Between them French Bread and Arc System Works have a massive fighting game pedigree, and that is evident in this comprehensive but ageing fighter.
Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late(ST) is an unashamedly Japanese game. Everything from the anime-inspired 2D sprites to the J-Rock soundtrack, even all of the voice over dialogue is in Japanese. This puts Under Night In-Birth very quickly into a niche market; if anime is not your jam then you might have trouble relating to the content. On the reverse side, if you are a fan then there is a lot to be appreciated here. That being said, the aesthetics of the game are generally quite bland and uninspiring.
From the very start the game sets a low standard for itself, with the most revolting menu known to man. I would be the first to admit that I don’t give too much thought to the presentation of menus but Under Night In-Birth immediately shows where its priorities lie. The menu does its job and that’s about it, it’s definitely a no thrills ride when it comes to aesthetics and that’s systemic of the game as a whole. The character sprites are full of personality but aren’t very sharp and sometimes appear fuzzy, this takes away a level of shine and polish from the overall quality that I would expect from a game in 2018. The stages the characters compete in are also very basic, ugly and forgettable. There are no real standout stages, and with a Japanese theme it’s hard to believe that the developers couldn’t build levels with more personality, variety or beauty.
A fighting game however, is only as good as its gameplay, and it’s here that Under Night In-Birth shines. The game uses a four button control mechanic, with a light, medium and heavy attack set. The idea of all moves being assigned to only four buttons makes the entry level less intimidating for beginners. The amount of depth to the game is truly impressive when moves are only assigned to four buttons. Like every good fighting game Under Night In-Birth is a game that is easy to pick up and play but difficult to master. Both these tasks are made remarkably easier by a very lengthy and thorough tutorial system, which aids beginners and advanced fighters alike. It attempts to teach moves from the very basic (how to move left and right) through to the systems in play during a fight and advanced techniques. Understanding the high end moves and intricacies is what really gives the game longer legs and a deeper appeal.
There are 20 characters in the game with their own styles and combos to master. The cast is fairly well balanced with different types of fighters, from speedy slashers to hulking brutes. Each has their own advantages, disadvantages and feel, making for some intriguing matchups. Although the aesthetics can feel bland the animation is quick and sharp, creating fast paced and frantic encounters. There are different systems in play during a match, such as the GRD system, which actively rewards aggression with an attack buff, and is gained by moving closer to an opponent. There is also the EXS meter, which can be spent on special moves, potentially helping to turn the tide in a match.
All of these moves and systems can be extremely overbearing and the previously mentioned tutorial mode goes some way to helping solve this. In addition, the training and combo modes take the lessons from tutorial mode and gives the player a place to apply their new-found knowledge. Training mode offers the chance to customise and tweak the settings to create the perfect conditions for practicing. Whilst combo mode is an extended tutorial, offering the freedom to learn and practice combos in a safe and pressure free environment. To the game's credit, it excels in giving the tools, not only to learn and implement new skills, but hone and perfect techniques already known. There are a decent number of modes to try that add more variety and reasons to play. In addition to the training modes, there is a classic arcade mode, ranked/unranked online battles, time attack and score attack. There is also an in game currency that is earned by completing challenges in tutorials and fights against opponents. These points can be spent on items such as titles (which are all in Japanese) and character backgrounds.
The final mode is Chronicles, which acts as a prologue to the main story in Arcade mode. Arcade mode is made up of 10 consecutive battles with some brief story elements between some of the fights. When you have the ability to start as any fighter and play the story from their perspective, it naturally makes it difficult to weave together a cohesive story. When you add into the mix the fact that Under Night In-Birth's story is also very convoluted it makes it even harder to follow. Chronicles goes some way to address this, it presents a story in a more cohesive and easy to follow way. The mode, however, takes the form of a visual novel. Whilst this fits well with the themes of the game, it feels at conflict with a twitchy and energetic fighter. The pace is slowed down to a crawl and there is a lot of reading, but most of all it’s just not that much fun.
UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late [ST] (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late (ST) is a deep and complex fighting game which gives players the tools to learn and master its systems and mechanics. The game however, is showing its age with ugly level design and boring menus. Whilst gameplay should come first, there are other fighters out there that are more of a complete package.