Game Review

by David Cabrera,

Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late

Playstation 3

Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late
The new original fighting game from the developers of the long-running Type-Moon fighter Melty Blood.

Between the convoluted modern-fantasy setting, a magic-powered cast, and its quite amazing interpretation of the English language, one could not be blamed for mistaking Under Night In-Birth for some kind of Type-Moon knockoff. The truth is actually more interesting.

The developer of this game is the storied ex-doujinshi studio French Bread. For the past decade, in association with Type-Moon, they've been working on the Melty Blood fighting game series using the characters from Tsukihime. Nobody can say they haven't put in their time with other people's characters, so French Bread are finally stepping into an original fighting game franchise with Under Night.

When Arc System Works made Blazblue, they specifically set out to make a new property, one they fully owned. Something which just so happened to be extremely thematically similar to their flagship Guilty Gear (whose rights are held up with Sega/Sammy). So it is with Under Night. An ordinary boy with amazing powers awakened from within him, a mysterious, taciturn heroine who's hundreds of years old despite her diminutive appearance... it all just happens to look a lot like a Type-Moon story! The main character of Melty Blood, Sion, even makes a guest appearance. The vampire alchemist doesn't look a hair out of place in this world of magical blade-wielding teens.

French Bread bills the game as “Pure Light Novelize 2D Versus Action”, but this is more in reference to the aesthetic than the story content. Rest assured, if you want to see two talking heads discuss the EXS (which you pronounce Igzis) and Recurring Void Effect and so forth, there is a ton of this stuff if you play through the Arcade mode with all of the characters. However, the game lacks the extended story mode that you typically see in Arc's games.

As usual in these import reviews, keep in mind this is the Japanese release, and all text is in Japanese. However, for those who would like to read the story, an English version is in fact being released by Aksys. The English text and terminology sprinkled throughout the game is mind-blowing (“Thousand night, Recurrence night, Reverie end Invite. And... [7days Immortal] Unreal BLACK THINGS.”) and I sincerely hope the localizers at Aksys have the wisdom not to touch any of it.

Beautiful 2D is still in short supply on current-generation consoles, because of how difficult it is to draw in such a high resolution. In keeping with the anime aesthetic, however, French Bread has stuck it out with 2D dot art. There is nothing quite like a good 2D sprite (unless you painstakingly imitate it in 3D, as seen in Guilty Gear Xrd), and truly these characters were meant for this style.

While the sprites aren't at the polished extreme of something like Blazblue, their attention to detail is impressive in its own right. There is a great feeling of size, weight, and movement in this unique set of character designs, which ranges from little girls to giant monsters.

This release doesn't contain much but the core game (an excellent, detailed training mode, the genre-standard filler of Time Attack, Score Attack, and Survival), but that game is quite an elegant piece of work. Under Night neither represents the slow-paced, defensive extreme of Street Fighter IV, nor the air-dashing all-offense chaos of Blazblue or Guilty Gear. Rather, it balances these elements into its own whole.

The key to the system-- and you won't even notice it until you've played for a while-- is the GRD (Grind Grid). This is a tug-of-war meter on the bottom of the screen that roughly measures who has the advantage in the fight, in 17-second increments. Advancing increases it and retreating decreases it, discouraging excessive runaway play and encouraging aggression in much the way Guilty Gear XX first did. However, blocking successfully increases the gauge, punishing predictable, boring patterns of attack.

Along with limited movement compared to other games of this type (most characters can't double jump or air dash) and high damage for just about every hit, the GRD system encourages players not just to attack, but to attack carefully and intelligently. Knowing a fancy combo is not the be-all and end-all of this game: fundamentally strong play-- spacing and smart reads of one's opponent-- are much more important.

As such, the learning curve is much less steep than in, again, Arc's games: Blazblue is well known even among genre veterans for requiring hours of combo practice before a player can even begin to understand how to play a character. Absolute beginners can mash on the A button to get an automatic combo (just as seen in Persona 4 Arena), and the “real” combos do not require obnoxious precision, nor do they stop the action for 20 seconds as the other player just sits around getting hit for a while. (They stop the action for 5 seconds).

The wide cast represents quite a range of play styles: in addition to a simple Ryu-like hero, there are characters like the tricky teleporting swordswoman Yuzuriha, or Carmine, whose weapon is his blood: he attacks by burning off his own life. Some characters are stronger than others (Gordeau, the walking Shoryuken), but the power gap is hardly unmanageable.

Online play is functional as it should be for these games, which is to say that sometimes developers in this genre still get it wrong, and this game didn't. Though it's a Japanese import, this game is still easily playable within the continental United States. The pool of competition is not deep-- wait for the US release for that-- but it's not hard for me (in New York) to get a match. Due to the nature of the game, however, you will want to avoid cross-country connections and anything below 2 bars.

Under Night is an elegantly designed game by people who have been at fighting games for a long time, and who deeply understand what's truly important about them. It achieves a simplicity of play (for this subgenre!) without for a moment sacrificing the genuine, less mechanical depth that makes these games exciting and addictive. People who are into story mode will want to hold out for the English release, but those who love fighting games for the sake of fighting should import immediately.

Review copy provided by

Thanks to @botoggle for the images.

Overall : A
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : A
Presentation : C+

+ Elegant fighting system that balances offense and defense, great depth without being overbearingly difficult
Few extra modes and options compared to other fighting games

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