French Bread, in collaboration with Aksys Games and Arc System Works, has finally brought the Late[st] version of their Under Night In-Birth Exe games to Western audiences. While the successor to Melty Blood has enjoyed a niche following for quite some time, it has indeed been a long wait since for Late[st], as it cultivated its arcade scene for about two years.
Shoryuken has had a unique opportunity to speak to the developers of French Bread to learn more about their design philosophy and some of the decision-making that went into making the consumer version of UNIST. Their newest title comes with extensive Tutorial and Mission Modes that allow anyone to self-learn the game, two console newcomers Wagner and Enkidu, and a Chronicle Mode that tells the origin of the fighters. We asked as many questions as we could — it’s hard to overstate what a rare opportunity this is. The questions were answered by French Bread’s battle designer and planner, Kamone Serizawa.
The interview has been translated from Japanese as a courtesy of Aksys Games. It has been edited for clarity and length.
Woocash: The console version is much bigger in size with an addition of tutorials as well as scenarios, especially in comparison to the previous game. What was the thought process in planning the console port of the Late[st] version?
Kamone Serizawa (French Bread’s Battle Designer): As this game is the first console version in a long time, it was a great opportunity for us to capture the attention of new players. For that reason, we put the utmost importance on offering a substantial amount of gameplay and the feel of a new game. We are fortunate enough to have many fans outside Japan, so we wanted to make this game something special to hype up the series both domestically and internationally.
Woocash: The tutorial mode is quite extensive, and it actually teaches many advanced mechanics (like options selects, etc.) Can you talk about creating this mode? Did you source any help from competitive players?
Serizawa: We did not have competitive players go over it or ask for advice from them while working on the Tutorial Mode. A team of two planners created it themselves by cramming all of their knowledge they can muster on fighting games into it. Our planner team has been actively battling it out with real players at arcades which must have helped them see things from the players’ standpoint to make the Tutorial Mode they would want to see. So, in that sense, yes, you could say we sourced help from competitive players indirectly by battling them.
Woocash: Similarly, there’s also Mission Mode that teaches combos. How did you go about creating it?
Serizawa: Our initial goal for the Mission Mode was to have practical tips available in the game that can replace Wiki pages or online walk-throughs. As the game has had several updates, we suspect it’d be difficult for players to find up-to-date information online, which we thought new players would find challenging if they want to try out the game. To alleviate that, we came up with a list of tips and information we would want to see if we were new players.
As for the combos, we focused on common parts of available combo recipes; we wanted to try and make the recipes easy to remember, so we had certain parts of combos shared among them, even if that meant the amount of damage they can deal would diminish a little bit [there are many similar combos made from different starters, like Assault C or 2A — Woocash]. That might have made the majority of combo parts feel redundant, but we honestly think being able to practice useful combo parts would help them the most in actual matches.
Woocash: Can you talk about your process for balancing the game? Additionally, how do you decide which characters have a reversal move and which ones don’t? Assault attacks have been made faster, why is that?
Serizawa: When balancing the game, we normally try and make it so that it would give depth to how the players can enjoy the game by making changes the players would be happy with regardless of whether they use a weak or strong character. For relatively big updates, we also take into account all players’ battle results, etc., from the arcade version. For a pair where one player may have significantly big advantages over the other, we often find out in most cases it stems from incompatibility between the characters at the priority/concept level, so we often end up making detailed modifications on hitboxes to alleviate this gap.
As for reversal moves, we kept the numbers of the characters who have them handy at a minimum in this game, as reversal moves that omit guarding don’t go very well with the GRD system where guarding is the key. However, reversal moves are one of the most crucial elements in fighting games which can make the gameplay significantly more enjoyable, so we decided that only the characters such as the protagonist that new players will most likely choose should have reversal moves while more technical characters don’t.
