As the American arcade steadily faded from the recreational landscape, fighting games migrated to dedicated hardware. Consoles, and later portables, offered an outlet for pugilism that would endure for generations of hardware. But steadily, a number of perceptive publishers also began porting their titles to PC. With games like Arcana Heart 3 LOVE MAX!!!!!, Battle Fantasia -Revised Edition-, and Guilty Gear Xrd –Sign-, Arc System Works has been at the forefront of this trend. With the release of Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, the Yokohama-based firm continues their tradition of proficient ports poised to please fighting game devotees.
Originally released across Japanese arcades in 2012, Under Night was subsequently tweaked and ported to the PlayStation 3, with a stateside localization following three years later. And with this largely competent PC adaptation, Windows-based gamers are now able to enjoy In-Birth Exe:Late’s numerous virtues. From a mechanically rich, but not convoluted gameplay to character art that converges on the exquisite, this is another adept collaboration between Ecole Software and French Bread- the teams behind both Melty Blood: Actress Again and Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax. As such, genre fans will certainly want to add the title to their wish list.
Recently, 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 backstory, it’s a bit surprising to not find a dedicated narrative that explains what’s going on in this original IP. Instead players will either have to grab exposition from the conversational fragments provided before fights in the Arcade Mode, or seek out a FAQ. Either way, they’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, there’s a lot of narrative implanted in Under Night. While those interested in the conflict can eek out exposition, those more interested in fighting can either skip past the dialog sequences, or opt to play another, conversation-free mode.
But before venturing into a confrontation, a quick trip to the game’s training mode might help to understand some of its distinctive 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 roster of sixteen. 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, as the roster shows a solid sense of balance.
With the release of Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, Ecole Software and French Bread demonstrate their unblemished record to PC players, with a fighting games that absorbing, attractive, and mildly addictive. If Windows-based machines can continue to receive reasonably-priced titles like this, players might have abandon their console allegiances for a machine with a burgeoning library of essential fighting games.
Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PC, previously on PS3
Developer: Ecole Software, French Bread
Publisher: Arc System Works
Release Date: July 12th, 2016
Price: $29.99 via Steam (PC), currently on sale for $23.99