Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late - Review
The first challenge with Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late is remembering its name, what does that title even mean?
Fortunately, that memorisation will serve you well as Under Night is a brand new fighter from developers French Bread, serving as a port of the arcade version of the same name. In short, the game attempts to meld the anime styling of the likes of BlazBlue and Guilty Gear and fuse it with the more traditional 2D fighting systems prevalent in Street Fighter and its ilk.
As a new fighting game on the block, Under Night plays it safe whilst subtly still trying to forge its own identity. The usual character archetypes are here; Hyde is the traditional Ryu-like character; balanced, but with a general tendency to favour defence. Waldstein meanwhile, is the grappler in attendance, sporting hulking metal arms that boast a frightfully long range for his grapples, but also being cursed with one of the slowest movement speeds you'll ever see in a fighting game.
While the traditional aggressive "rushdown" characters and long range "zoners" are all present, Under Night is best when it slips in the weird curve balls to its character designs. Merkava, for instance, is a strange reptile/demon hybrid that sports wings and a pair of stretchy Dhalsim-esque arms, while Carmine is an aggressive, close-range character that spends portions of his life bar in order to pull off some of his more potent attacks.
Overall, in its character department, Under Night manages to strike a solid balance between recognisable fighting styles but with a big enough flair of originality.
The actual fighting, likewise, sticks to tried and true rules, but with a few twists here and there. For a rather stylish anime fighter, Under Night doesn't necessarily concern itself with too many fleshy complex combos. Simply hitting the square button will have almost any character launching a barrage of attacks, strung together into a combo. The game has no problem having beginners look cool, but delve a little deeper and there's a surprising amount of depth on offer.
To start with there's a basic meter system, a la Street Fighter IV, that steadily fills up as you pull of attacks. Almost every attack in a characters arsenal can be powered up by using an "EX" version, improving its changing its power or properties but at the cost of a characters available meter.
More interesting perhaps is the GRD system, a peculiar game mechanic that effectively rewards smart and effective play, whilst also encouraging players to engage rather than simply back away. This isn't to say that the GRD system prioritises offence over defence, however. Well-timed blocks and pushing forward will build your side of the GRD meter, whilst backing away or launching ill-timed attacks will either drain your meter or grant your opponent an opportunity to make a comeback, stealing the advantage.
Every ten seconds or so the player with the higher GRD meter will be given a temporary damage boost on their attacks. In short, the system establishes smart, active play, without necessarily dominating the game or punishing particular play styles.
As an entire fighting game, for modern times, Under Night In Birth is a little on the slim side. Its fighting may be relatively deep but the gameplay modes are the typical ones on offer, including a standard ten round arcade, survival, and time attack modes. There's also the inevitable online play which will undoubtedly be the most important feature in Under Night several months down the line.
Perhaps the biggest criticism that can be levelled at Under Night is it's yet another 2D fighter that ignores beginners. Even Street Fighter, arguably the king of the 2D fighting format can be incredibly daunting for new players to break into, and Under Night certainly appears even more complex in comparison. The lack of any basic tutorial mode is a bit of a letdown, and may potentially put off some players that may otherwise be drawn to the game, especially considering its art style.
Still, despite these shortcomings, this console port does at least have a few bonuses. The introduction of several new fighters is easily the biggest benefit. Akatsuki, from Akatsuki Blitzkampf, makes an appearance, and, for a game that features an entire cast with long range weapons, even the more close-range fighters, it's interesting to see a character introduced that uses nothing but his fists and feet.
All of these little extras attempt to pad out a fighter that can seem a little too lean and a bit lacking in some areas. The character designs are decent but come nowhere near the quality of Guilty Gear's or BlazBlue's. Meanwhile, no proper story mode means that casual players have nothing to get their teeth into besides the basic arcade matches, and the lack of a decent tutorial is going to ensure that this likely remains yet another fighter relegated to the hardcore fighting fans.
Provided you can appreciate the steep learning curve, or at least have sufficiently honed your skills on Street Fighter and its friends, there's enough depth in Under Night to make it worth checking out, even if it isn't all that original, nor that beginner-friendly.
Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late was released February 27th exclusively for the PS3.
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