UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] (Playstation 4 Review)
The saying “better late than never” is one you might have to become familiar if you’re a Western fan of French Bread’s Under Night In-Birth series. The long awaited update to EXE: Late has finally reached European shores after being released in Japan for over half a year. If you’re brand new to the series, anime fighters or even fighting games as a whole; don’t worry, because EXE:Late (st) makes certain to cover all bases for all types of players.
Under Night In Birth’s core gameplay puts itself in a nice middle-ground between ArcSys fighters like Guilty Gear and Blazblue and the more traditional style of 2D fighters like Darkstalkers and Samurai Showdown. As opposed to a very horizontal air dash, characters can instead perform a King Of Fighters-style long hop, while still being able to perform jumping attacks from it. While you have a typical 2-stock gauge that can be used for enhanced specials and super moves, there’s also the “Grind Grid” system. This meter increases when you pull off more technical mechanics like just guarding. Whoever gets a significant advantage in the Grind Grid will enter the “Vorpal” state which allows you to perform Chain Shifts (a fancy term for cancelling) and get a ten percent damage boost. With that being said, the Grind Grid system is more of a neat bonus than a necessary criterion to win matches with.
There’s a selection of 20 characters available in EXE: Late (st), four of which are new additions to this version; the whip-wielder Phonon, the sword and shield user Wagner, and Mika, an overly cutesy schoolgirl wielding ludicrously large gauntlets. The standalone male character of the four newcomers is Enkidu, who I took a keen interest in with his variety of rushdown tools and his refreshingly raw style of martial arts moves. Much of the veteran cast from Under Night In-Birth are very well-designed both aesthetically and gameplay-wise, and you’d be a fickle sort of person to not find a character that you’ll like, whether it’s Waldstein with his powerful assortment of command grabs or Seth’s near-absurd speed and mobility.
The tutorial mode featured here is immediately up there with some of the best in other fighting games. It’s categorised in various levels of expertise, right from the absolute basics of moving your character and button commands to the highest echelon of skill level. This design serves to make learning the Under Night In-Birth mechanics much more digestible, and you can hop in to the next section of tutorial mode when you feel ready. Mission mode is also excellently realised, not just covering your character of choice’s combos (once again very well paced in increasing difficulty), but also with a “tactics” section that covers your characters options for applying offence, dealing with projectiles, anti-airing the opponent, etc. To further ease new players in, there’s also an auto-combo mechanic which is performed by multiple presses of the same button.
The expected playable modes for a fighting game are all here; Story, Score Attack, Time Attack and Survival Mode. There’s also the Chronicles Mode which is essentially a large sequence of dialogue cutscenes. Even if you have a serious interest in the lore of Under Night In-Birth, you’ll probably still find these exchanges between characters absurdly long and not interesting enough to indulge. The training mode has enough to work with should you feel the need to practice anything. As for online, there are 8-player lobbies with spectating functionality, Ranked Battles and online leaderboards. I was unable to fairly critique the net code here due to reviewing this game before official release in Europe.
Bearing in mind that this is an update of a PS3 title, Under Night In-Birth still has some fantastic looking 2D sprites;,which also animate very fluidly. The same can’t be said for the very basic look of the 3D backgrounds; almost to a point of appearing lifeless. The soundtrack is solid at the very least; ranging from heavy rock to melodic piano tunes. Even from the short amount of time I’ve played of EXE: Late (st), it’s obvious that French Bread have a taken a lot of pride in their work. They have strived to make a very polished fighting game in all departments. Although this niche series will go under the radar for many with recent fighting game releases from much bigger franchises, those who take notice of Under Night In-Birth will likely be glad they did.