There’s been a pretty significant gap in getting this one out of Japan to its international release, but Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late makes an interesting attempt at bringing a new IP to the fighting game genre. Developed by Ecole Software and French Bread, bringing 16 unique fighters (two of which being guest characters) to the cast of this new game. While French Bread is more known for their work with the Melty Blood series, is their attempt to carve a new place into the genre with this game strong enough to leave a mark?
The game’s plot is told via the arcade mode, a staple game mode of the genre. Under Night sets itself in a scenario with creatures called Voids appearing during a time known as the Hollow Night to hunt humans. Some factions have been created and operate during the Hollow Night, whether the goal is to hunt Voids and protect others or just to cause some trouble. Admittedly the game just feels like it throws you into the story here, the manual gives you a small bit to work with as an introduction but what is present isn’t too stellar.
It is rather humorous at least seeing the guest characters’ stories, Etlnum especially, functioning totally differently from the rest and offering a nice change of pace. “Breaking the fourth wall” doesn’t cut it with Eltnum, her route feels as if the fourth wall never even existed. Being familiar with Akatsuki Blitzkampf’s self-titled games or the events of TYPE-MOON’s Melty Blood series in Eltnum’s case will definitely help with enjoyment in their respective stories, of course.
While the main story itself isn’t too engaging, the gameplay handles some mechanics in interesting ways. Under Night In-Birth is a 4 button fighting game that feels like a mix of easy to start and rewarding for those who put in the effort. You could say “that’s how it is with the fighting game genre as a whole”, and you wouldn’t be too far off. It’s definitely tough to really get good at a fighting game due to the needed time investment, but I personally feel for getting started, this game is a little more forgiving in some ways.
Like some other games out there, the recently-popular auto combo makes its way into Under Night In-Birth. Called the Smart Steer (triggered by pressing the light attack button repeatedly), you can combo into and out of this, making it an easy building block to start learning with. The third and fourth buttons are actually interesting since they can do a variety of things. Normally your third button is for strong attacks, but with the right amount of meter using it in conjunction with a special move input will give you a super variation of it. Basically if you can do a quarter-circle input, you can already use a super attack, the difference being if you use the light/medium buttons for the base special attack or the strong button to pay the meter and go all out with it. The fourth button is for multiple uses such as charging your GRD (I’ll talk more on that shortly), use of a forward aerial movement either on the ground or in the air, or it can be used with full meter for a super of devastating damage. It sounds like a lot, but it’s pretty easy to get a grasp of the basic functions over time.
Among all of the other mechanics present in this game, Under Night has one of my favorite things in a newer fighting game, the Grind Grid, also known as GRD. This meter on the bottom of the screen acts as a tug-of-war between players. It rewards the player who hits or throws the opponent, advances towards them, and successfully blocks attacks from the enemy. Likewise it can drain if you get hit or thrown, or you play it too safe and back away from the opponent. You can charge this up manually and gradually steal GRD from your opponent as well. While a good amount of fighting games make you pay with the meter you use for special and super attacks to initiate a cancel (interrupting one attack before it ends so you can combo into another attack that normally wouldn’t hit), the Grind Grid is utilized in this game for that function as well, and doing so grants you meter proportionate to the GRD you paid. As a result of how important GRD is, this gives the combat an extreme sense of weight in the neutral game, given how virtually every action gives or takes away from the Grind Gird, and that’s why I really enjoy this whole mechanic. The presence of the GRD on the bottom of the screen may be overwhelming to some at first, but it will feel natural after some time.
While the game in my opinion has a good vibe for being friendly towards newcomers, it unfortunately lacks a crucial part in those regards: a tutorial mode. Unlike many current fighting games, Under Night In-Birth has nothing really in place to teach players how all of these mechanics work within the game itself. Players do have the manual to look to, but the descriptions given there are basic at best on how the game functions. Lacking the proper tutorial mode essentially throws new fighters to the wolves unless they look to online resources, friends who know how to play, or other means. There’s no challenge mode present either to help understand how specific characters function. Each character has one PSN trophy that can be akin to a combo challenge in a fighting game, but that’s all there is. Those strange omissions aside, the game does have the rest of the genre’s usual suspects in game modes with Survival, Time Attack, Score Attack, and offline and online versus, with a pretty solid netcode to boot. It’s not the absolute top of the line, but it is one of the better ones out there from my experience.
Overall Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a game that manages to do a pretty solid job when it comes to making a fun game that feels welcoming and fresh. It’s simple enough to pick up and start learning, but not insultingly so to shy away more experienced players. Unfortunately it has the rather questionable lack of in-game learning resources such as tutorials or character challenges, and the plot isn’t going to be too memorable, but what’s here is a mostly solid experience, and can easily serve as the start of something greater, should they decide to move forward with this IP.