Disclosure: the author was provided with a review code for the game by
Publisher: Arc System Works
Developer: French Bread
Platforms: PC (review platform), PlayStation 3
Exactly what is Under Night In-Birth? I’m reviewing it, and I still have no clue. I tried to figure it out; even tried diving into the wiki, and I still have no idea what I’m playing or who these characters are, but I’ll try my best to relate it to you. (For those playing at home, drink every time I say the game’s name in whole or in part.)
The screenshot was taken in training mode, so ignore the stuff in the middle and the button inputs on the left. We all know what lifebars are. It empties, you lose. You should also know what super meters are for by now. What’s new here is the gauges (Yes, there’s two bits of info there) at the bottom-center. This is what makes Under Night In-Birth so different and somewhat confusing to new players. It’s called the GRD, or Grind Grid. From what I’ve been able to gather from my own play experience and the wiki, each player has half of it. P1 has red diamonds, P2 has blue. Whoever has the most when that white circle in the middle fills gets a damage boost and the opportunity to drain their own section of the Grind Grid to fill their super meter. This is called “GRD Vorpal” state. There’s four buttons: A B C and D. A B and C are standard light, medium, heavy, while D is almost context-sensitive. Standing D fills your side of GRD. Holding back and D gives a shield that will repel the opponent and also build GRD, but if you block wrong (Blocking high against a sweep, for example), it will shatter your side of the GRD, denying you of all the bonuses it provides for around 10 seconds. Pressing toward and D does what is called an “Assault”, which is basically a diagonal dash, similar to I-NO’s dash in Guilty Gear. Pressing A+B+C when you have 100% meter renders you invincible as long as you hold it for up to a couple of seconds before creating a shockwave similar to Guilty Gear’s burst, and resulting in a state called “Veil OFF”. In this state, you can use super moves to your heart’s content, but it only lasts until the super gauge runs out. In this state, if your health is low, you can also do a devastating super move by pressing A+B+C+D. This is called an “Infinite Worth”.
Confused yet? I know I was when I first tried to wrap my head around it without the wiki open next to the game. It just throws all of this at you without a manual or tutorial and expects you to just understand what all of this means. For the first hour of my wiki dive, I thought I was reading Greek, despite being somewhat familiar with fighters. The barrier to entry here is HUGE, especially when nothing here is familiar to anyone outside of the devoted few that played the original 2012 arcade game that was exclusive to Japan. I’m not asking it to dumb itself down, I just want it to explain itself. Look at what Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator did with its tutorials. Why can’t we get something like that for Under Night In-Birth, which sorely needs it?
Armed with my wiki-based knowledge, I took the fight online and jumped into the ranked queue.
So, I took the fight local. I grabbed some friends, threw a pair of arcade sticks at them, and told them to get it on. After about an hour, mains were found, and we all tried to have a bit of fun. I say tried, because not knowing the system is frustrating, especially given how central it is to the flow of the match. We had fun, but I think it was in spite of the game’s system, and thanks to the varied cast and their diverse playstyles which can be enjoyed regardless.
Each character gets an introductory paragraph which stays on-screen for all of two seconds, then the KO screen has extra words, the title screen has ’em everywhere, too! This game is bursting at the seams with context-less words and paragraphs. Is this a fighter or visual novel? The story is also incomprehensible, but it’s a fighting game. That’s allowed. Expected, even.
Now that I’ve got all the bad out-of-the-way, let’s talk about what Under Night In-Birth gets right. The cast is varied, and no two characters are clones of each other from what I’ve seen. No recolour shenanigans here. The character designs are unlike anything I’ve seen in a fighter before, and that’s a very good thing. Granted, some fall into what you can call cliché, like “Schoolgirl with enormous sword” or “Boxer”. But a lot of them have a refreshing visual style. (Even though Merkava looks a LOT like an EVA unit.) While I praised the design, I didn’t praise the graphics. I should fix that. The sprites are beautiful, and somehow still look at home on top of the 3D-rendered backgrounds, which also look great.
To go along with the visual variance, playstyles also vary greatly from one character to the next. Again, you won’t get Ryu/Ken syndrome with Under Night In-Birth. Great care appears to have been taken to ensure that there’s someone for everyone’s preferred style of play, be it rushdown or laying traps/battlefield control.
The combo system, while simple, has some unexpected depth to it as well. Moves done with the A button will link into B button moves, which will link into C button moves. Obviously multiples of each can be done, but once you move forward a button, you can’t go back except under some specific circumstances, like using Smart Steer (Auto-combo). I might be getting that wrong, but again, this is what I talked about with the whole “please have a tutorial” thing.
The game is loaded with modes to play as well. From the standard Arcade mode (Yes, Capcom, that is STILL standard.) and Survival mode, to the not always seen time attack and score attack.
To no one’s surprise, the PC port is fantastic but not perfect. It supports both Directinput and Xinput controllers, allows rebinding of both controller and keyboard (which it hilariously calls Keybord) However, graphics options are a bit lacking. For those with underpowered machines, allowing static backgrounds would have been a welcome addition, as well as resolutions other than 720p and 1080p. A Vsync option was patched in this week to fix the awful tearing going on, so it looks like Under Night In-Birth will be supported for at least a little while.
In conclusion, Under Night In-Birth is a fun 2D fighter marred by the lack of a manual and/or tutorial mode to explain itself. You can enjoy yourself immensely with this game, but it’d be in spite of the underlying systems, not because you know anything about them… until you start searching online. I’m surprised that a game can come out in [CURRENT YEAR] and not explain itself at all.