Also available on iOS, Android, and Windows
Back in 2001, there was a PC horror game released exclusively in South Korea called White Day: A Labyrinth Named School, and while being released exclusively in Korean and in South Korea kept it from attaining worldwide fame, it did garner somewhat of a cult following. In 2015, the game was remade for mobile phones and released originally exclusively in South Korea before getting a worldwide release a few months later. In August of 2017, it was ported to Windows and PlayStation 4 with a worldwide release.
When I first read that White Day was not only getting released in North America but a physical release as well (though the physical release came out a month after the digital release), I was extremely excited. I'd not heard of the original game before reading about this remake, but I'm a big fan of East Asian horror. Western horror so often relies on serial killers or natural monsters (zombies, werewolves, etc), but Eastern horror is far more likely to be rooted in religious mythology and the supernatural, and I find stories with those themes to be FAR more interesting and frightening.
A little history lesson (since I am, after all, a history teacher) for those who aren't familiar with the holiday White Day (I wasn't before I googled it for the game) - White Day is a companion holiday to Valentine's Day celebrated primarily in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. Valentine's Day, like in the West, is February 14, but it's traditionally just for girls to give chocolates to guys either out of romantic interest, friendly courtesy, or social obligation. White Day, on the other hand, is always one month later - March 14 - and when guys are expected to "return the favor" so to speak. They give chocolate and gifts to girls they fancy, but there's also a social expectation that they give gifts to any girls who gave them something on Valentine's Day regardless of their personal feelings for her. Also, as a bit of fun trivia, there's a social rule of thumb that a guy's White Day gift needs to be two to three times the approximate value of the Valentine's Day gift he was given. Anyway, the premise of the game White Day is that you're this high school student in South Korea who recently transferred to a new school. You notice that this girl you have a crush on left her diary at the school, so you go to the school at night to give her the diary and the White Day gift you got for her (I assume by putting them in her desk or something; that's never made clear). I'm just kind of assuming that showing up at your high school at 9 pm isn't nearly as weird in Japan and South Korea as it would be in the United States because it seems not to be an uncommon setting for Eastern horror games.
To avoid big spoilers, I'll keep the conflict explanation brief, but basically the high school's main building was used as a hospital during the Korean War, and a lot of wounded soldiers and civilians are thought to have died there. There was also a "cursed" pond on the property that trapped the soul of anyone who died in it. The school eventually needed to expand and erected a new building on top of the pond after filling it - the Korean equivalent of building a house on a Native American burial ground, I presume - and eternally screwing up the building's feng shui and basically turning it into the Bobby Mackey's Korean Music World. At 10 pm, the school's doors automatically lock or something, so you and these three other dumb chicks are trapped in this hella haunted school that's patrolled at night by a couple of legitimately psychopathic janitors with baseball bats. Between the pissed off ghosts, insane custodians, and typical high school drama when you've got three chicks and dude trapped in the same building under stress, you have to find a way to escape the school without getting possessed, mutilated, or bludgeoned to death. Unfortunately, the story is only a little more clearly told by than the game than it was in these past two paragraphs.
If I didn't know that it's the remake of a 16 year old game, I'd say that it was inspired by Outlast and Amnesia because the complete lack of combat ability is very reminiscent of those games especially Outlast. Throughout most of the game, you're by yourself as you try to solve the mysteries of the school's dark history, find out what's going on with your classmates, and find a way out of the school. The choices you make along the way determine your ending, and there are 12 possible endings, giving the game a lot of replay value. Fortunately each playthrough only takes between six and seven hours on average, so it's not a particularly daunting game to play through multiple times. Some of the puzzles do bring to mind puzzles in the older Resident Evil games albeit simpler puzzles, and that's absolutely a good thing. The various puzzles and riddles aren't terribly difficult to figure out, but most of them do require you to stop and think for a minute or two. In that regard, the gameplay and overall game design are both extremely well done.
Graphically, the game looks very good when you consider its origins; it is, after all, a port of an Android and iOS game. The sound design, unfortunately, leaves a lot to be desired; the game may look very nice, but it sounds terrible. The voice acting, while not nearly as bad as Pokken Tournament's, is very hit or miss. One of the characters sounds fine - not great, but not awful - but the others all sound like actual high school students recorded the dialogue for a class project. It's not just the voice acting, either; the sound effects and enemy sounds are horrible. The janitors will whistle this same tune that doesn't even flow particularly well over and over again, and while it's great for giving you a rough idea of where they are in relation to you, it gets annoying quickly. Most the ghosts' sound effects feel rather bland, but the biggest offender is the final "boss." You know those cheap Halloween decorations at Walmart and Dollar General that just go "OoOoOoOoOoOoO" when you press a button, and you're about ready to kill your kid if he pushes again after the second time? That's the boss - completely uninterrupted - over and over again for the entire fight. It's unbearable, and it legitimately put a big ol' mark in the game's "minus" column for me.
One thing that the game does get very VERY right, however, is the atmosphere, and that creepy atmosphere makes up for its serious sound sins. White Day isn't scary because there are hoards of zombies chasing you while you have precious few bullets, and it's not scary because there's a giant mutated behemoth after your blood; it's scary because it establishes the feeling of alienation and isolation extremely well. It's really not even the janitors that are scary although being chased by them isn't pleasant by any means; they're more of an annoyance than anything else. The general feel and mood of the game is what makes it so damn creepy, and that's EXACTLY the kind of feeling that I want from a horror game. The little touches are also done better than just about any game I've ever played. Unexplained footsteps can be heard above you, a knock on the window will jar you from your puzzle solving, and random rattling glass will startle you when the suspense winds you up too tightly. Almost absent are jump scares, and "almost" is the operative word there; there are really only two or three jump scares in the game, and because they're so scarce, the very few that are in the game are used to great effect.
I feel very conflicted about White Day, truthfully. It looks nice, the school's backstory is really interesting, and the atmosphere is almost flawlessly executed; but the storytelling leaves some to be desired, the voice acting is bad, and the general sound effect design is just terrible. All things considered, however, I still think that this is worth playing for horror fans and especially fans of Eastern horror. Preferably borrow it from a friend or wait for a good Steam sale, but despite the game's flaws, it's still a good time. I thoroughly enjoyed my six hours with it, and I fully intend to come back to it later to see some of the other endings.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.