The first quarter of 2018 may just be the 1998 of fighting games. Look, I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. 1998 was the year in which we got Half-Life, StarCraft and Grim Fandango. Genre-defining games that pushed the video game medium to glorious new heights. It’s an idea that lives on in the first pair of months in an industry that has rekindled its love for all things pugilistastic.
Arc System Works delighted fans with Dragon Ball FighterZ, Square Enix proved that 3D fighters still have plenty of room to evolve in the latest Final Fantasy Dissidia chapter and Street Fighter V has updated itself into a glorious contender. There’s another game entering the ring however. A game that may not have the same recognition and whose title reads like the after-effect of a debilitating stroke, but still packs plenty of punch into its glove.
That game, is Melty Blood developer French Bread’s Under Night In-Birth series of anime anarchy (with a little help from Arc System Works). The original arcade game is still as cult a hit as can be, a delightfully fast-paced featherweight that rewards gambits with match advantages. It’s back again this year with a new revision of the 2015 arcade game, in the form of the tongue-shattering Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st].
On the surface, it looks like the kind of game that wouldn’t be out of place in a tournament that features the likes of BlazBlue, Guilty Gear or King of Fighters. It’s more two-dimensional than Mike Myers’ foreign accent range when it comes to animation, the designs look they were cranked out by an anime studio that was fed Absinthe and the story is typically bonkers.
Just another Tuesday in the fighting game scene then. The thing is, is that Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] is one hell of a beast when its cornered. First impressions may make it seem like a traditional blend of speed and style, but this is a game that is focused on risk and reward. Every step forward, every punch thrown and every kick that lands adds to the GRD bar system, which in turn feeds into a player’s Vorpal status.
The point of this entire system? Extra damage, more frames with which attacks can be launched and even more punishing combos that can be used to add to the destruction of your foe’s health bar. It’s highly technical stuff, that’ll escape your eyes upon a first blast through arcade mode. But dig deeper into the GRD system, and it’s a technical masterpiece that encourages a faster pace within any given match.
Back-pedaling from an attack or blocking depletes GRD reserves, thus slowly sapping your character of any potential advantages in the long run. It’s a gameplay mechanic which functions best on a competitive level, while still having enough of a presence to nudge newcomers into unleashing their heaviest combos instead of turtling away in the corner of the screen.
And I love it. It’s a mental layer of strategy in a game that prioritises the fundamentals of the genre. The spacing of fighters and the frames between attacks as players are pushed to break out of their comfort zones. There’s a pre-requisite story, of course, something about the paranormal awakening of demons in an event that draws in demons from across the world, but it’s better left as a sidenote on the journey towards the main event.
If you (and I assume tens of others) are here for a story, then good news: You’ll have plenty of reading to do throughout the numerous visuals novels that comes packaged with Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st]. Other traditional game modes such as score attack, survival and score attack are also bundled in for the ride, for an otherwise hard-hitting and even harder-thinking title that expertly balances risk and reward.
Last Updated: February 7, 2018