Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late Review – Simplistically Complex (PS3)
Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is quite the mouthful to say given its straightforward nature. Developed in tandem with French Bread of Melty Blood fame and published for overseas audiences by Aksys Games, Arc System Works set out to create an original fighter whose modern-day setting and anime-styled characters aren’t too far off from their other titles such as Blazblue. On the outside, Under Night may seem run-of-the-mill but in truth it may be one of the most easily accessible fighting games I’ve played to date on the PlayStation 3.
While the game itself lacks any proper story mode, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late does have its fair share of lore told largely in between its Arcade Mode cutscenes. Each of these scenes is done in a visual novel-type style – that is 2D character portraits are represented on screen with dialogue written following underneath. The developer has coined the game as a Pure Light Novelize 2D Versus Action title because of this.
The Greatest Story Never Told?
The over-arching plot itself is fairly interesting – the main protagonist Hyde is drawn to the power of Existence (EXS) and the phenomenon known as Hollow Night, which infests areas with shadow beings known as Voids. Normal people are unable to see these creatures, but those that do become a target. Those who encounter the Voids are either consumed by them or become beings known as In-Births who can wield the power of Existence.
The lack of a true story mode is disappointing. Arc Sys, while simply the publisher of the home console version here, tends to lengthen their fighters with engaging visual novel modes so the lack of anything substantial in Under Night is a glaring absence. The PS3 version of Persona 4 Arena and its sequel, for example, included a lengthy visual novel adventure mode that combined both story and fighting game aspects together which added a fair amount of alternative gameplay both refreshing and unusual to the genre. The lack of any other extras outside of a collectible gallery make this omission all the more notable.
Instead, Under Night centers itself on several game modes – each familiar to anyone who’s ever touched a fighting game before. Aside from its Arcade Mode, the game features an in-depth training mode and additional modes including Time Attack, Score Attack and Survival. On the surface that might not seem like a lot but Under Night’s strengths come not so much from content as it does the balancing of its own game mechanics.
Admittedly the first thing I did upon playing the game was jump straight to the Arcade Mode, but ultimately I feel that was a mistake. You see, the game has a lot of intricacies that aren’t obvious upon first play. I recommend spending some time in the Training Mode to get the hang of things – namely the various systems and a look at the abilities list as well as your inputted actions.
The backbone of Under Night’s gameplay is the Grind Grid system, or GRD for short. This is the bar that appears on the bottom of the screen during an encounter and its job is to indicate the player with the current advantage. The game actually punishes you from running away from your opponent because of this as the meter will deplete should you step back. You can increase your advantage by stepping toward your opponent. Blocking incoming attacks also increases the gauge, which – if you’re playing with a typical button masher – effectively punishes those who rely on lazy one-button moves.
Under Night encourages intelligent play and because of that, players who take a more tactical approach are rewarded in one of the most mechanically complex fighting games I’ve played to date. The game doesn’t necessarily shun new-comers – in fact it’s quite the opposite. In the menu options you can change the level of difficulty should you so choose, but on top of that the game doesn’t really rely too much on precision button presses to execute combos or exact timing to get the job done. Novice players should be able to pick up and play without ever feeling over-burdened.
The game features a colorful cast of characters each with their own abilities, weapons and play styles. For example, the protagonist Hyde uses a long blade, while the suave Gordeau makes use of both melee tactics and a hidden scythe. Under Night In-Birth’s character variety is one of its high points and while a couple of the bulkier ones are a bit over powered their CPU versions can still be bested with enough skill or the bonus of having long-range weapons like Orie’s rapier.
It’s Not Anime…Or Is It?
Visually, Under Night In-Birth is impressive. French Bread’s 2D sprite art really shines through with the anime style and the colors and animations standout against the detailed backgrounds. From a presentation standpoint, the game has all the makings of a visual novel and its music is no slouch either.
Unfortunately at the time of this review I was unable to come in contact with anyone to attempt the game’s online networking mode. Under Night offers both rank and player matches based on inputted criteria, however, during our time with the game we failed to locate another player. It’s possible that the game uses separate servers from its Japanese counterpart, which would explain the lack of activity.
At its core, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a complex game that rewards players for taking the initiative. Its variety in character and combat types helps make up for a beefier story mode – though to be honest given the base story I’ve love to see more. I feel there is the potential for more to be done with the characters and world similar to other anime-style brawlers. This game is a fighting game fan’s fighter and If that’s what you’re looking for then this game’s for you.
Review copy was provided by the publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.