White Day was something of a hidden gem back when it originally spawned. A Korean survival horror that wasn’t officially released in the west until a port to Android and iOS in 2015, and a game which boasted a truly creepy atmosphere, inspired brain teasers, and dialogue choices to boot. Perhaps not revolutionary, but something that deserved a wider audience at least, and quite impressive for its time. Well, now the game has been properly remastered and released across Europe and North America for PC and PS4, so we can finally delve into this quirky cult classic ourselves.

The game is set on the eve of the titular ‘White Day’ – a day effectively equivalent to valentines in the west. Quite simply, we play as high school student Hee-Min Lee, who has returned to school one evening in hopes of leaving a present for his crush. While he’s there, Hee-Min Lee discovers a few other students who’ve also snuck in for unknown reasons. Unfortunately for the bunch of them, the janitor on patrol turns out to be an utter psychopath who likes to brutally murder students that trespass at night, and on top of that a string of hauntings and other spooky occurrences plague the school as well. Not the ideal place for romantic plotting then. The situation quickly becomes serious, and Hee-Min Lee must now try to survive the school along with his new friends.

The game is essentially a combination of first person exploration, and logic and item based puzzling, with hide and chase mechanics thrown in for good measure. As you explore the various rooms of the school, you will find documents that vary from teachers’ notes to student rumours, some of which will contain hints on how to progress or areas of interest. Items both essential and consumable are hidden around the school as well, which of course you’ll need to keep an eye out for.

At its simplest, puzzles involve finding a key or item to get to a new area – for example, one early puzzle sees you look for a step ladder to gain access to a vent – but the game has its share of tough brain teasers as well. Whether that’s simply by hiding items and solutions more effectively (I mentioned that some notes hold hints within their content; well to find some things you will most probably need to pay attention to the documents you pick up to have any chance of figuring out what you’re supposed to do) or setting up something more involved like translating codes, there’s certainly a mix of intensities with regards to the puzzles.

The most intense of which, however, come when you enter the timed puzzle sections. Sort of like puzzle boss fights, you will have to defeat a ghost or rescue a friend within an allotted time frame. The solution to these involve the same mechanics that we’re used to – finding some item, or combining them (one of which sees you engaging in some casual pottery making to sate a very large ghost baby) – though simple quick time events are also something to expect.

But the game’s not just about puzzling and finding items. The ever present threat of the roaming psychotic janitor will give you much more to worry about. As you explore the floors, halls and classrooms of the school, you will have to keep an ear out for the jangling of this maniac’s keys, because he can appear seemingly at just about any time, regardless of what floor you’re on (if you think going upstairs will help you evade him, you are sorely mistaken). There are minimal ways of dealing with him to be honest, and the only truly effective response to him clocking you is to run away and hide in a bathroom stall. If you do get caught by the janitor, he will attack you until you escape or die – and if you do manage to escape, you can use healing items to deal with your injuries. Healing items are not just found around the school, but can also be bought from vending machines using coins that you find. Depending on the difficulty you may have an easier time with the janitor, though it seems even on normal difficulty he is still pretty ruthless (on easy you get an icon that appears when he is searching for you).

Aside from the puzzling and janitor threat, one of the game’s more interesting elements is its dialogue choices/romantic interests. The girls you meet at the school will talk to you in cut scenes and give you an option of how to respond to them – whether you’re friendly with a particular girl, or you don’t trust her, etc. This will not only have an impact on what ending you get, but more interestingly will also effect the direction of the game. I’ll admit to something here, I looked up a walkthrough on a couple of occasions during my time with the game, but what I was surprised to learn from doing that was that the person I was watching seemed to be playing a slightly different version of the game to me. On the one hand I was alone as Hee-Min Lee, exploring the school as usual, but on the other the person in the walkthrough was playing the same section, but being followed and helped by one of the girls. This was as a result of him making different choices to me in the dialogue options. I felt that was a very cool mechanic indeed.

Generally speaking this is the case for much of the game. The puzzles are involved and interesting, relying on you to properly explore and read through the various documents in order to solve. The janitor is a genuine threat, and the story intriguing to say the least (the ghost stories you find around the place, the few characters and their potential motivations for being in the school, and just the mystery that needs discovering is very compelling). But unfortunately – and if you’ve already looked at the score, you know where this is going – the game doesn’t just stumble over a few design choices, but positively stacks it.

