By William Haderlie / July 22nd, 2016
|Title||Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late|
|Publisher||Arc System Works|
|Release Date||July 12, 2016|
|Genre||2D Doujin Fighting Game|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
Under Night In-Birth, as a franchise, started life as a visual novel and doujin fighting game co-developed by French-Bread and Ecole Software. For fans of those studios, or of doujin fighting games in general, that should be a very familiar pairing. That is the same genesis as the fighting game classic, Melty Blood. One absent partner, however, is the prominent Visual Novel developer Type-Moon. Supposedly they had planned on creating a whole new HD Melty Blood game but development stalled when they started to work on another title. So French-Bread and Ecole made this new series instead. This title originally came out in arcades and then on the PlayStation 3, so this is a port of that PS3 version. The questions are: was it a good port and is this game worth the $29.99 asking price?
As I discussed in my Melty Blood review, Steam has become the heaven of doujin fighting games. At the risk of straining the metaphor, it is indeed the place where they go after they die. But it is also a fantastic place where we fans can give them new life and also find them and play them in the same place. Almost every fighting game in the poverty side streams this past weekend (AnimEvo 2016) could have been played from one Steam box. For you 09ers out there, you can’t even imagine what it was like to carry around modded (or imported) PS2 units, PCs running dubious ROMs, and cribbed together arcade boards. We do perhaps lose some of the passion that went into that much dedication, but I’ll trade that for ease of access. This one is not that old, being a game that was released on PlayStation 3, but that system is rapidly disappearing as well. It has been a long time since I have even turned mine on, and I review games. So now we have a new audience exposed to this game, and I will do a brief background on the game and its mechanics before going into the port quality.
One thing we should get out of the way is that, even compared to Melty Blood, this story is bat-shit crazy. That’s not to say it’s badly written or translated, because it’s not. It’s just that without any context for previous events and definitions, you are going to be completely lost. That was true of the PS3 version as well, and unfortunately they did not add a Glossary or Story Mode that explained anything more clearly. There is still fun to be had in the story scenes, usually about 4 per character path, just don’t go in expecting it to be straightforward. However, if you do clear enough of the character stories, you will start to get a clearer picture of what is going on. Some of the story paths will define terms as an aside, whereas in others it will be taken as a given that you know what they are referring to with a term.
The cast list will seem a bit small at first, if you have been a Melty Blood player. However, the cast of their previous game series has ballooned over the years. It is far larger now than it was in the beginning. Also many of the MB characters are re-imagining of their other forms. But even beyond that, this cast is still a good size at 16. And they all fight extremely differently. They have obviously taken many of the lessons from their previous games and either combined them or found areas that they were missing. If you don’t like the way one character plays, try someone different and you will discover that there is no standard move set or focus combos. They all play very distinctly. That works for the benefit of the game’s diversity, but you will have to drill down on one character if you want to get really good.
Getting really good is really only necessary for Network Play. One of my few complaints about this title is that its CPU AI is pretty horrible. Not that it’s really that big of a deal for me, or should be for anyone, but it is quite noticeable. Melty wasn’t too difficult either, but it was more challenging than this is, even Street Fighter games have a more difficult Arcade Mode. Perhaps that’s intentional though, because Arcade Mode is mostly there to experience the story. There are other modes if you want to experience some challenge, such as Score Attack or Survivor Mode. But part of the lack of challenge is also that this is at its core a bit more basic of a game than their previous series was. To be clear there is a lot of depth attainable, as anyone who has observed high level play can attest to. But anyone who plays the French-Bread games will know that Melty was far more complex. That did also make the learning curve much more steep than this one is, to the detriment of new fans.
I could not see any differences between the different modes available from what I remembered in the PlayStation 3 version. But it’s been a couple years since I’ve played that one, so I may have missed something. You have mostly the modes that you would expect in a modern fighting game here. The Training Mode, which is super important for a complex game like this, does have a lot of nice options. That is something that this developer got better at over the Melty life cycle, so they had the good sense to carry it over into their next franchise. It’s not quite as good as the fantastic training which Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- offers, but no other fighting game reaches that new level. Customize Mode allows you to use your earned points (from clearing Arcade Mode or Network Mode challenges) to spend on changing your online player card or unlocking the 20 different character colors. You can also spend those points in the Gallery Mode, which has all the standard backgrounds and trailers that you would expect.
One area that this game is better than the Melty port was, is in the Online Lobby options screen (seen above). It is not the best lobby that I’ve seen in a fighting game, but it’s certainly up in the top echelon. There were some reports of the recent day one patch giving the game some extra lag online, but I did not experience it myself, so they may have fixed it. Even playing against some players from Japan, at most I had about a 6-12 frame lag. The closer someone was in the real world, the less noticeable lag there was. So the net code for this one is really quite good. Is it the same as sitting on a couch next to someone? Of course not, but it is still functional enough that if you lose it’s your fault. Given that this is the Mode that will have the longest legs for the game, it’s very important that they get this right. One other really nice thing was that you have the option to play in Training Mode while waiting for a Ranked Match. You don’t have to, but that is a really great thing to have.
Getting the netcode right is the most important thing, but you also need to make sure the rest of the game is bug free. There was only one major bug that I experienced while playing. For some reason, very rarely, Waldstein would be totally invisible during arcade mode. He is that giant gorilla of a man pictured in the above screenshot. This happened with the greatest frequency when I played as Hyde. No other character had this happen to them, only the most massive one. Granted, I was still able to beat him while he’s invisible (he does have a giant hurt box after all), but it was rather annoying. And when I looked on the Steam forums, I was not the only one who experienced this. I’m sure they will patch that one soon, though. The lasting concern I have is that there are no major graphic filter options for this game. Most computers made in the last 3-5 years should be able to run an emulated PlayStation 3 game, but not having those options is a concern for any PC release.
Minor bug and concern aside, this was a very solid port, and one that I could see people playing for years (even if it’s in the parking lot). I don’t like it quite as much as Melty, but the comparisons cannot be helped. Even the story and the fonts they use are strongly reminiscent of their previous games. But this series is starting in a really good place and I would definitely like to see it evolve over the years. The simplified mechanics may be a turn-off for some of the more hardcore crowd, but there is still a lot of depth to be found with a lot of training. So now that the PS3 is virtually a dead system, having this one on Steam is a really good idea. $29.99 for a fighting game that is technically retro may be a little steep. But it’s probably still cheaper than finding a new copy of the console release. And with the abundance of Steam sales, let alone the first week 20% off one, you are likely to find it for an even better price. Myself, I think it’s worth the $30 cash. More than likely, if you enjoy fighting games at all, this is one that you will not regret buying. At a minimum, you will have a lot of new waifus to choose from.
Review Copy Provided By Publisher
2D Fighting GameArc System Worksfrench breadPCSteamUnder Night In-Birth Exe: Late