Despite having a rocky start when it originally launched in 2012, Under Night In-Birth has managed to claw its way to being one of the most respected titles in the competitive fighting game landscape. Through numerous updates and adjustments, the series has gained a strong following which led to it being one of the headline events at EVO Championships in 2019 with the Late[st] version. With this latest update, titled Under Night In-Birth Late[cl-r], the game has received a slew of new updates to mechanics, character moves, balance changes, a brand new character along with his own story content.
There are two ways to look at the update: either as an owner of the previous title in the series or as a newcomer to the series. As the former, you receive all of the updated content, including the single player elements, for free simply by owning Under Night In-Birth Late[st]. To gain access to Londrekia, the game’s new ice-powered brawler, you’ll need to purchase him as DLC for a little over £7. That’s slightly steeper than what most other titles in the genre are asking for individual characters. On the other hand, by buying Late[cl-r] as a whole game, you gain access to all of the content from previous iterations with Londrekia and all of the other updates for £35 which is a reasonable price compared to other AAA titles on the market. And it’s worth the price of admission.
Under Night In-Birth is the answer to the question “What if we took Street Fighter’s ground-focused methodical gameplay and combined it with the high-flying combos and flashy systems of anime fighters?” The result of such a fusion is a game that wears the easy-to-learn-hard-to-master mantra on its sleeve, and that is for good reason. For starters, the roster is comparatively small compared to other fighters that have gone through a similar number of iterations. Success in fighting games is heavily dependent on matchup knowledge and learning the ins and outs of 21 characters is way easier than Street Fighter V’s 40. This less crowded roster means that each fighter is also visibly distinct in their playstyle, giving newcomers and veterans alike a better idea of who fits their playstyle best.
Beyond the small number of characters, Under Night In-Birth Late [cl-r] continues Late[st]’s legacy of having one of the best and most comprehensive Tutorial modes in the entire fighting game landscape. By completing the Tutorial mode, players will gain a genuinely well-rounded understanding of the game’s mechanics through short exercises that get harder and more specific in their uses. Though they can feel like small infor dumps, these lessons are broken up into small chunks focused on a single concept, making them manageable for even the newest of the new. Combos for each character can also be learnt via Mission mode which begins with some basic chains and cancels and ramps up to more complex ones. Most other titles tend to focus on showing what each character is capable of but Under Night In-Birth chooses to teach combos that are useful and have genuinely good applications in real fights. Needless to say, you will leave both Tutorial and Mission with a good foundation of how to play the game.
The final piece of the game’s accessibility pie, however, lies in its intelligent fusion of fighting game paradigms. The focus on ground-based wars for spacing and positioning – known as “footsies” – creates a pacing that is palatable to budding fighters who would be otherwise overwhelmed in a typically frantic anime air-dasher game. Using a chain-based system for stringing hits together makes the combo system feel more natural and easier to understand while leaving room for advanced players to build more complex and damaging combos. Mechanics, such as EXs and Veil Off (the game’s global power up mechanic) are also easy to grasp and even easier to take advantage of once you have a small understanding of what is gained upon activation. The GRD system, on the other hand, gives both newcomers a tool to build up more damage over time and veterans a system that adds a layer of minutia that they can sink their teeth into.
In terms of single player content, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] follows a similar pattern to other anime fighters like BlazBlue with a story mode separate from its arcade mode. In Under Night, the mode is called Chronicle Mode and its essentially a visual novel where players read and listen to events unfold. There are no fights during Chronicle Mode and the story acts as a prequel to the events told during individual stories in arcade mode, where fights are broken up by short pieces of dialog before key bouts. Compared to more elaborate visual novel story modes in other games, Under Night’s offering feels quite plain. There are no forking paths for the player to divert and potentially get a bad or joke ending. Character portraits are also static with barely a few changes of expression. As a story however, it’s straightforward and not as headache inducing as BlazBlue’s.
Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is a worthy update to a game with a rich pedigree in the fighting game space. Updates and new moves breathe new life into the existing roster and the addition of a single new character in Londrekia keeps the matchup learning requirement to a minimum. The series’s already superb soundtrack is further enriched with some new tracks, including themes for Londrekia and his rival battles. Whether you’re new to the fighting game space and want to dive in or you’re a veteran, this title has a lot to offer in terms of both competitive and casual play. Don’t sleep on it!
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