We need to talk about the janitor. A few horror games have adopted a run and hide mechanic with some success: Amnesia for example, the original Outlast, Soma. All of these games provided the threat of a searching enemy that you would need to stay out of sight from and flee when it did see you. But these were all fairly well implemented, and while terrifying in practice, were never really frustrating to deal with – they were a positive experience in creating horror. White Day on the other hand, implements such an aggressive and unforgiving AI that it is ultimately a detriment to, not just the horror atmosphere, but also other areas of gameplay. The janitor seems to turn up willy-nilly, and as I’ve already said, the only real option you have of escaping from him is to hide in the bathrooms. For example, on multiple occasions I’ve noticed the janitor wandering about, and hid in a dark classroom behind a desk, only for him to inexplicably sniff me out. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue either if he didn’t so persistently patrol certain areas. Trying to get to an area and explore the rooms there becomes a very frustrating experience when he just won’t go away.

And in the end, the fear of him as an enemy turns to annoyance, and the game is no longer scary. I recall hiding in a bathroom for literally 5 minutes (if you don’t think that sounds like a long time, by all means count out the seconds to yourself now) while the janitor remained in the immediate area outside. You’re not able to effectively explore the school and dedicate your brain power to its puzzles, because this limping bell-end with a baseball bat won’t leave you alone for long enough. While not the only issue with the game, it is certainly the most significant. Forgive me for sounding harsh, but it quite literally ruins much of the experience.

The game also has some issues with its translation. The dialogue choices and the puzzling are two areas that I give praise to the game, however they can suffer from a lack of clarity. Many of the dialogue options you are faced with sound bizarre when read out, leaving you to try and guess what the outcome could be. For example, a girl that you have literally just met asks why she sees you wandering around with no friends at school; you can offer one of two responses, either “I don’t mind being alone” or “I’ve got you, haven’t I?”. Now, social interaction isn’t my strong suit, but surely that last option sounds a little bit creepy, does it not? Well, actually this is the option that garners a positive response from the girl…the girl you’ve just met, while the other shows her to look disappointed. It seems more of a humorous issue than anything else, but I remind you that these interactions have an impact on how the game plays out – perhaps they should have made sure these were less ambiguous.

The translation issue is more obnoxious when it comes to the puzzles, though. It is a rare occurrence, I will admit, and most of the puzzles were fine, but there were a couple of instances that stood out in a negative way. There are many characters and bits of writing throughout the school that will be totally unintelligible to anyone that can’t read the language. While this doesn’t generally result in you not knowing what to do, you can sometimes come across something of potential interest and just not be able to discern the point of it. A selection of portraits with what I assume are the peoples’ names written underneath for example, or examining a chart which has characters on it that you can’t understand. It’s a little frustrating.

But there was one puzzle that was truly awful, involving discerning a code from a set of characters. A great puzzle idea, but virtually impossible if you don’t A: speak Chinese (which was the language of the writing bizarrely) or B: already know what to do. Essentially there is a list of characters on the right of the board, followed by some numbers. Problem is, none of the characters on the board look anything like the ones on the list. After delving into the steam forums for a solution, it turns out one of the characters on the board indicates you need to subtract, therefore you subtract a character by the other one, and the final result will be a character that looks like one of the ones on the list – therefore giving you one of the numbers. How I was supposed to figure this out on my own I will never know, unless there was a document I missed that explained it, but it was still a massive oversight in the puzzle’s design. A shame, because as I said, it was actually a pretty good puzzle idea.

And that conclusion is ultimately where I land with White Day – it’s all a bit of a shame. The game had a lot of potential and some really cool ideas, but it fucks up so badly with the janitor and some clunky design that it’s virtually irredeemable. I think a lot of this comes down to its old school design. Yes it’s a remaster, but the game itself hasn’t really been changed that much, which it really needed to be. The story is compelling at least, but my enjoyment was hampered so much throughout by frustration that I felt, nay knew, was not my own fault. It’s difficult to recommend as a result. Perhaps leave this one in the past, or give it a shot if you’re curious when it’s on sale – just prepare yourself for some angst.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29