White Day: A Labyrinth Named School (PS4) Review
As a love letter to horror fans, PQube’s localization of the 2015 HD remaster for ROIGame’s White Day: A Labyrinth Named School still stands as one of the definitive grandparents of the first-person “hide-and-seek simulation” horror genre. Although the game still feels archaic at times, especially when compared to more recent first-person horror games such as the Outlast series or Resident Evil 7, the developer’s original creative vision still manages to shine through with the game’s unique blend of school simulation, visual novel elements, hiding mechanics and, of course, creepy ambiance.
Released originally as a Windows title in 2001, White Day became renown to gamers worldwide as “one of the scariest games of all time.” So much so that the original developers had to go back and reimplement easier difficulties to turn down the fright level for some gamers after its initial release. In a way, the game was very much ahead of its time. In no other previous game was the objective just to survive the night, which is the entire premise of the game.
You don’t have any weapons, ammo, experience points or anything like that. It’s just the player, a few health items and a crazy janitor chasing you throughout the school. Yes, there are save points, but they’re few and far between and come in at a finite amount, much like the early Resident Evil titles. Players take the role of Lee Hui-min, a high school transfer student, who sneaks into school at night to try and leave some chocolates for his crush, Han So-young, the day before White Day.
As Lee progresses throughout the school and encounters a few classmates along the way, the dark secrets behind the school begin to unravel as Lee faces off against various specters and dark entities; all of which would make even Sam Raimi squirm in his seat. Most of the gameplay can be described as hiding, solving a puzzle, exploring and repeat ad nauseum until you unlock the next area. There are a few boss battles in the game, but most of them rely on puzzle sequences and wits rather than any action-oriented gameplay.
Breaking up the game’s many chases and exploration sequences are opportunities to grow affinity with the two female classmates who are also trapped in the school with you; all of which have dialogue choices and lead to various endings.
One complaint that I do have about the game is the random intervals as to which the ghost encounters occur, often making them feel inorganic. Although there are audio and visual clues that tell you when it’s going to happen, the fact that there aren’t any real rhyme or reason for them makes them seem extraneous at times.
Additionally, some of the games puzzle sequences are quite difficult to solve without a walkthrough, especially if you don’t have a grasp of the written Korean language system. Although this could have been solved via simple retexturing, it’s completely understandable given the budget nature and localization of this title, which makes me somewhat surprised that the game has an English dub.
Other gameplay features include collecting documents and reading ghost stories; all of which adds to the game’s creepy atmosphere and provides some extra background information that isn’t explicitly told through the game’s narrative.
Although anyone can make a compelling argument that the game’s narrative lacks any significant substance on the surface, especially if you’re caught up on all of your horror tropes, it’s still strong enough to compel the player to revisit the game in order to learn more about the school’s dark past despite its numerous shortcomings. A high accolade in this day and age when you consider the original game’s 2001 release date.
While I’ve only had a chance to play through the game once so far, on easy mode no less, I’m still personally hoping that revisiting the game in the future will give me an opportunity to learn more about the sinister secrets behind the school, which I assume there will be as there are areas that are inaccessible in the game’s easier modes.
I’m not going to lie though. Given that the original game came out in 2001, it visually looks like it could’ve run on the PS2 at times due to the use of basic textures and lighting/particle effects. Still, the game ran rather smoothly on PlayStation 4, and when you combine the game’s graphics with its masterful audio scoring, it all helps to build amazing tension which all added to my personal enjoyment of the game.
With a narrative and gameplay segments that make the game feeling similar to a cross between Divi-dead and the original Myst, two games that I hold in high regard, White Day is a solid recommendation for anyone looking for a few scares this upcoming Halloween season. Throw in the fact that a sequel has already been announced, here’s hoping that the game’s developers evolve and push the horror genre to new heights with White Day 2. After all, we all know that high school really is hell!
Review copy courtesy of PQube