While Yokohama-based Arc System Works dabbles in other genres, and is behind efforts like Xblaze: Lost Memories and Inferno Climber, the company is undoubtedly best known for their fighting game franchises. Series like Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, and Persona 4 Arena, have cultivated a growing legion of fans, who relish each new pugnacious-minded release.
And while the fighting games developed by Arc System Works are often geared toward advanced players, with complex combos and a myriad of sophisticated mechanics, the company’s publishings tend to favor accessibility. The Arcana Heart and Chaos Code franchises have generally been cordial to newcomers- much like the releases of Under Night In-Birth: Exe Late. Originally released across Japanese arcades in 2012, Under Night was subsequently tweaked and ported to the PlayStation 3, with a stateside localization that followes three years later. Now in its third iteration, entitled Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st], the series retains its core virtues, extending a mechanically rich, persistently attractive contribution to the genre. As another adept collaboration between Ecole Software and French Bread, the teams behind both Melty Blood: Actress Again Current Code and Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, fighting game fans will certainly want to add the title to their wish list.
Fighting games like Xrd Sign have provided players with protracted storylines which help to provide a context for all of the ensuing conflict. Given Under Night’s elaborate lore, it was a bit surprising to find that previous entries didn’t have a dedicated narrative that explains what was going on in this original IP. Smartly, that oversight has been remedied with Late[st], which contributes Chronicles Mode, which delivers visual novel-based exposition.
Venture across Chronicles’ ten-hour narrative or read a FAQ that can offer a succinct synopsis. Either way, you’ll discover that during monthly phases known as a Hollow Night, cloaked creatures known as Voids clandestinely gather a resource referred to as Existence. While most people can’t see the beings, the few who can are often attacked. For most, this leads to insanity, while the rare survivors are referred to as In-Births and harness the ability to control Existence.
To add another layer of depth to the plotline, no less than three different factions each have their own policy on Hallow Night, Voids, and humans. In execution, that means there’s a lot of narrative implanted in Under Night. While those more interested in the backstory can plunge in Chronicles’ intricate tapestry of character and context, those more interested in fighting can effectively overlook the story, relishing in the game’s appealing roster of combatants.
But before venturing into a confrontation, a quick trip to the game’s training mode might help to understand some of its mechanical nuances. While there’s plenty of fighting game convention, with the customary health bars and EXS meters which regulates the special attacks that complement every character’s unique repertoire. But peer between each combatant’s EXS bar and you’ll spy Under Night’s most transformative mechanic, the Grind Grid.
Shortened as ‘GND’, the multi-block gauge reacts to each fighter’s technique. Play aggressively, block proficiently and you’ll swell the meter, while if you backtrack and flail around, you can expect it to shirk. Periodically, a clock-like meter rewards the players with something called a Vorpal state. While in this condition, the player gets a blue aura around them, signifying increased damage output, as well as converting GND blocks into an EXS refill and canceling out of attacks. In execution, it’s an intriguing system that rewards tactical play and re-energizes matches every seventeen seconds with its mid-round tug-of-war sessions.
Visually, the game makes for a proficient port, although there a few minor blemishes are apparent. Wholly, character design is spotless, extending characters like Nanase, a nimble sword-carrying schoolgirl with a mobile phone fixation or Waldstein, a hulking, hairy man whose carries humungous gauntlets. Whether players prefer speed, reach, or power there’s a combatant to be found, and with the game’s consistently fluid animation and delicately-drawn details, it would be hard to not be enamored by at least a few fighters among the cast of twenty. Pleasingly, the game’s four new additions mesh exceedingly well, avoiding the feeling of character redundancy. Unfortunately, the level of fidelity doesn’t apply to the polygonal backdrops, which can be sparse and flaunt only a modicum of movement. Musically, the game runs the gamut, so expect everything from J-pop, searing metal, and even a bit of dub-step to supplement the on-screen skirmishes.
Although Under Night doesn’t brandish beloved GGPO middleware, online matches exhibited minimal lag and smooth execution. While only a few fighters were online at any given part of the day or night, creating or hopping into a competition was painless, allowing for a breezy play session. Given the quality of the title, it would be great to see the game cultivate at least a modest community, given the well-heeled roster number of tweaks designed to promote a sense of balance.
With the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita release of Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st], Ecole Software and French Bread flaunt their unblemished record, with an iteration that’s absorbing, attractive, and mildly addictive. If you own a previous version of Under Night, this title might not be worth a full-priced pickup, but if you’re new to the series, Late[st] is a robust entryway into the series.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Ecole Software, French Bread
Publisher: Arc System Works
Release Date: February 9th, 2018
Price: $49.99 (PlayStation 4), $39.99 (PS Vita) via digital download