WhiteDay: A Labyrinth Named School review
Gather 'round kiddies and let me tell you of a tale of a time long begone. When the public was just getting over the fear of a computer apocalypse, about to learn the fear of angry lunatics who get mad about drawings, and when gamers were willing to put their little testicles to the test (haha, i made funny) and delve into dense atmosphere, limited munition, and gratuitous spooks. In 2001, survival horror was beginning to die after a fairly short-lived prime. Three years later Resident Evil 4 would come along and change everything. It would split the genre on its head, creating a dichotomy of action games with horror elements that would become action-horror (and rake in millions in the process, 'cause people just looove being scared), and franchises would be created with the foundation Silent Hill and the aforementioned Resident Evil created, while taking it to the highest level of horror possible. The split created by RE4, while regarded by many horror fanatics (especially those fanboys of that particular franchise) to be one of the worst moments in the history of the industry, was actually a blessing in disguise. Fed up with the Dead Spaces and Left 4 Deads take on the genre, many independent developers began creating some of the finest games the genre has ever seen. Teams like Frictional and Psykskallar immediately come to mind for their masterful experiences, but before them, in that beautifully naive time forgotten, a Korean studio named Sonnori crafted the most terrifying and perhaps influential horror game in the history of ever with WhiteDay: A Labyrinth Named School.
Even Rockstar took a page out of its book
"That's quite a lofty claim. Nobody's ever even heard of this 'WhiteDay'. You can't back this up. Everyone knows what the greatest horror game is."
Go back to my Deadly Premonition review Zach. That game's an autistic dumpster baby compared to WhiteDay. Shut up. even though dp's an autistic dumpster baby regardless
It's true, almost nobody knows what this game is. Though it's widely regarded as a classic in its native Korea, the developers went under almost immediately after announcing an English version of the game, and it's only recently a small independent mod team named Unnamed Studios (lol) revamped and translated the game for English computers and since then it's developed a cult following around the world. Before Unnamed, there was a relatively playable version with bugs galore and very broken English (sometimes none at all), so it has had several years of very small word-of-mouth to develop its following. That's not to say this game doesn't have a few annoying glitches and rough English. While playing it keep in mind the devs are at best like three people deep, and the game's free, so be grateful it's easy to get through.
Alright, so let's get my favorite part out of the away, the presentation. Bear in mind this game is over a decade old, so it's already at a disadvantage for all of the entitled little shitheads congregating around the hobby I love. But for its time, graphically it's great. The models look smooth, light effects are good (with some exceptions), animations work well, and textures are pretty decent. There isn't anything to complain about, unless you're only satisfied if four of your cores are working at full capacity. The game's aged well aesthetically, especially compared to other games from its time.
I don't have a joke here, so I'll just boost my hipster cred by saying this game's so obscure I had to take all these screens myself
Where the game really shines presentation-wise is the sound design. WhiteDay's sound puts Thief to shame, which is some mighty high praise coming from me. While primarily a horror game, there are many stealth mechanics in place, most of which were made specifically with the masterful sound. Footsteps are heard from the game's main overt antagonist while he's on the same floor, his keys dangling give his position away and gives you time to hide. When hiding from him, your own footsteps are used against you, depending on how far away he is, he may hear you and come rushing in to mess up your day. Several ghosts encountered give their position away with small noises that become progressively louder as they approach, helping instill fear into the player whenever these triggers are heard. And while this may sound all good to you, there are several points early on when there are multiple (well, two really) continuous annoying sounds that have to be dealt with until you progress the story. And that's a bit of a no-no. But on the bright side the music is incredible. And if you start this game up right now at this sentence, you probably think you're getting trolled (side note: if I convinced you already, I must be a review god ) as there's rarely any music being played. That's right, most of the time you're treated with dead silence with the exception of your little feetsies and heartbeat, which plays exceptionally well with the atmosphere of the game. Even when treated with one of the many well paced out jump scares of the game, there's rarely anything else heard except your own bated breath. There is some slight instrumentation. It's minimalist all the way and well written, but rarely heard, which is right in line with the overall pace of the game. That is to say, perfect.
