NIS America, Inc. / French Bread, Arc System Works
If there was ever a fighting game that I was truly counting down the days to release date this quarter, it certainly wasn’t the fantastic looking new Guilty Gear game. It wasn’t even the new and exciting Dragonball Xenoverse but the English release of Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late. So far had my anticipation grew that I’d even picked out which characters I was going to focus on before the English version had even been announced, I’d already been watching online videos of gameplay and matches.
The reason behind this ridiculous obsession? Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late is the first fighting game with high definition sprites from developer French Bread. French Bread made the famously fantastic fighting game – Melty Blood, a title co-developed with Type-Moon (Fate/Series, Tsukihime). Under Night In-Birth shares the same basic fast-paced gameplay that made Melty Blood great. The story and characters are brand new, with the exception of Eltnum who is a renamed Sion from Melty Blood and who has a hilarious arcade story that is worth the price of admission alone.
The first thing you notice in this game is that the characters feel light and move through the air with much more freedom than other games of this genre. Fighting feels fast and intuitive and best of all normal moves mesh and cancels into each other with fluidity and ease. So you can spend your time learning your characters range, a far more important aspect to focus on. Two moves clashing together and cancelling out is a far more common occurrence in this game and while this really has no tangible application it does make matches look really awesome when it happens.
The unique mechanic in Under Night In-Birth is the ‘GRD’ grid at the very centre bottom of the screen between the two super meters. This bar charges not when giving and receiving damage or with aggression but instead it rises with effective play and is diminished with mistakes. Hits, blocks, advancing and correctly executed special moves improve it. Missing with some moves, being blocked and retreating cause the grid to diminish. This dual nature ensures that nearly all the time when you are gaining blocks on the GRD grid your opponent loses them and vice versa. Considering you can use the grid to gain a lot of super meters and cancel out of any animation at the same time it gives amazing advantages to players who know how to capitalise on it.
This is the real selling point of Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late; without the resources to make each individual character a unique snowflake a la Blazblue, the focus is instead on how to best use the abilities of your character to succeed at this tug of war going on during the match. Most impressively it gives us fantastic possibilities for defense that go beyond many other fighting games limit of either waiting out a block string or using an often expensive guard-counter move.
Sadly while the fighting itself has been polished to a near sheen the rest of the game lacks a lot of the frills we have come to expect in this generation. There’s not even a basic tutorial so you will have to read the manual to even hope to understand how the GRD grid works. The command list only tells you how to do the moves not what they do or how moves with multiple inputs change. The whole experience might be a bit too much for new players or those who do not play a lot of fighting games.
But that being said the core game itself is a fantastic gem and the online play works fantastically so you should never run out of potential practice partners. The fighting game market today is both extremely competitive and very small but Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late deserves to be counted among the best purchases you could make this year.
An immediate sell to most 2D fighting game buffs, the developer French Bread has a great reputation going in. Combined with their relationship to Type-Moon this may be a gateway to pull in a new audience. With the fluidity and freedom during gameplay Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late goes further to improve the 2D fighting game genre and with the addition of the GRD mechanic, skill is very much rewarded. While the game may not be the most user-friendly for newcomers to the genre, it certainly deserves a look.