White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is an intriguing survival horror game that has earnt the title of cult classic since its original 2001 release. As one of the first terrifying titles to strip you of any weapons, its slow paced, puzzle-based gameplay pushes you to rely on your wits and hiding skills to succeed, leaving you vulnerable and isolated in the tight corridors and dingy classrooms of its self-appointed labyrinth.
From your first moments creeping along the halls and rummaging through drawers and lockers, it’s clear to see both the inspirations it took from previous horror classics, and the influence it had on future games in the genre.
This is my first time experiencing White Day: A Labyrinth Named School for myself, though I’ve long been familiar with the legends and rumours surrounding it. It was quite the elusive title back in the day, with its 2001 version never getting an official release outside of Korea, and it gaining a reputation as one of the scariest games of the time among those who managed to get their hands on it. Stories even circulated suggesting that it was so scary that players contacted the developers to beg them to make it less spooky so they could actually beat it, resulting in its multiple difficulty modes – though it’s pretty impossible to prove or disprove this.
As is deserved of such an iconic yet obscure horror experience, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School saw itself enter the modern landscape of gaming in 2017, with a remastered version for PC, PS4, and mobile, featuring upscaled graphics and animations, extra unlockable content, full English voice acting, and more. Now, five years later, it has finally made its way to Switch, over two decades after its original launch. So, how does it hold up?
Pretty darn well, if you ask me. And, well, this is my review, so I guess you did. White Day: A Labyrinth Named School places you in the shoes of a Korean transfer student called Hui-Min Lee, who has a crush on a beautiful girl called Han So-Young. He follows her into the school after hours in hopes of both returning her lost diary and giving her a White Day gift, only to find himself entangled in a series of supernatural events.
There are two other girls in the school as well, and both the dialogue options you choose when talking to them and the collectibles you find dictate which of the eight endings you get upon completing the game, adding a great level of replayability.
The plot is a little nonsensical at times, but it has some interesting influences inspired by the ancient Chinese religious studies of Taoism. Though there’s a central storyline to follow, much of the lore and worldbuilding details are told through short ghost stories and rumours that you find when exploring the school’s halls. However, you should be mindful that it focuses on some extremely sensitive topics, and its content may be triggering to some – we all love a scare, but please stay safe!
Aside from the group of students, the only other inhabitants of the school are the ghastly ghoulies you stumble upon, and the unhinged, murderous janitors that patrol the corridors with a baseball bat and whistle in hand. Luckily, the ghosts pose no real threat other than the ever-looming chance of getting jump scared.
Your main nemeses are the two janitors and, without a weapon to defend yourself, your only option in surviving them is to sneak around in hopes of going undetected, then run and hide when you get spotted.
Though the first few janitorial encounters may be creepy, and the jangle of their keys is certainly enough to send a chill down your spine, after a while, they become more of a nuisance than anything. It feels like their only true task is to hinder your progress and pad your playtime, as they stalk the stairwells and lurk near your objectives, forcing you to duck into the nearest bathroom stall and play the waiting game until they get bored.
On harder difficulties, the janitors can hear you from a mile away, often forcing you to take detours and backtrack, making exploration kind of unappealing – which is a pity when so much of the content and ghost sightings are based on scouring every room and picking up every scrap of paper.
Outside of eluding the janitors, the main gameplay revolves around walking, crouching, and running around the school, interacting with objects, switches, and drawers, and flicking open your lighter. You save your progress with single-use felt tip pens on bulletin boards (similar to Resident Evil’s ink ribbons) and can recoup your health or increase your movement speed by using consumables either purchased at vending machines with school tokens or found dotted around the classrooms.
Much of your progression and the hidden content of the game hinges on puzzles, most of which are pretty satisfying – from working out combinations by counting medals, to piecing together information from your many collected documents.
There are a few obtuse puzzles, including one that’s pretty tough to comprehend if you aren’t familiar with Chinese characters or Japanese kanji, and they might just push you into the arms of a good walkthrough after some serious noggin scratching.