That wasn't as painful as I thought it'd be, so let's test my patience explaining the awful story. This isn't Deadly Premonition; so full of holes but wacky and endearing kind of bad, it's decent when the backstory is delved into but awful in pretty much every other way kind of bad. The premise of the game is a new kid at a Korean highschool likes a local girl. On his first day at the school, he's creepin' on her in the courtyard while she's writing in her diary like every teen girl before she's whisked away by her savvy friend keying on her new stalker. In her rush she leaves her diary behind, and being the chivalrous little dweeb he is, your character picks it up in an attempt to return it to her, while also hatching a plan to give her chocolate for White Day, an Asian holiday that is basically the inverse of Valentine's Day, where the boy gives the girl chocolate as opposed to the reverse. The holiday is on March 14 (which also happens to be my birthday ), and the game begins on the night of March 13. So he plans on planting both items in her desk when the school closes like the little freak he is, and happens to get locked in the school because he didn't know it was locked up at 10 o'clock like a retard. Poor setup, I know. It gets even worse when it's revealed both the young beauty and her bitch friend are in the school, along with another of their friends, because it's apparently cool to hang out at your school when it's late (ok, that's not their reason for being there, but I like beating up on things weaker than me like horrible stories, so shut up). As you progress you learn each girl's story and why they're there, which makes up for the rocky start, in addition to the origins of the school and why all the scary things are happening. Oh yeah, forgot to mention this game has a bunch of supernatural things working for it as well. Apparently the school was a derelict prison from the Korean war where a bunch of bad guys did bad guy things to decent people and just left them there. So ghosts haunt the place, and those ghosts have since been even bigger dicks by making kids at the school commit suicide at an alarming rate like they're trying to outdo Japan or something. So the place is filled with ghosts, but even better than that it's patrolled by two possessed serial killer janitors who spit in the face of physics and beat it in with a baseball bat.
Gorgeous eyes though
It's not all bad though. The story branches like few games I've seen, which is saying something considering how old it is. There are many cutscenes, and all of them have different dialogue choices that affect which of the eight endings you earn. And you really have to earn your happiness in this game. The narrative's shaped by your conversations with the three girls and how you treat them, and like every girl, it's totally impossible to understand how they'll react to your choices until about thirty minutes after you talk to them (ZING!). It's hard to get a girl on your side, and even if you do, one wrong move and it'll *bleep* up how the omniscient, REAL antagonist reacts in the end. And since I'm awful at creating transitions, let's proceed. Gameplay. Every game has it, few know how to utilize it.
WhiteDay is a first person survival horror adventure game with a heavy emphasis on running and hiding from anything that goes bump in the night because you're a wimp and can't fight back. That probably sounds familiar, because Frictional stole many ideas from this game for their own masterpieces of Penumbra and Amnesia . While obviously not as technically advanced as the aforementioned Frictional outputs, it's clear which is the master and which is the pupil (man, I am on point with my cliches today). WhiteDay has the greatest pacing of any horror game I've ever played. It shits all over anything that has come since, and took the early missteps of genre pioneers into crafting itself. There are many forces working against you, mostly the janitors, but there are many, many ghosts (at least when played on Normal or higher, so yeah, play on Normal for the best experience). Though a few of the ghosts appear of their own will, most of them have some kind of activation needed for them to take effect. Most of these are in the form of notes left around the school, and when read, the ghosts covertly come out of them, sometimes waiting in the shadows, and sometimes immediately scaring the shit out of you when you're in the middle of reading its obituary.
As mentioned before, you can't defend yourself from these enemies. And as mentioned before before, you have to circumvent this by running and hiding. But it doesn't really work too well, because that would be less scary. To make matters worse (or better, for those of you who aren't total bitches), the janitors (and a few select ghosts that haunt you) have incredible A.I.. The janitors patrol the hallways with their flashlights and baseball bats and whistles (! Oh m- ok, that was pathetic. I'm sorry for all of you who finished that in your head. Sincerely, Demonfurby). Their flashlights make it impossible to just chill in the dark while you wait for them to pass, and even if you're able to find some cover from their glare, you still may have a certain spirit in the room with you, and all you have it a small flame burning your fingers. If you're sick of the little light you get from your matches, you can turn on the lights in the rooms (if they work), but that's a bad idea, because if he knows one thing about his job, it's how to turn off lights. So he comes and checks on the room if they're on, and you're forced to use your small flare.
