By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
ArcSys games is the home to many of the greatest anime fighter franchises. That’s not an exaggerated opinion, just a statement of fact. Melty Blood, Blazblue, Guilty Gear… but there are some that we don’t get to see. It often takes a very long time for the lesser known ones to come to America, since they are niche’ titles at best. Some of them, like Akatsuki Blitzkampf did not see American releases [that I’m aware of], but does have a presence in this game in the form of the fighter Akatsuki. Eltnam is also Sion in Melty Blood, so there’s another fun cameo. There are so many amazing 2D fighters we don’t get to play in America without jumping through hoops; one of the criticisms/reasons I can offer for that is that these games generally play very similar to one another. It has its own unique game mechanics and characters, a story that is driven on its own merits without relying on other major ArcSys titles, but if you have played the others? You can play this one, Under NIght: In-Birth Late Exe It was originally developed by French Bread, who also worked on Melty Blood, so you’re going to see a lot, and I mean a lot of similarities. The art style is similar, the game style is similar. It will boil down to what characters you enjoy playing. But that’s the beauty of these style of games. If you want to stop playing Street Fighter, and go to Tekken, you have to learn a whole new moveset and way of thinking. If you want to hop from Melty to Under Night? Sure, you have new mechanics to learn, but it’s a lot less stress than the move from some of the major fighters.
Released in 2013, Under Night has seen a few updates and re-releases, with the EU/US releases on Playstation 3. Finally its here, three years later, on the PC via Steam. The updates varied with usefulness, from adding characters, new features [Force Function was added in 2.0, for example], and nerfs/buffs when necessary. There’s an edition of this game that was released in arcades last year, so it is not likely that we will see those updates for quite a while. Under Night: In-Birth Late:Exe[st] comes with another character [Phonon], and some other mechanic/updates, but it’s not ground shaking. What this tells me though is that if Under Night is successful on Steam, we might see the update on this side of the pond soon. But I have to say, what the Hell is with these names? The storylines are always so complicated, and the names even worse. Maybe I don’t invest enough time into the story mode to really get the game titles, but man. It’s peculiar but not enough to turn me off from the franchise. This to me is probably the easiest of the Anime-style fighting games that I’ve ever played for a few reasons. One of the major features is called “Smart Steer,” which is a method of showing what a combo might look like. Here’s an example of one of the Smart Steer combos:
Without meter it does less than 2k damage, with meter it does around 2.5k damage. Now, you can either do that, or you can just mash the A button over and over to get that with Smart Steer. Now, Smart Steer only does one combo, but it doesn’t do horrific damage. You can use the Smart Steer for a few hits, since those count as hitting A, and then switch mid-combo to something more damaging. There’s a lot of flexibility in combos in this game. The system in place allows for it. But you might be saying, “But what if someone beats me just by mashing A!” That tells me that you don’t have a very strong defensive/counter game and ought to pay more attention! That’s what that says. But why is it so flexible? The “Passing Link” system lets you cancel a normal with another normal, as long as it hits them. Guarding or not, you can cancel right into another move. You can swap between crouch and normal to create insane, hard to read blockstrings. You can go from weak to stronger [A-C] or stronger to weaker, but you can’t repeat moves you’ve already used, unless they’re designed to be repeated. So while this might seem like a pretty simple game because you can just mash A over and over [which we also had in the Persona fighting game], Smart Steer is not affected by the move restriction on Passing Link. You can combine the moves in someone’s Smart Steer combo into a Link combo to create devastating amounts of damage! There’s also a pretty nice Counter system to learn, which can deal damage and make someone’s day a lot more frustrating. In addition to these, there is also a new system called the GRD System, which is a series of blocks in the bottom middle of the screen. Using your Unique Move/Force Function for each character is done with B+C and takes one of those blocks.
Grind Grid, or “GRD,” is basically a tug-of-war system. You gain GRD by moving forward, Assaulting [Command Air Dash, Rush to Enemy but can’t Aerial Block/Shield during it], hitting attacks, blocking, shielding, and using Concentration [holding down D button charges GRD]. When you’re on the defensive, taking damage, moving back, etc, you lose GRD. There’s a ring between the two sides, and when it is full, whoever has the most GRD gains Vorpal State. That increases damage by 10%, and allows you to enter Chain State. Tap D twice to enter and you gain meter depending on how much GRD you have. It’s easily one of the most useful features in this game, and mastering it can allow your offensive and defensive plays to be so much more powerful. Utilize it to build meter fast and suddenly drop tons of damage or pull yourself out of a sticky situation. While we’re talking about defense. . .
