The “Hollow Night”, a rumor whispered to and by mainly young people in schools. Ensnared by a large black shadow in the figure of a person that erases all the light around you, and the feeling of being swallowed by a deep darkness. Those eaten by the shadows lose their soul. Some wander through the Hollow Night for eternity, others simply perish. A mysterious phenomenon that can only be laughed off as a folk tale one might happen to hear. There is no explanation for that which can’t be imagined to be magic or curses. Case after case of such mysterious incidents continue on.
And so begins the plot of Under Night In-Birth, a 2D fighting game and visual novel developed by French Bread and Ecole Software, who also made the ever popular Melty Blood series. These are also the same studios that developed and made Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, another popular anime based fighter that is set to release in the US later this year. This version of the game is also a revamp of the arcade version, being balanced and re-released by Arc System works, the developers of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. The pedigree of this game is insane and it’s one of the first things I noticed as a good sign when it caught my interest.
The games plot is based around a mysterious phenomenon called the “Hollow Night,” where creatures called Voids roam and attack people that can perceive them stealing their souls. However, if a person can survive that attack, they are reborn as an In-Birth being, neither alive or dead, and gifted with mysterious abilities. In addition, there are 2 factions that seek to hold order in the areas affected by the Hollow Night: The Yato are hunters that primarily focus on attacking Voids while the other faction, Licht Kreis, seeks to maintain order and protect citizens. There is also a 3rd mysterious faction called Amnesia, that seeks to create chaos and disrupt the influence of the other two factions.
The story focuses on characters from both factions, and this is where you learn more about the world and the characters by playing as them in Arcade mode. Each character has their own specific story, much in the vein of BlazBlue, where you learn more about that character through playing their story. Each character’s individual story is interesting and tells you more about their connections to each other as well as their goals and ambitions. It’s a little more detailed and in depth than most standard arcade stories are, and I enjoyed getting to know more about the character I was playing. The story however is just a background for the developers to make the characters, which all play extremely uniquely, and are all memorable in their own way. This is a varied cast of characters that are hard to forget, and are all well designed. That being said, for a game that is based as a visual novel, the story feels a little bare bones. I wish they had a little more than a few dialogues between characters.
The game has all of the standard fighting game modes, like Time Attack, Survival, Score Attack, as well as the ability to save replays, and customize your online icons, nameplates, and even character colors. While the game doesn’t really add anything new to the fighting genre, all of the modes are solid choices, but most of the development clearly went into the standard versus 1v1 fighting, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The game’s art is gorgeous, with flawlessly animated sprite art, battle animations, and effects that pop out at you, intensifying the action and making the battles a real spectacle to watch. The stages are all 3d rendered backdrops, which give a real depth to 2d animation and prevents the style from looking too flat. The anime style has never looked this good, and I think this could be best sprite animated game to date.
The music is equally impressive, with a varied soundtrack of many different genres, performed by an orchestra of instruments that just blend together and meshes really well to set the tones of the stages and battles. You can also mix together any stage with any piece of music you want, so if you have a specific favorite song, you can set the game to play it. Most Japanese fighting games have beautiful soundtracks, and this game is no exception.
The games fighting system is also equally as impressive, with the standard super gauge for EX and Super combos being present, but in Under Night, there is also a new mechanic called the Grind Grid. Basically, the Grind Grid works like a momentum machine, where a player gets more and more grind meter for doing things that the game determines as superior, such as dashing towards an opponent or landing a hit. The more meter you have, the more options open up to you, like using a shield to block chip damage, or resetting your opponents hit stun mid combo in order to make it longer. It’s an interesting system that really makes the fights more fast paced and interesting, without making them too one sided, since meter can be taken back just as easily.
The game’s combo system deserves the props, too. With every button being combo-able with every other button, making a great example of a fighting game that is easy to use but difficult to master. It makes it easy for new players to pick up and play, and opens up depth for amazing combos that can be simply amazing to watch. Fighting game players new and old should enjoy this system, as it’s the perfect pick up and play fighting game, even for people that aren’t sure how to play a fighting game.
I tested the games online as well, since it’s already out in Japan. Even though I was facing people from Japan, and people from all over the US that imported the game, it ran solidly every time once it synchronized, resulting in pretty much perfect connection. Distance is no problem for the game, as I was playing people from Japan with no button lag or noticeable latency issues. Anyone that is looking for a new fighting game to play with friends over long distances, or simply to play online without having to worry about connection issues, should chose this one.
Overall, this game is amazing. It has everything a good fighting game should have: A good cast of unique characters that all play in their own way, a combo system that opens doors for new players and veterans alike, and an online mode that allows multiplayer lobbies with spectators and perfect online connections. Those are just some of the reasons why this game is worth playing. A nearly perfect fighting game package, Under Night In-Birth might be one of my new favorite fighting games.
Author’s Note: To Clarify, when I put the statement “Game Is Based Solely Around 1v1 Versus” I meant more that there was no Tag Team mode or multiplayer options beyond standard versus. As a fighting game I understand the game’s main purpose is 1v1 and don’t think the 1v1 combat as a weakness but one the game’s many strengths.