UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] is a 2D fighting game from French-Bread and Arc System Works. As the title suggests, it is a newer version of UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late, which itself was a later rendition of UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH. Since the series is popular enough to receive all these revisions and a crossover with Blazblue, I was curious to see the quality for myself.
*Copy purchased by reviewer.
Most of the story content in UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] is found within its Chronicles mode. This mode acts as a prequel to the tales that unfold in Arcade and provides more context for the clashes that take place during the Hollow Night.
Aside from the two guest characters, everyone gets their own short story. At first, many of them seem unrelated. However, background elements end up coming together to form a bigger narrative. Over the course of the story, we learn about the first humans to gain the special powers of in-births, the rise of the “evil” Amnesia organization, and the immortal re-births. Of course, since these play out through character stories, we get to learn more about the cast as individuals as well.
For the most part, the tone of each tale reflects the personality of the character. Byakuya has an unsettling story that focuses on his unhealthy obsession with his sister and his descent into madness. On the other hand, the rambunctious Mika has a lighthearted tale that details the absurd series of events that took place on her journey to Japan. Overall, the writing strikes a good balance between serious plot development and decent comedy in various forms.
In comparison, Arcade mode feels a bit unfulfilling. Since they can only devote so much time to dialogue in a fighting game, big confrontations amount to little more than brief encounters. Additionally, much of the content leans more heavily toward comedy. This makes some of the more significant plot points in Chronicles feel a little less epic.
The localization from Aksys contains quite a few minor issues. Punctuation and capitalization are all over the place, typos appear frequently in many sections, and so on. There are also some scenes do not really capture unique speech patterns or otherwise fails to convey nuance. There are even what appear to be notes for editing left in the text. Still, there are other places where the translation is accurate and matches both the cadence and tone of the audio. Really, it is not too bad overall. It just seems somewhat sloppy.
The battle sprites in UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] are not nearly as sharp as their portraits. Still, they do depict all the key details that give them their appeal. They also happen to be lacking outlines which makes their motions look more organic. As if to play to this strength, the characters are always in motion. Even while idle, their bodies shift slightly as they breathe in and out. Additionally, hair and looses clothing flutter in the wind. The developers even animated the drawstring on Linne’s hoodie so that it sways subtly in the breeze.
The designs themselves look alright. Waldstein’s hulking frame gives a good impression of his slow yet powerful style of play. His long arm braces and big metal claws also help him stand out even among similar characters in the genre. Other fighters in the roster may be a bit more generic, but there is still a decent variety of styles on offer. A few look like relatively ordinary citizens while others prefer to dress in a way that looks a bit flashy. Then there are those in the Licht Kreis who have access to special weaponry and wear more ceremonial garb. For those that prefer something more inhuman, the game also includes a Void beast and a small robotic girl. In addition to their armaments and apparel, each character has rather expressive poses that reflect their individual personalities which makes them feel distinct and helps players to grow attached.
Each character has access to 30 different colour schemes. 10 are available at first while the rest need to be purchased from a shop with currency earned in-game. Unlike some games in the genre, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] includes colour schemes that subtly change what some characters wear. For example, Phonon has the option of wearing shorts, tights, socks, or even nothing between her skirt and shoes. This is a nice touch, though it would have been better if these options could be selected independent of the rest of the outfit.
While the game plays out on a 2D plane, the battle stages have three dimensions. Unfortunately, many objects look far more jagged than the textures behind them. Thankfully, this inconsistency is not all that distracting during actual gameplay. The number of locations available seems adequate, though it does not feel like there is much variety. Since the story takes place in a single city, the use of seemingly ordinary locations makes sense. Still, the lack of outlandish or otherworldly venues makes the selection seem kind of dull. Of course, since players need to focus on the action and not the scenery, it really does not matter all that much.
During story sections, backgrounds consist of plain 2D images. Typically, these depict the environment in which the scene takes place and have a soft focus. However, there are a few special images in certain routes. In these rare instances, the art seems to be from the characters themselves with varying levels of talent on display.
As one may expect, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] features a lot of rock and electronica. Many of the battle tracks feature pretty nice melodies on top of intense rhythms suitable for fighting. Others are just intense all around. Either way, they do a great job of keeping the player’s pulse up while being easy on the ears. The quantity may be a bit lacking as there are very few versus songs. Still, with the quality on offer, the tracks that are present are more than sufficient.
Chronicles mode features a wider array of music. It has its own tracks for building tension, and they do their job well. There are also quite a few calmer tracks that are fairly pleasant to listen to. When the mood shifts, one song will fade out before the next fades in and the silence in between emphasizes the change in atmosphere. Overall, the game has a fairly decent soundtrack and puts it to good use.
The game includes some decent voice acting. Each voice fits the character and they convey their personalities rather well. Nanase is always getting caught up in one fantasy or another. As such, she has a lot of fun dialogue which is then made all the more delightful by the inflection and cadence of her voice. Hilda also happens to be rather entertaining to listen to as her arrogant and sadistic nature comes through in every one of her lines. Enkidu may not be as fun in comparison, but his deep yet soft voice perfectly matches his monk-like disposition. Really, the cast did a great job all around, and the game is all the better for it.
Between the voices and sound effects, each attack creates its own audio cues. These cues then create a rhythm when a player puts attacks together in a combo which. This can help players keep track of what they are doing and time their inputs accordingly. Of course, if a player does not change things up, these rhythms can also help a guarding opponent time their own counterattack. Similarly, a distinct chime accompanies quick recoveries which alerts both players to the moment they will be able to act or take damage. This may be a standard part of the genre, but it is still critical and UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] handles it all perfectly.
While UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] has depth that veterans can appreciate, it is also the most beginner-friendly fighting game I have ever played. The tutorials cover all the basic mechanics that appear in just about everything in the genre. It also has lessons on slightly more advanced techniques such as how to approach opponents spamming projectiles. Then there are sections that train players to efficiently counter multiple potential threats with complex inputs and tricky timing.
The inputs for special commands are fairly simple for every character. There are no moves that require double quarter circles, a half circle following a quarter circle, or other complicated movements. The most complex maneuver is probably a single rotation, and the tutorial explains the leniency when issuing such commands. This makes it so that just about any player can reliably activate every ability that each character has. It also puts a limit on how many attacks any one fighter can perform. Still, everyone has enough moves to do what they need to.
The small quantity of special attacks also helps keep characters from feeling too similar. Similarly, the small roster also helps make each fighter feel unique. However, having few foes to face off against can make fighting the AI in certain modes lose its appeal fairly quickly.
I am not normally a fan auto-combos, but UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] implements them in a way that I actually enjoy. The system allows players to perform a short string of attacks just by mashing the weak attack button. However, that button still allows access to weak attacks. It is also capable of breaking the rules regarding combos. Under normal circumstances, each attack can only appear once in a combo. By utilizing auto-combos, advanced players can circumvent this and extend their string with moves that should be invalid.
It is worth mentioning that the damage reduction for attacks that appear late in a combo is rather large. This means that being able to perform massive strings does not give someone an overwhelming advantage in battle. Instead, the game is all about being the first to deal damage over a series of skirmishes. Being able to read the opponent and figure out the right time to strike is far more important than mastering your own character. Of course, every bit of damage helps, so elaborate combinations are not entirely pointless.
Most of the unique systems in UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] revolve around the GRD gauge. In general, performing aggressive actions will fill the meter while avoiding the enemy depletes it. Whoever controls the most sections when the ring around the gauge finishes its rotation will go into Vorpal mode. In addition to providing a 10% increase in damage, Vorpal mode also grants access to other perks such as the ability to Chain Shift. Activating this ability transfers energy from the GRD gauge to the special meter, giving players early access to super moves. The Chain Shift also acts as an immediate cancel, allowing players to extend their combos or perform emergency actions.
Once a player fills at least half their special meter, they can use it to perform a superior version of their normal specials. However, they can also use the meter to enter Veil Off mode. While in this state, the character gains a 20% damage boost and they can perform any of their super moves with a lower cost. However, the special meter depletes for the entire duration that Veil Off is active. Furthermore, if a match ends while a character is in a Veil Off state, they will not retain any of their special meter when the next round starts. Still, this system provides relatively easy access to rather powerful attacks which can make battles a bit more interesting.
There are plenty of other interesting mechanics in UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] as well. Unlike many fighting games, characters are incapable of air dashes. Instead, they can perform an “assault” which acts as an extra hop that leaves them vulnerable and only allows a single follow-up attack. In addition to chaining weak attacks into strong ones, the game also lets players do the reverse and end with a shorter recovery time. I could go on, but it would probably best just to say that these systems work well with tried and true standards and the result is rather fun to play.
There are quite a few things to unlock in the game. It is not difficult to get the associated trophies through save scumming, but actually obtaining everything requires a lot of grinding otherwise. Either the payouts for playing are too low, or costs are too high.
UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] has quite a few modes. The biggest one is likely Chronicles mode which is where players will find most of the story content. However, this mode is nothing but story. While I do enjoy visual novels, knowing there were fighting mechanics present made me want to use them. I frequently found myself taking breaks to play other modes that offered a more pulse-pounding experience. My favorite is Survival which has players take on an endless supply of random enemies one by one. Each foe is more powerful than the last and the player can only heal so much between fights. It is a great way to test the extent of one’s skill and can be somewhat addicting.
The game also includes Arcade, Versus, Training, Time Attack, Score Attack, and Mission modes. Arcade offers the standard arcade experience. Players will fight a series of 10 adversaries with a few scenes of dialogue here and there. Versus is nothing more than quick one on one battles. Training is the standard practice mode in which players can learn at their own pace with options for regenerating health and such. One nifty aspect of Training is that players can see the buttons they pressed as well as how long they were held. This feature is also present in Mission mode which tasks players with performing combos of increasing complexity. Score Attack has players fight in the most flashy way possible to rack up points and top the leaderboard. Time Attack, on the other hand, has players fight as efficiently as they can to rank high on the charts.
I have not had too much trouble finding multiplayer matches in UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st]. However, the number of people playing at any given time seems to be rather low. For those that care about trophies, none involve multiplayer, so it will still be possible to earn the platinum even if the lobbies completely dry up.
Online battles only consist of the standard versus affair. During friendly matches, up to six players can watch as two duke it out. Those who are spectating have the option of viewing each competitor’s inputs which is a rather nice touch. This option is also available while watching replays. Whoever is hosting the friendly bout also has control over things such as the number of rounds and player rotation. If someone does not feel like fighting a specific person, they can choose to give up their spot. The game also features ranked battles. Unlike the friendly fights, these battles always have a best of 3 format.
UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] has quickly become one of my favorite fighting games. It has a fantastic tutorial that is thorough enough for beginners and can even teach a veteran a thing or two. That beginner-friendly nature also extends to gameplay with special attacks that are relatively simple to pull off. Still, there are systems in place that give room for experts to show off their stuff. The roster is a little on the small side, but every character feels unique. There is also a lot of story content in the game. The tale is decent enough with some interesting plots and a good dose of comedy. Furthermore, character interactions are made all the more entertaining through quality voice acting. Overall, the game is worth owning for fans of 2D fighters and it is a good place to start for those looking to get into the genre.