Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late
The PS3’s golden years haven’t seen many AAA-level game releases, but we have seen a slew of top-quality fighters hit the system. Much like how the PS2’s latter days led to a lot of games getting releases that otherwise wouldn’t have and thus making the system an even better buy as time went on, the same has happened with the PS3. It’s made the platform the go-to system of choice for fighting fans as games like Arcana Heart 3 and Under Night get releases with minimal work needed to bring these anime-infused games over from Japan. In the case of Under Night, we’re getting a Japanese arcade game’s latest incarnation. Originally released in 2013 in arcades and in mid 2014 on the PS3, it really hasn’t taken all that long for it to get a North American release.
The game’s plot is convoluted and is only revealed with text-based story bits for each character, so it’s really hard to actually piece things together in the game itself. It appears to be based on some kind of faction-based warfare, and involves a lot of teenagers doing battle. There is a wider variety of character choices here with a good mix of giant characters, smaller ones, long range, short range, and medium-range fighters. There aren’t a ton of female fighters included and the ones that are here don’t just exist for fanservice either. Each character is given some kind of motivation within the story mode, and you can gain a sense for their alignment in things with whom they face in the arcade battles.
The vast array of characters keeps each play session fresh because you can run through each of the game’s many modes with one character, and then do a marathon with the other ones. This might not seem like an appealing move, but it’s actually shockingly fun in execution. I enjoyed spending a few minutes training, then going through the arcade mode and getting points to unlock stuff. After that, I’d run through the score attack, time attack, and the super-tough survival mode. Each gets you points, but survival requires you to get through as many foes as possible with just one life bar.
Under Night is a four button fighter with X building up your EXS, square doing a light attack, triangle is for a medium, and circle is your strong attack. This is a comfortable setup on the PS3’s pads, and a perfect one if you’ve got a Neo Geo X portable with the fight stick since it will work perfectly. The EXS gauge is built up to do specials and then super moves, and is something you’ll want to keep in check since your basic attacks have a lot of range, so it isn’t like you just need to use specials for longer-range damage.
With only three action buttons, it may seem like there’s no real depth to the combat, but there is. You’ve got built-in combos set up with light, medium, and then heavy attacks that you can modify with d-pad presses. You can also modify this combo chain by going from one attack type to the next in any order – so if you want to start with a heavy that traps someone in the corner, then strike quickly with a light attack before finishing up with a medium, you can. That same kind of variety holds true for flying attacks and mid-air counters that give you a few different options for each position. Dashing and recovery from falls is also an integral part of things and keeps the pace of combat really fast.
Online play is included, but a bit limited. There are no tournaments, but the arcade vibe is kept alive with the waiting system. It’s a bit like waiting for two players to finish up with a machine, although with fewer sticky floors and sodas spilling all over the place. Unranked and ranked options are here, as are replays. The replay function is reasonably well done, although it would be nice if it included the ability to remove all of the HUD items – it’s a stunning game that would benefit from a lack of anything on-screen.
Graphically, this is on-par with fighters like King of Fighters XIII, BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, and the Persona 4 Arena games. You’ve got stunning hand-drawn 2D animation to look at here with a smooth look to everything. The key is that it’s like Street Fighter 3’s animation where it’s smooth, but not so smooth that it makes attack animations too long. Everything looks correct to the eye in that regard, and the wide variety of character designs makes the solid collision-detection that much more impressive. The largely static and lifeless backgrounds look good, but stick out a bit more than I’d like. It’s a bit like seeing an obvious matte painting in an old movie, or seeing the polygonal backdrops in the Dreamcast-era King of Fighters games clash with the sprite art. It’s not really an eye sore, but it’s kind of distracting because there’s no life to them but they’re still quite beautiful. Each backdrop would make for a fine system or desktop wallpaper and leads to some impressive visuals, but they feel a bit sterile. Speaking of art, you can unlock a metric ton of it, and there’s even some fan art to unlock as well.
Under Night has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a fighting game in many years. A lot of games have solid soundtracks that hold up when you play it, but don’t stick in your head after playing. Under Night’s soundtrack is so good that I found myself humming the soundtrack constantly after a session. Some may be disappointed that the game lacks an English dub, but it’s a fighting game, and it really doesn’t lose much having all of the in-game dialogue in English text boxes. It’s not like trying to watch a subtitled film where you’re trying to pay attention to the text and the on-screen action – it’s just looking at text and following along and gaining some context for what’s going on with vocal inflections. The attack sound effects are also top-notch and the game is quite a treat for the ears.
Under Night may have a weird title and an even odder series of subtitles, but it’s a damn fine fighting game that seems destined to be hailed as a sleeper hit in a few years. If you want to beat that trend, buy it now either physically or digitally and experience one of the finest 2D fighters on a system chock-full of them. Under Night has a diverse roster and I honestly had more fun with it than I did with either Persona 4 Arena game, and I enjoyed those a ton. The game’s release timing reminds me of Guilty Gear on the PlayStation, where it’s simply not in a position to sell really well, but it deserves all the praise it gets and should be played by anyone who enjoys 2D fighters.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Aksys Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late for the PlayStation 3 provided by Aksys Games.