By: Ted Chow
Similar to Guilty Gear Xrd –Sign-, the names of these fighting games coming out of Japan are uniquely weird and love to make my life miserable to write Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late every time I need to make a reference. But despite the title, Under Night is a solid fighter with a cult following in the Japanese arcade fighting scene and is now gracing the U.S shores. If you’re looking for a new fighter in 2015, then Under Night is that a serious contender to scratch that competitive itch.
Unlike other fighters where you have to memorize a plethora of combos and move sets for every playable character, Under Night takes a simpler approach by reducing the amount of inputs to light, medium and heavy attacks and a designated button for defense.
Inputs are generally well received by your reactions and are naturally smooth all around. It was especially interesting to see super moves are bound to the same inputs across all characters, essentially reducing the clutter of having to memorize commands and letting you focus on the fight itself. Overall, the game’s controls are easy to understand but difficult to master.
Like most fighting games that come out of Japan, you may be tempted to say that the graphics may be all too similar to a lot of the anime-themed fighters on the current market. And while this may be true, the smooth gameplay and lack of background distractions makes up for a more simplistic visual approach. The graphics aren’t anything to scoff at either, as the sprites and stages are created in high definition akin to the polish of many graphic novels.
The soundtrack is your standard battle music flair and is drowned out by all the flashy combos you’ll be executing.
Under Night stems its origins from a visual novel and is the spiritual successor to the Melty Blood series, though only one character makes the swap to this new universe. All other characters are brand new to this world and are competing in the Hollow Night, a night where creatures known as voids come out to run havoc.
The 16 characters you will play as are considered In-Birth, a state of being both alive and dead, and they can see the void menace. Multiple organizations such as the Yato, Licht Kreis and Amnesia also occupy this world and give the characters a bit more context to how they fit in surrounding this event along with their motivations. The story itself isn’t all too developed to other fighters such as Guilty Gear, but it is something that players can grasp onto for some tidbits of lore.
Under Night’s strengths are the polished fights and strategic cat-and-mouse game of taking advantage of a number of new mechanics. Under Night is definitely a grounded game where a majority of characters have absurdly long attack ranges and any small missteps can be punished by the enemy with combos that’ll leave you wondering how you lost so much health.
There are also attack animations in the air to help cover some ground or maintain your spacing, but being caught as you land can be detrimental. While the combo inputs are very lenient and flashy to entice newcomers to pick up on the simplicity of the game, there are deeper mechanics with the GRD and EXS system.
The EXS system is like the ultra meter in Ultra Street Fighter 4 where you gain points based on damage taken or inflicted. Certain moves that your characters have can utilize the accumulated points in order to execute stronger moves by holding the input longer. You can also use the points to initiate a defensive shield to reduce incoming damage. At the max of 200 EXS, you will have access to your super move, which will take a sizeable chunk of health away from your opponent if it connects.
The GRD (Grind) system is a more obscure mechanic that wasn’t clearly explained in the tutorial and was rather hard to grasp without looking up a digital manual online. Essentially, the GRD system is a buff to the player that satisfies the activation requirement. In order to increase the bar, you will have to play more aggressively by moving forward or landing hits, and is taken away if you take damage or if your attacks are blocked.
Once it starts to blink, the player with the most filled bars will illuminate with an aura that gives a damage boost and an ability called chain shift. The chain shift is similar to the Roman cancel in Guilty Gear where you cancel the recovery for an attack and briefly freeze time to halt any momentum.
Under Night offers loads of game modes that are too plentiful to list, but the major features are online play, local play and a number of challenge modes for leaderboard bragging rights. In-game currency (called IP) can be gained after playing different modes and can be spent to customize your name plate, titles and character skins. You can also unlock artwork in the gallery mode, which I always tend to gravitate toward as an artist.
With a simplified combo system and general friendliness for newcomers to pick up on the game, Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late does something refreshing within the fighting genre by opting for simplicity over complexity. With a roster of unique characters and play modes, Under Night would be a great contender to the fighting game list for Evo 2015, and I would love to see it get some prime time.