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UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes is a game that doesn’t seem to have had much fanfare leading up to its release. Both developers Arc System Works and French-Bread have great track records when it comes to 2D anime fighting games. Just look at the likes of Dragon Ball FighterZ and the previous UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[cl-r]"] games as shining examples of two companies that know the ins and outs of fast-paced, fluid combat. And now, at a time when the fighting genre is flourishing with titles such as Street Fighter 6 and TEKKEN 8 dominating the scene, will UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes be able to keep up with the competition?

If you’re a newcomer to the series and you want to get invested in the (rather bare-bones) story, then you may wish to play Late[cl-r] first. Despite featuring numerous visual novel-type scenes between many fights in arcade mode, it’s far from an engaging set of stories per character. With so many in-universe references that go unexplained, even those who force themselves to read everything may be left clueless.

Although occasionally difficult to understand and almost always obtuse, the story revolves around an event known as the Hollow Night. During these nights, creatures simply named Voids appear, feeding off the energy (EXS) in humans. Anyone who survives these attacks becomes an In-Birth, gaining the ability to control this energy and, with it, an almost limitless amount of power. Set three months after the previous title, Sys:Celes continues the tales of each character, with the most amount of story given to main protagonist Hyde Kido and his quest to defeat the new big bad, Kuon the Aeon, and save the world.

Moving on from the rather forgettable story, fighting games often live and die based on how reliable the multiplayer is, and — thanks to the newly implemented rollback netcode — Sys:Celes is a practically flawless online experience! I’m no professional when it comes to the ins and outs of rollback netcode, but having had some serious lag when playing online fighters in the past, there was never even a hint of any issues during my time spent online. So, if you skipped the above paragraph with no intention of ever touching the single-player content, then you can rest assured knowing that your online experience will be a pleasant one.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Sys:Celes looks practically identical to its predecessor, which may be cause for concern when this is a full-fledged sequel, but when the original looked so good, there isn’t much room for improvement! Despite the majority of the sprites and animations remaining unchanged, they’re also some of the most visually striking ever to have graced the 2D fighting genre. Just look at the screenshots to see just how vibrant Sys: Celes is, and thanks to the smooth frame rate, it looks even better in motion!

There isn’t much new in terms of sound design, either. Although many music tracks make a return, these have been re-recorded and changed up slightly, so at the very least players have got some slightly crisper-sounding, high-energy electronic tunes to enjoy whilst fighting. Voice lines have also been re-recorded, although I can’t say I noticed much of a difference from Late[cl-r]. It’s a solid voice cast either way; just get ready to read a lot if you’re not fluent in Japanese!

Sys:Celes’ combat system can be summed up in three words: fast, technical, and exciting. You’ll certainly want to get stuck into the training modes available, which have a ton of settings to tweak. There are the basics, such as controlling your opponent's actions and setting default values to gauges, but being able to lower the speed of the battle was perhaps my most used setting. Just like when learning to play a song on an instrument, starting at a slower pace and working your way up to full speed was a brilliant way to nail some of the tougher combos. It’s a system I hope more fighting games use in the future! With the tutorial that teaches everything there is to know about the mechanics (with over 170 different lessons!), it’s a good one-two combination of training modes. While it takes a good chunk of time to fully complete, it is almost essential if you want to last more than 10 seconds in an online match. There’s also Mission Mode, which is a more structured set of objectives for when you want to improve with one particular character and learn all of their most devastating combos.

Other than the plethora of training modes and the previously mentioned arcade/story, there is, unfortunately, very little else to do outside of playing online. You have Score and Time Attack modes and Survival, but they certainly aren’t enough for players who are more inclined to play against the AI, which is a shame. At least the game boasts a decent amount of playable characters, even if there are only three new ones, as the base game’s 24-strong roster (each with their own Arcade and Mission modes) will keep completionists busy for a long, long time.

The core mechanics that made Late[cl-r] such a joy to play make a welcome return in Sys:Celes. The tug-of-war-like GRD system dictates the pace of each round, as anything you or your opponent do will fill the metre in the relevant character’s favour. Knowing when to go on the offensive or hang back and defend will ensure the tide of battle swings to your advantage, and it then ties into several other mechanics, such as Creeping Edge and Chain Shift. The former allows you to quickly escape danger, whilst the latter allows you to cancel out of combos at a moment's notice. After a certain amount of time has passed (shown by a timer in the centre of the GRD gauge), whoever has hold of the majority of the metre will enter the Vorpal state. Vorpal buffs up your damage output and unlocks access to new moves, as well as triggering the Celestial mechanic should you happen to have six or more GRD segments filled at the time of activation, filling up the bar completely in your favour.

Building up the GRD gauge enough allows you to transfer it into EXS, which allows you to perform special attacks once a certain amount has been acquired. The EXS metre does fill slowly as you attack or defend, but utilising GRD is a surefire way to unleash your biggest moves sooner, meaning you’ll need to keep a close eye on it and make sure your opponent doesn’t reap the rewards!

All of these mechanics can absolutely overwhelm a player, and I found myself jumping back into the training modes all the time until I knew exactly what I was doing. It’s a steep learning curve, and mashing buttons will only get you so far; however, it’s an extremely rewarding fighter that caters towards players who take the time to learn all its nuances.

Despite playing better than ever, I never felt UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes was a true sequel. Much like the many, many iterations of the previous game, there isn’t enough new here that it doesn’t just feel like an extra update to the last IN-BIRTH title. That said, it’s still one of the most polished, frantic, and rewarding fighting games on the market, and with the promise of tournaments coming soon, it looks like the future is bright for this series, and this isn’t the last we’ll see of the franchise. Let’s just hope the next one has a bit more content!

7.50/10 7½

UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

Although lacking single-player content, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes is still a deeply rewarding fighter with a lot of mechanics to learn. Multiplayer fans will have an absolute blast with this one!

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Mike Crewe

Mike Crewe

Staff Writer

Bought a PS5 and won't stop talking about it

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