Believe it or not, a spooky face doesn't pop out and scare you. INSAAAAAANE
The game is absolutely soaked in atmosphere. Darkness floods, silence rules,and all that danger enhances it nicely. As I mentioned the game is paced wonderfully. You're forced to walk unless holding a key, and you're limited while you run. The no fighting aspect leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout, never knowing what's around the corner or even stalking behind you. Entering dark classrooms is nerve wracking, especially if the light is broken. You're implored to explore (...yes), but you never want to step forward into the dark. There's a constant battle waging in your mind solely because of how well the game is designed. More often than not, there's nothing there. Your mind is what creates most of the tension, and that's the mark of the very best the horror genre has to offer. All Sonnori had to do was introduce a wandering antagonist, some silly sprites and a bunch of uncertainty. Boom, the perfect scare, all conveniently on your lap.
That is the apex of the game, and something I've never felt with any other horror game I've ever played: you constantly feel an overbearing state of peril. The janitors are always looking for you, and you never know when either they, or a ghost will find you. It helps greatly when your inventory, map, and notes are all handled in real time.You're NEVER safe. Even in the best horror games there's always a safe place you can find relief in, generally either your inventory screen or a save point. Well, I've already covered the inventory, how about your save point? Nope, sorry, try again. Saves are actually fun in this game. They're in the old-school mold of having certain points and limited saves themselves (ala early Resident Evil and its ink ribbons and typewriters), but keep with the school theme. In order to save, you must find yourself a pen (really a marker, but who cares) and write your save on a notepad in the bathroom. But there are no loading screens in between doors (except when changing chapter), so even if you try to save you're in danger. It doesn't help that some bathrooms themselves are haunted by their own ghosts.
Also a great way to talk shit about the janitor to other kids
But don't get ahead of yourself son, you can't just go willy-nilly running all around the place without repercussions. You've probably noticed the heart in the lower left-hand corner of the screens so far. Well, that's your heart rate, but you're not a track athlete. You're a little freak who doesn't get out much to play with your friends, or get a workout from working out your girlfriend. So you can only run so much before you become delirious and grind to a halt. And after running from spooky things for a minute and finding a place to hide, you can hear yourself breathing heavily and your heart beat concurrently. It's a beautiful level of immersion action horror games refuse to acknowledge. And immersion is the most important thing in any horror game.
Healing is done in a classic way as well. Throughout the school you'll find money scattered about, and when you're feeling weak from getting the shit kicked out of you with a bat, you can use the money in vending machines to buy healing items. Better use them, 'cause when you're injured you move even more slowly, and that only stacks the danger when you're being chased.
If you're at this screen you dun messed up
And being a horror game, there has to be some adventure game puzzles, right? Well, not in the traditional sense. While one of my least favorite parts of the genre is the puzzles, WhiteDay has some of the best I've played. And it's solely because it doesn't fall into the stale adventure game cliche of having oddly specific and only one way of solving each puzzle. WhiteDay uses real world logic to solve its puzzles (for the most part) and are actually intuitive and interesting throughout the game, and aren't forced so you most of your time will be spent doing the scary stuff.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, WhiteDay has bosses, and they're damn good battles at that. You can't fight them traditionally, but the fights themselves play out more like damaging puzzles. You're generally needed to outmaneuver whatever force is coming for you while activating some kind of trigger so a cutscene can play out and kill the creature for you. They're more fun than the way I described them, and are present throughout the game, albeit in different forms. One forces the player to exterminate a ghost tree, another makes you carefully navigate a flooded rooftop with only the aid of what I dub "spooky sticks" that mustn't cross while moving or an invisible water demon slams you against the starting door. It all comes to an end with the final boss, who is an entity that controls the entire school that does seemingly constant damage to you as you navigate an ethereal and alien-like Taoist labyrinth.
All in all, WhiteDay has quickly become one of my favorite horror games, and one of my favorite games ever. It's a morbid, beautiful crawl of a marathon through the renaissance of horror, and is the unfortunate product of the masterful effort by geniuses of the genre who were far ahead of their contemporaries. Their full vision hasn't shined totally through, as there are a few ghosts missing from the game, as well as a promising multiplayer aspect lost, in addition to a few glitches that are unrepairable. However, their genius is evident every step through the terrifying school. If you aren't a fan of horror, please, give it a chance. More people need to know about it. And it's free. Don't be afraid. Let the labyrinth consume you.
was this review helpful to you?
In order to comment on this user review you must login