage, but such items are limited in capacity.

Speaking of which, White Day adheres much to the classic era of 3D horror games, including a limited inventory that extends to both healing items and even save points. Yes, the game requires the use of a felt-tip pen to save progress, though the game does checkpoint with auto saves too. Said saves only happen when advancing the main story, however, so expect to lose a good chuck of progress should you find yourself on the receiving end of the janitor’s bat while tirelessly exploring all the identical hallways to find the right item to solve the latest puzzle. Once again, the game owes much inspiration to the classic PSX era of horror games, from dissecting journal entries for hints on the latest puzzle to micromanaging items for emergency use only.

A few modern additions make up the remake as well; there are multiple endings that can be achieved through decisions made through branching dialog, as well as multiple difficulty options that drastically alter the game: the easier difficulties add handy conveniences like an onscreen indicator when the janitor is nearby and hints on where to go next, while the harder modes offer up some truly masochistic handicaps such as no saving, smarter enemies and even a time limit. The variety of gameplay spread across these modes is unique and potentially opens multiple playthroughs, but it would have been nice to have a moderate difficulty option that felt slightly more forgiving and much less archaic than what the main game serves.

In the end, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School does not quite live up to its legend as a hard to find, harder to run niche horror game, but there are a lot of nostalgic touches to appreciate for longtime fans of horror games. Consequently, those fans may be the ones who will be able to tolerate the game’s archaic shortcomings the most.

6 out of 10
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