After taking a week off (sorry again!), we're back! Unpredictable is a column from Caty McCarthy circling around recent games and other happenings bustling in the world of media. This week features the game White Day: A Labyrinth Named School and the album Science Fiction from sad boy kings Brand New.
Long before Amnesia: The Dark Descent or any other dime-a-dozen helpless horror game, there was the cult Korean horror game White Day: A Labyrinth Named School. The original from 2001 was a low-key hit on PC, with fans decrying the game as too frightening—as in, literally too scary to play. As the internet rumor mill goes, the developers allegedly patched the game to make it easier. Easier, in these terms, meaning less scary.
The recent remake has those easier (a.k.a. "less scary") options in tact. Fast forward to 2015, when White Day was remade for modern PCs and PlayStation 4. White Day was no longer ahead of the curve. Other horror games existed now, ones that made the player feel equally helpless by not enabling them with weapons, arguably more so. Still, White Day found an audience again buried in its familiar school setting and heap of eerie sounds for its atmosphere. And at last in 2017, the remake of White Day has found its way westward, released today on August 22 for the two platforms. (Earlier this year, a mobile localized version released too.)
White Day, luckily, still has a few scares left in it. It's not the type of game that is pithy to only jump scares. Instead, it telegraphs nearly every creepy sequence. You'll hear the jingling of keys as the malicious janitor who might beat you to death with a baseball bat as he walks down the hall. You'll see long black hair seeping out of an air vent. White Day has its scares lined up for you to suspect, and it's always up to you to survive them and know where to hide in dire circumstances.
Playing a bit of White Day has made me ponder the state of horror games, such as this year's Resident Evil 7 which took the series partially back to its survival horror roots. After the success of Amnesia: The Dark Descent—primarily as streaming fodder—many more horror games like it sprouted from the abyss. Games like Outlast, a horror title that lived through its jump scares, monstrous beings chasing you, and lack of combat. Horror games as a whole seemed to shift in this combat-less direction, making the player feel hopeless in horrific worlds. Sometimes they were successful, like Amnesia once was and White Day originally was; most times, their over reliance on jump scares makes them not.
White Day, at least its remake so far, reminds me that the best terror is often the one you hardly ever see. I never really see the murderous janitors that loom in the halls, I just hear their keys sway against their hips, and know that's my cue to hide out of sight. The game dabbles in a few jump scares—some I wonder have to do with it being a remake of an older game, curbing to the modern times—mostly though, the terror feels earned, even if some of the visual horror looks more goofy than outright scary.
White Day's opening hours are its best. You're a teenage boy with a hopeful crush on a classmate, returning to the school in the dead hours of the night to leave her some chocolates. Then you get locked in, find fellow classmates here too, and are roped into a horrifying journey. The English voice acting is not great to be perfectly honest, but luckily switching back to Korean voice acting is only a click away in the settings.
I wouldn't be surprised if the developers of Amnesia or of other games like it once pointed towards White Day as an early influence. For its time in the early 2000s, there weren't many horror games quite like it. The closest maybe being the Fatal Frame series, where players were armed with cameras against hostile ghosts; or even Corpse Party, a pixelated indie survival horror that also took place in a school. White Day's scares may show their age now even in the remake, but its legacy and influence shines brighter than ever before.
The first time I heard Brand New I was in middle school. I was newly angsty, a stubborn kid with something to prove, the whole nine yards. Somehow Jesse Lacey's mournful voice found me; his anger towards ex-best friends, ex-girlfriends, life. Brand New really hit me when I needed them most, and because of that, have remained my favorite band for well over a decade. They've grown, just as I've grown.
Their last album, the much-divisive Daisy, came out eight years ago. I was still angsty, a tad more mature—but I was in high school. Still young, stupid, scornful. Daisy didn't connect with me until later in college. It was like I wasn't ready for it yet, for Brand New's next phase. But with their recent surprise release of their fifth record Science Fiction, an album telegraphed to be their last, I feel ready for their demise. Brand New's giving their final bow, and finally, I feel like I'm ready for it.
This final hurrah's been the worst kept secret for awhile. On Brand New's recent tours, they've sold merchandise clearly striking out their expiration date—2018, likely an ode to their first record's croon, "I'm gonna stay 18 forever"—and Lacey's been keen to spread the fact at every opportunity. Brand New, in a lot of ways, always felt like a band that's had an expiration date. They hardly tour, do interviews; it was nearly a decade before we heard from them again, where they embarked on tours playing their most beloved records, dropping a single here and there, and not much else. With Science Fiction feeling like a culmination of their entire body of work, the reality of Brand New's demise feels real. But I'm not sad about it. (Not too sad, at least.)
Brand New has a rampant fanbase almost comparable to other rock outfits like Radiohead. Their fans are undying, maybe a bit obsessed. For instance, when I made my way to a recent Record Store Day outing, a rare pressing of Brand New's second album Deja Entendu was gone before my partner and I even got into the store early in the morning. Yet somehow, a rare Elvis Presley record was still available. It's because that despite the fact that Brand New is often written off as just another "emo" band, their music is inherently relatable, and has shown real growth over their lifespan. Lacey wears his struggle with depression on his sleeve earnestly, and listeners connect with his words as a result.
The inherent sadness that's pulsed through Brand New's sound over nearly two decades comes to a head early on in the band's final effort Science Fiction. Lacey screeches, "I've got a positive message / Sometimes I can't get it out" in the second track "Can't Get It Out," directly nudging the singular pessimism that's plagued Brand New's catalogue. Science Fiction feels at once like an apology to fans for their bleakness, but also a thank you. Like maybe in just lending our ears for a moment, we helped others feel a little bit less alone too.
The future is questionable for Brand New. I'll be seeing them next month on the first leg of Science Fiction's tour. With the band's 2018 expiration date, they'll likely tour some more. Beyond, who knows. Maybe they'll pull an LCD Soundsystem in a few years. Maybe they'll sink like a stone in the sea, only living on in the impassioned sing-a-longs that will never die. In the meantime, at least we have Science Fiction to enjoy.