January was a pretty great month for fighting games as the beast known as Dragon Ball FighterZ finally unleashed itself upon the world and Street Fighter V entered round two with the updated Arcade Edition release. They’re both fantastic fighting games that plenty of people are enjoying, but now it’s time to snap those discs in half and fling them out a window, because the real fighting game of 2018 has finally arrived, and it’s name is… awful.
UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] isn’t just the current front-runner for 2018’s “Did Y’all Really Have To Name It That?” award, it’s the updated, enhanced 2018 version of an amazing 2015 fighting game that flew right below the radar. Did you know that it’s published by Arc System Works, the team behind Guilty Gear XRD and that very popular Dragon Ball FighterZ game? With a big name like that attached, it broke my heart to see the community for this game start so small and only get smaller as time went on. Considering the developers of this game are the creators of Melty Blood – French Bread and Type-Moon – it’s not surprising that a similarly tight knit and devoted fanbase emerged for Under Night. Now, with the PS4 and Vita version dropping, that small community has another chance to grow and expand as fresh faces check out this cannot-miss fighting game.
Under Night is easy to pick up, but hard to master. It’s a three button fighter, with a fourth button dedicated to special support actions or combo inputs. While Arc System Works games tend to be known for having characters with weird and confusing mechanics and abilities, Under Night leans in the opposite direction. Characters and their movesets are pretty simple to wrap your head around, but system-wide mechanics like the Grid Gauge and Chain Shifts are where things really get wild.
On top of a standard EXS “super meter” for special moves, each player can earn GRD blocks that are stored in a shared “Grid Gauge” in the middle of the screen. Rushing in and being offensive will earn you GRD, while backing away or taking damage will lose that GRD. You can also risk using Concentration to stop moving and steal your enemy’s GRD at the cost of your own EXS meter. So, what does this GRD stuff actually do? Well, there’s a circle in the middle of the Grid Gauge, and when it fills up, whoever has the most GRD will enter a special state that increases your damage by 10% and lets you use Chain Shifts to cancel moves and extend combos.
I know I threw a lot at you there, but trust me, there’s way more. The Grid Gauge and Chain Shifts are the most important mechanics of Under Night battles, because the Chain Shifts turn these basic character movesets into arsenals of extended-combo warfare, and gaining the GRD blocks to use it ends up being just as important as depleting your opponent’s health points. While the pacing of Under Night battles is a bit slower than other modern Arcsys titles, the Grid Gauge tug-of-war and the snappiness of every attack makes it so you never feel a second of pause or respite.
If you have a hard time wrapping your head around any of these mechanics, or if you barely even know what a fighting game is, Under Night has a suite of tools to help you out. The tutorial mode walks you through every single aspect of a fighting game, but veteran players can skip ahead to tutorials on advanced tactics like Fuzzy Guards and Teching Frames. One of the many new additions in Exe:Late[st], Combo Missions, also give you a great way to learn dozens of different attack strategies for every character in the game.
“Character” is probably the best way to describe the big new additions Exe:Late[st] adds to Under Night, both in a literal and a figurative sense. Literally speaking, the game has four new characters to play as, and they are all fun as hell. From the giant-fisted speed demon Mika to the sword-and-shield wielding fire warrior Wagner, each of the new characters has a style and aesthetic that stands out from the rest of the cast, with none of them feeling like clones or reskins. Each character has great potential to shake up the way the game is played at a high level, although blind martial artist Enkidu feels like he lacks the ranged toolkit to stand his own against some of the higher-tiered characters in the game.
On the other side of the coin, Exe:Late[st] has a lot of “character” thanks to the brand new, ten hour long Chronicles story mode. Under Night has always had a unique and intriguing world, but the arcade mode of the previous versionsonly served to give me a buffet of questions and an empty plate of answers. In Chronicles, you experience the days leading up to the fateful “Under Night” that the arcade story takes place in. It’s really special for returning fans to get to see these characters fleshed out and learning about relationships between characters that we never even knew about. Chronicles is very heavy on the visual novel style storytelling though, so some chapters can get to feeling like massive exposition dumps.
There are plenty of other minor touch-ups and additions to the game. The new Cross Cast Veil Off system gives you even more ways to create combos, and the suite of balance changes made across the cast tighten up every moveset and, for many characters, even add brand new moves. There are also ten new colors to use for each character, a handful of new stages, and a much-needed facelift for the main menu and online lobbies. New characters and certain rivalries also have new selectable music, in qualities ranging from “Hell yeah, this is MUSIC!” to “Sure, I guess this is music.” It’s all small beans, but everything adds up to make this one of the beefiest update-releases of a fighting game I’ve seen in a while.
- Amazing new characters
- Beefy, interesting new story mode
- Ten new colors! Eleven new songs!
- Balance changes make a polished game even more polished
- Some new music is a little grating
- Story mode sometimes too exposition-y
I tend to be pretty good at fighting games, but it’s rare that any of the ones I play truly click with me. Back in 2015, Under Night on PS3 totally clicked with me. The balance between simple character movesets and how system mechanics elevate those moves into an endless suite of juicy combos is something I found myself attracted to like a magnet to an iron bar. Beyond that, though, Under Night sports a dynamic cast of characters and some of the prettiest 2D visuals I’ve seen in a fighting game. Exe:Late[st] takes the delicious Under Night cake and adds an entire extra layer of your favorite flavor, plus the garnishes and decorative frosting to make it stand out again, 3 years later.
Version tested: PlayStation 4