I love fighting games. Irrationally so. 2D Fighters especially. Better than Christmas, better than sex, better than the Super Bowl. Empty platitudes abound on the internet but I truly mean it. To paraphrase Goodfellas: As far back as I can remember, I wanted to play fighting games, playing fighting games would be better than being President of the United States of America. I love them all, from weird outliers like Guilty Gear to million selling cultural phenomena like Mortal Kombat. I’ll take them any way I can get them. Hello my name is Kevin, and I am a fighting game addict. Needless to say I’ve been pretty happy about all the weird tail enders we’ve been getting on the trusty old PS3, from the aforementioned masterpiece in Guilty Gear Xrd to the upcoming Sega mash up Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, and in between? Today’s subject: Guilty Gear/BlazBlue/Persona 4 Arena creators ARC System Works’ latest, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late.
Another Anime Fighter? Another Air Dash Fighter? Haters gonna hate. Get that dirt off your shoulder, this one’s surprisingly different. More in line with non-Alpha Street Fighter, while there are fairly limited air dashes (and certain characters have back dashes, but not all), there are no super jumps, double jumps or air blocks, creating a refreshingly rushdown-y ground game. Fights consist of your standard best-two-out-of-three rounds, utilizing a two gauge EXS Meter. When full the meter can unleash a devastating Ultra-style super move or a Guilty Gear style burst that not only breaks combos but offers a limited overall stat boost. Individual stocks can be used to bust out EX moves, which aren’t just slightly powered up as in Street Fighters 3 and 4 but are legitimately super versions of a characters’ regular specials, similar to early Darkstalkers. Probably the most interesting aspect of the system mechanics is the Grind Grid located between the EXS Meters. Similar to the negative penalties in Guilty Gear, this also offers a myriad of positive benefits to aggressive fighters.
Speaking of fighters, the cast here are sort of a mixed bag. You get your usual schoolboys and girls who are always inexplicably mixed up in these types of supernatural fighting hi-jinks, but only a few really stood out. Carmine looks like a cross between King of Fighters’ Iori and Street Fighter’s Remy, and uses hardened spikes of his own blood to do battle. We also liked Seth (he’s the one with the air back dash), who flies quickly around the screen wielding twin daggers, a tattered coat flowing behind him, and Gordeau, who rocks a giant Scythe similar to Guilty Gear’s Testament. My favorite has to be Waldstein though, a giant clawed grappler who looks like the love child of Blanka and Darkstalkers’ Hsien-Ko. Graphics are highly reminiscent of BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena, with beautifully animated hi res sprites battling through 3D polygonal arenas, not surprising given the game’s pedigree. The music stands up to ARC’s usual excellence as well, with high energy techno and metal tunes reminiscent of Guilty Gear’s classic “heavy rock tracks”.
Also pleasantly surprising are the game’s suite of modes. The story sequences here are integrated into the Arcade mode, which is preferred to having a long Story mode separate from a bare bones Arcade mode with no story progression (looking at you, Guilty Gear Xrd). Time and Score Attack modes are also offered, along with a particularly addictive Survival mode. Online modes are the usual fare, which we didn’t get to test out over the weekend due to PSN being PSN (never change, PSN), but the online consensus is that it’s decent, depending, of course, on how far you are from your opponent. Our favorite mode though? The Customize menu. It seems like such a small thing but the game allows you to use in-game currency earned from playing the various modes to unlock art, online profile titles and pictures, and most importantly, alternate character colors. That’s right, you EARN extra colors by PLAYING the game. They aren’t even available to buy on PSN, you HAVE to earn them. Bravo.
And that just about sums up my overall impression of Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, I can’t help but applaud most of the decisions that ARC System Works has made here. Leave it to the innovator of the modern air dash/anime fighter to dial things back a bit in the gameplay department and come up with something really unique and refreshing. Give it a try if you still have a PS3 hooked up, or maybe even dig out and dust off the old girl for one last fight. You won’t be disappointed.