Assault attacks were made faster to help bridge a gap in skill level between experienced and novice players, as one of the highlights of this game is reading each others’ Assault, Throws and Shield. The more experienced players are, more skilled they are at defense techniques and as a result, Assault attacks are no longer very effective at breaking guards, so we didn’t want to create a situation where players (especially new ones) lose matches without enjoying the game how it’s intended just because they didn’t know how to use Assault attacks to break guards.
Woocash: Tell us about the new characters, Enkidu and Wagner. How did you come up with their battle concepts? What kind of archetypes were you looking to fill, if any?
Serizawa: The concept of Enkidu is to make a character where “reads” and “footsies” will play important roles. We wanted him to be a character where the old school fighting techniques such as distance management during the ground game can be utilized.
Wagner’s development started from making the image concept of “advance and crush.” We expressed her persona in combat by allowing her to forcefully overcome the issue of her situationally predictable attack due to its straightforwardness through strong priority of her attack.
Woocash: How do you gather feedback about the game? For example, if US players wanted to reach you or give feedback, what is a good way to go about it?
Serizawa: For the console version, we mostly rely on the questionnaires we collect through our official website. For example, the specifics of this game, such as game modes, etc. are based on the responses we received in our questionnaire on the previous game, Exe:Late. When it comes to the game balance, we normally learn from what we observe at arcades as well as from the feedback available on the internet. We investigate exactly what the users are unhappy about first, then try and modify the battle balance from that point of view for all characters. There is a handy contact form (http://inbirth.info/contactform) available on the portal site, so if you can send your feedback to us that way, it’d be great!
Woocash: A lot of players are curious about the PC version of the game. Is that planned? And any time frame on that?
Serizawa: We understand there’s a demand from all over the world for PC version in general, so if we get enough support/requests on that for this game as well, we would definitely love to try and make it happen. I personally want the PC version myself as well which would allow me to enjoy the game more casually.
Woocash: Can we expect any more patches or support for UNIST? Any more characters?
Serizawa: There’s nothing concrete we can talk about right now, but we’re constantly on the lookout for how we can improve the game better and we think adding new characters would be a very important update as well; some characters have been added to the roster thanks to their popularity from the previous games, such as Wagner. We’re grateful to see fan art, as it helps the fans stay hyped up about the game as well!
Woocash: There’s a glitch in the game with Assault attacks. If done quickly enough, Assault combos do not scale damage (as in, their damage becomes the same as that of regular combos, this is a known bug). It hasn’t been fixed though, any plans for that?
Serizawa: Fixing this particular bug will put the game rules back to how they’re supposed to be, so we’d definitely like to have this issue addressed when the timing is right, but we also need to keep in mind that the fix may not necessarily improve the game balance and there would be less things that can be done (e.g. combos) as a result. Also, from the perspective of expanding the community, we feel we should be responsible for the updates we release once they go out, so we did not take immediate actions to get it resolved. We would definitely make the fix after taking into account the overall balance of the game as well as how we can offer new ways to enjoy the game.
Woocash: Mika doesn’t have a Vorpal Trait, why is that [a character specific buff during Vorpal]?
Serizawa: Vorpal traits are originally intended as characters’ hidden elements to be explored, so for a character like Mika who doesn’t like to keep secrets, it’s natural to not have a Vorpal Traits… we’re just kidding! They’re just simply not ready for Mika yet. We’re definitely making Vorpal Traits available for Mika in the future.
Woocash: What exactly is Kuu? [Linne’s familiar/dragon]
Serizawa: It’s something sent by her older brother, Kuon, that is responsible for watching Linne closely. Kuu certainly doesn’t pose any immediate danger or restriction on Linne, but it finds her no matter where she may run and positions itself right next to her at all times.
Woocash: What’s next on the deck? Will we see any more additions to this series?
Serizawa: We are not able to make any immediate announcements at this time, but we’d very much like to keep this series going. Now that the backbone of the characters has been revealed in the Chronicles Mode, we’re finally able to proceed with the scenario.
There are no big announcements we can make at the moment, but we’d appreciate your continuous support and love for the series!
Big thanks to Aksys Games for making this interview possible. Be sure to read our Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] review to learn more about the game.