Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS3, Arcade
Under Night In-Birth is one of my favorite fighting games of all time. It’s easy to learn, hard to master, beautiful to look at, and has a crazy plot that reads like Neil Gaiman wrote an H.P. Lovecraft novel. I purchased the import version when it first released for the PS3 back in 2014, and I’ve purchased every version of the game since then.
As a dedicated PC gamer, I was ecstatic to hear that the game was going to get a Steam release in 2016. The PC was developer Soft Circle French Bread’s original development platform, so I was hoping this was going to be the definitive version. But after playing for a good long time, I’m disappointed to report that the PC release just doesn’t measure up to expectations.
A Good Game
For those of you who weren’t around for the original release, let me give you a run down. Under Night In-Birth is a fighting game made by the same developers of classic arcade fighter Melty Blood. But while Melty Blood was based on characters from the anime/manga Tsukihime, Under Night was a completely new IP.
Its mechanics were simple and deep. It had a three button (light, medium, hard) system; however, it uniquely allowed any button to combo into any other button. It also mapped an auto-combo to repeated presses of light attack. Super moves were no more complicated than doing quarter circle motions with the heavy attack button. Finally, it had one more button that was in charge of doing all the “cool fighting game stuff.” Air-dashing, barrier blocking, rapid canceling, charging your meter – all were done with this one button.
This made the game incredibly easy to play if you were new to fighting games in general. Beginners would only need to land a hit with any move and, since any strength of attack combo-ed into any other strength, they could immediately transition into a combo by mashing the light attack button. This and a little practice was all it took to make a player semi-competent.
But if you were a pro, there was a ton of depth to squeeze out of Under Night. Its loose combo system allowed you to spend hours in training mode optimizing damage output and mix-ups. It’s “veil off” power-up system granted you infinite meter for a short amount of time, allowing for insane comebacks. It’s sensible limits on jump canceling and other means of combo extending kept the focus on fundamentals. Its shortage of invincible reversals and huge reaching normal kept the game aggressive and fast.
When it saw its original PS3 release, it came with a small but competent variety of play modes. You saw all the standards here: arcade, versus, training, survival, and so on. Unfortunately there was no tutorial to speak of, but there were a ton of costumes and art available to be unlocked in the gallery. It wasn’t the most comprehensive arcade port, but it was fun nonetheless.
A Horrible Port
All of this has transferred over to the PC port, so that’s good. Unfortunately, nothing else has been added. Despite rumors of a tutorial, a story mode, and other PC exclusives, all PC users got was a faithful port of the PS3 version. There aren’t even any extra graphics options, aside from resolution.
This should be another cut and dry example of “if you haven’t played it before, pick it up now.” Unfortunately, there’s more to talk about. The PC version is riddled with bugs. Since I installed it, it has frozen three times, locked me out of inputs with my controller twice, failed to load character sprites twice resulting in my character being invisible on screen, had all audio cut out once, and failed to connect to network services multiple times. Instability like this might have been norm in PC fighting games ten years ago, but in a world where Street Fighter V is routinely played on PC with few issues (at least few issues that the console version doesn’t also have) there’s no excuse, especially since Soft Circle French Bread started their development career on the PC.
There’s also a weird issue with input lag. As a person who makes gaming their career, I’ve already made sure that both my TV and my monitor are as lagless as possible. But the PC version of Under-Night feels sluggish. I constantly dropped combos because my timing was always a little off – combos that I easily pulled off on the PS3 version.
Then there’s the matter of updates. If this was the only version of Under Night In-Birth that was coming out, I’d say it would still be a good buy despite the errors. But it’s not! A new version of the game, called Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, came out in Japanese arcades in July 2015, and it included new characters and a comprehensive balance patch. While no official plans have been announced to bring this version stateside, it’s worth noting that it’s the arcade version that all tournaments are run on right now. Yes, even tournaments here in the U.S. That makes practicing on an out-of-date PC version totally useless. The only crowd this can appeal to is the casual crowd, which may not have the patience to deal with all the troubleshooting needed to get it running. Not including the new balance patches, at the very least, was a huge missed opportunity.
Frankly, it’s hard to recommend the PC version of Under Night In-Birth. While its budget price tag of thirty dollars does help drive sales, it’s still 30 dollars for an unstable version of a two year old game that already has a more recent version out in arcades. Unfortunately, Under Night’s inherit quality as a game doesn’t save this shoddy port.