You can Barrier Block in the form of “Shield,” using the D button and up-back/down-back/back. What’s the downside? It gives you more GRD than normal, but if you are shielding and shield the wrong way, you enter GRD Break. Or if you try to Shield a Throw, you won’t be able to throw escape and get your GRD broken in the process. If you are GRD Broken, you can’t Assault, Can’t Shield, can’t enter Vorpal even if you had more GRD. So while yes, you can shield, please be aware that it has limits, and that you can’t just spam it all the time in every situation. That’s bad, and you will get punished by a more wise player.
But what’s that, you’re asking? “Ragachak, what if I want to do Ultimate Attacks? How do I get the big money damage out of that?” Glad you asked! When you have 100 EXS [Meter], you can press ABC to enter a state that slowly consumes your EXS Gauge. It’s called Veil Off. You can freely burn your EXS moves during this time, and most important, it lets you combo EXS moves into your Infinite Worth move, which is your ultimate. You gain 20% more damage in Veil Off, but it does have a start-up time. It acts like Barrier Burst in Blaz Blue in that it knocks your opponent away, freeing you from any pressure game they had started on you. I’d hold it in my back pocket until it’s time to win, or times get truly desperate.
This is a 2D anime fighter, so expect stuff like Aerial Blocking, the already discussed shielding, and Teching/Ukemi/Recovery. While in a combo you can hold A/B/C to recover from their assault. You can do it in the air, on the ground, rolling in one of two directions, or you can do [my favorite thing] is Blow-Off or Slam Recovery. You can recover from Wall Bounce and not get blasted into a silly combo or recover from being ground pounded! While yes, this may feel like an easy fighter on the surface, there are so many intricate details that if you don’t sit down and read up first, you’ll probably find yourself drowning in superior fighters online. However, there is more to this game than just the mechanics. They are what make Under Night special, but there are plenty of characters to learn, and one thing I feel it’s pertinent to note, the special commands are pretty much the same across all the characters. Many have a Downdown, a Dragon Punch style move, fireball moves, et cetera. The commands are incredibly easy to pick up on, making it all the easier to find your style of gameplay. Each character is definitely different, and I’d be here all day if I wrote about everyone.
What Is In A Name?
This has been one of my favorite of the ArcSys fighters for a few reasons. I don’t feel like I have to know a ton of backstory, or go research characters from other franchises, or know an absolutely ludicrous story [yet]. Its combo mode is more flexible than Melty Blood, at least to me, and there’s still a hope of another update/game to come. Melty Blood is pretty much finished, Blazblue/Guilty Gear titles are very far apart, and it feels like every time it’s so much different than the last iteration. But Under Night instead combines a variety of mechanics from other game titles, and allows for creativity and fluidity of combat rather than trying to improve and often break the wheel. I don’t feel like if I can’t memorize a million button inputs I won’t be good. I can be good at this and still go back to Street Fighter V, play in that way, and come back and try new things in Under Night.
However, it doesn’t have a lot of variety in game modes as I said. I like that it’s easy to pick up customization colors in this game, through in-game points. It doesn’t have tons of DLC that if you don’t buy it you’re missing out. For casual fighters that want to jump in, it’s a solid choice, but I wonder why we didn’t get the [st] localization/updates too. It’s a year old, so I do worry that a paid update is coming somewhere down the line just to get one more character and a few other mechanics. And if not? We’ll just be behind forever. Maybe a decade ago or so that would fly because there just wasn’t a ton of info out there, but with the Internet, all data is at our fingertips.
One last key note of importance. The netcode seemed strong. You synchronize with your opponent before a match, but the matches were fast-paced and we spent almost as much time syncing as we did playing in our video. No rematch mode for casual matches for online play? Ugh. There are things I didn’t cover here, sure, but I wanted to make sure some of the biggest and most interesting things are here for our audience to see why Under Night could be for them. It’s a game with tight controls, and it rewards aggressive forward-thinking gameplay, and if you want to get into this style of fighter, I would pick up Under Night before any other.
+ Beautiful Game, delightful music, all-around an attractive title, despite being a few years old.
+ Lots of amazing mechanics that are easy to understand and implement into your gameplan.
+ Easy to get in to! It’s not hard to pick up combos and find a unique character.
– Feel. So. Familiar. I felt like I was playing one of the Blazblue Dolls, or Bang Shishigami, or Ragna the Bloodedge. While familiarity is good, too much is dangerous.
-Not a lot of variety in game modes. There are lots of game modes, but they feel too similar. Score Attack, Time Attack, etc. Some of these modes probably could have been lumped together.
– No rematch. Seriously? How is there no rematch for casuals in 2016? Or a best of 5 option, best of 10?