Speaking of which, a lot of the game’s puzzles and ghost encounters are entirely optional, and many are locked behind harder difficulties. As such, you’ll need to play the game several times and likely return to the warm embrace of those walkthroughs if you want to find everything.
However, I do recommend going into your first playthrough blind, as stumbling upon the ghost events without knowing they’re coming is easily the highlight of the game, and the sense of vulnerability induced by their unscripted nature is what makes them scary.
Admittedly, most of the ghost events rely on jumpscares akin to those old viral Youtube videos – you know, like this one with the scenic drive where the creepy woman pops up out of the blue. They’re cheap, but I have a real soft spot for them. Plus, we need to keep in mind that Sonnori originally released this game before those types of scares became a cliche trope.
For a bit of extra help in the game, the easy and very easy modes offer hints through a mobile flip phone, mark quest locations on your map, and display an eye icon when a janitor is in range. These features are otherwise completely absent in harder difficulties, and are a nice touch, offering gentle guidance to those who seek it without holding your hand too tightly. The harder modes have no clear objectives or markers, leaving the game pretty open to your own interpretation, and you must rely on reading documents and remembering small details in order to progress.
The sound design for White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is a masterpiece and a key component in maintaining the ever-mounting tension as you explore. There are resonating strings whenever you interact with an item and soft, mournful vocalising plays as you walk through corridors, often rising in pitch as you go along.
That, alone, is enough to get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up but is enhanced even further by the constant rain pattering against the window, the whistling winds that unexpectedly blow through the hallways, and the lightning streaking the sky outside, occasionally flashing in your peripheral vision.
In terms of performance, I didn’t encounter any of the glitches or bugs that were apparently abundant in the original 2001 release. Sometimes character models jitter or clip through doors, and there’s an odd visual effect similar to ghosting, where light and shadow seem to drag around interactable objects when you move your camera. Aside from that the game runs smoothly with little to no hiccups.
The upscaling efforts of the 2017 re-release are admirable, and a clear improvement over the original 2001 version, but White Day still looks like a game that could easily run on a PS2, and some of the jumpscares look like moving .jpgs. However, the stylised character designs and realistic settings are effective and work well with the old-school feel of the game.
Controls are simple and easy to grasp on Switch, and you can adjust both screen brightness and cursor speed in your settings to suit your personal preferences. I find that the searching and viewing modes feel a little clunky on Switch, with you using the joystick to drag the cursor over the item you want to inspect or grab. For smaller items, it can be a little hard to aim and feels more suited to a keyboard and mouse. Outside of this, the Switch control mapping is intuitive and works well.
There are plenty of fun costumes available in the customisation tab on the main menu, allowing you to change the appearance of the students and the janitor. Options include the original 2001 models and cute homages to other iconic horror franchises like Resident Evil.
There are also some of the more whacky options, like dressing the janitors up as giant reindeer or hula dancers, which certainly takes some of the threat out of their chases. Most of the costumes are unlocked by default, though some are obtainable by completing certain achievements, such as collecting all the ghost stories in the game.
Overall, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is a fun and spooky survival romp that transports me back to a simpler time. Reminiscent of other cult classics like Amnesia, Detention, and Obscure, it checks a lot of boxes and offers some great tension and scares.
Though it doesn’t quite live up to the legends that precede it, with it being a little too reliant on backtracking and those frustrating janitors slowing you down, it’s a great little experience with plenty of replay value, and I’m glad to have it in my Switch library. If you can overlook some of its dated elements and appreciate it for the piece of horror history that it is, don’t be afraid to give it a try – or do be afraid, it’s up to you!
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School Switch review
A remake of an iconic yet obscure horror classic, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is an atmospheric survival spookfest with plenty of jumpscares and puzzles to explore. While it may rely a little too heavily on backtracking and frustrating chase sequences, it’s an enjoyable blast from the past and deserves a place in any horror fan’s Switch library.