The golden age of fighting games continues into 2024. We’ve already had some amazing entries paving the way such as Guilty Gear Strive, King of Fighters XV, Street Fighter 6, Mortal Kombat 1, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, and very recently, Tekken 8. However, if you weren’t watching carefully, Under Night In-Birth 2 Sys:Celes might have gotten by you, having been released right alongside the monster franchise that is Tekken. Even so, with rollback netcode, new characters, fresh moves for the whole cast, and plenty more improvements, Under Night In-Birth 2 absolutely deserves to be in this FGC golden age conversation.
The Hollow Night continues
The plot of Under Night In-Birth goes that every once in a while, a phenomenon known as the Hollow Night occurs. It brings creatures known as Void into the human world to feed on EXS, a energy within all humans. Those attacked often die or go insane, but those who survive become In-Births, able to manifest their EXS into unique powers. And so, each Hollow Night becomes a battle for survival between In-Births, Void creatures, and those unfortunate humans caught in between.
For Under Night In-Birth 2, all you really need to know is that that’s why every character here has supernatural powers, but this is also the game that continues where previous iterations left off in their stories. I won’t say I like UNI2’s plot or Kuon the Aeon as a new big bad more than I liked Hilda or the Amnesia group, and I feel the carryout of Under Night In-Birth 2’s story is a little undercooked compared to other content in the game. Even so, for those who want to continue the playout of this story, it’s serviceable enough.
The presentation of Under Night In-Birth 2 Sys:Celes is, nonetheless, a highlight of the show. As one of the few remaining 2D animated fighting games around, UNI2 might be about as good looking as this kind of game gets. The sprites are polished up with slightly new animations, lines have been re-voiced and spruced up, and the new attacks look great for most of the characters. Everything looks polished to a sheen and moves like silk. Simply put, fighting or watching, this is a beautifully animated game.
The only place I’m not floored is the music. Many of the tracks have been reworked, and while some, like Waldstein’s and Gordeau’s tracks went unscathed and are perhaps better, characters like Hilda feel like they had an absolute downgrade. It might be preference, but I’m just not wild for what they did to the oppressively burly theme of previous games’ big bad villain. Same goes for Merkava. Unseen Entities 2 has some interesting twists, but I can’t say it hit me as good as his original track.
EXS, GRD, and other such abbreviations
If pure fighting is what you’re looking for, Under Night In-Birth 2 Sys:Celes has pretty much everything you could ask for as a newbie, old hand, and basically everywhere in between. The game operates on a three button, light-medium-heavy attack system with auto combos built in and more technical inputs available at all times. There’s even a new Creeping Edge dodge mechanic that lets you close in on your opponent while dodging attacks with good timing. I won’t say it’s as easy to drive as, say, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising or Street Fighter 6 Modern Controls, but I will say it’s accessible to start and extensive to master.
Where UNI2 gets particularly tricky is in its GRD system. As a match goes on, players will not only fight, but have a sort of tug of war with their GRD at the bottom of the screen. The more you block attacks, land attacks, and move forward, the more it fills. The more you get hit, move backwards, and use certain special attacks, the more it empties. However, there’s also a timer there and when it fills, whoever has more GRD enters a Vorpal state where their attacks are buffed and they gain access to even more powerful moves and systems until their GRD empties.
This system existed in previous games, but Under Night In-Birth 2 makes it even more intense with a new Celestial state that triggers if one player enters Vorpal with at least 6 GRD. They then get all 12 GRD pegs to use, double the previous maximum. This makes the GRD tug of war more crucial than ever, almost as important as the actual fight for the sheer fact that if you get the Vorpal State, you earn the chance to drastically turn the tide or close things out. And it will naturally push you to learn to use many of Under Night In-Birth’s systems to attack, defend, and move effectively if you want that prize.
Of course, not only does every previous character return, but we’ve got three newcomers in Kuon, Tsurugi, and Kaguya. Kuon is the big bad and has some elements of Vatista (such as an array of floating weapons), but he uses a more oppressive melee game and can be a rushdown monster. Tsurugi rocks a massive shield and, besides having super armor effects, can do a stance-changing rekka that leads into a multitude of follow-up attacks to keep your opponent guessing. Finally, Kaguya is a dual-wielding pistolero that uses gun ballet to jump and dodge around her opponent while pelting them with mid-range shots. They’re all fun additions to the cast and bring something that wasn’t there before, though even if you don’t want to play them, the rest of the roster also has brand new moves to master, making an already strong library of fighters even more versatile.
UNI2 also has some neat new features to help you learn the game at all levels. Training is robust with options and updated combo trials return for every character. One of the most valuable new features is the upgraded match replay. You can now not only download match replays (including those of other players), but take control at any point of the action you want. It will allow you to pick moments and see what you perhaps could have done differently. And speaking of other players’ matches, the online netcode in Under Night In-Birth 2 is pretty much immaculate, a big improvement over its predecessors for the matches I played.
Now, I might be spoiled by good lobbies in recent games, but I feel this is one spot where Under Night In-Birth 2 misses the mark. It serves up a standard and ho-hum online experience where you search matches and can make private rooms. It doesn’t really cultivate community the way that recent lobbies like those found in Street Fighter 6, Tekken 8, and Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising do. If all you’re looking for is a match, this will do, but that’s about it.
Final Clause… Divide!
Under Night In-Birth 2 Sys:Celes is a great addition to what we had that improves upon previous games in pretty much all the right ways. The new characters are fun, the new attacks for existing characters make new gameplans fun to learn, and there is a nice variety of online and offline modes in which to explore them and hone your game. I wish the music, story, and online lobbies gave me more, but UNI2 hits the right notes where it counts and delivers as a fantastic bastion of 2D animated fighting game goodness.
This review is based on a PlayStation 5 copy supplied by the publisher. Under Night In-Birth 2 Sys:Celes is available on PS4, PS5, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Under Night In-Birth 2 Sys:Celes
- Kuon, Tsurugi, and Kaguya are great new roster additions
- The rest of the cast got interesting new moves
- Rollback netcode performs well
- Art and gameplay are sleek and silky smooth
- New GRD mechanics are intensely fun
- Replay download and control are fantastic for training
- Story mode is a bit underwhelming
- Some character music felt like downgrades
- Very basic online matchmaking features