'Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late' Brings One Last Beautiful Fighter To The PS3

February 25, 2015

One of the nice things about fighting games is that you don’t always need to know what is going on to enjoy them. Just look back at some of the classics like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or Killer Instinct, and try and remember what was the context of each game's respective tournament. It's hard, and you probably can't do it. The fighting genre is one of the few where understanding why you were doing something was secondary to actually doing the thing, and somehow, that doesn't detract from the overall experience. Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is the next in a long line of fighting games where knowing what's going on doesn't matter as much as the overall gameplay experience. If you are interested, there's a crazy story behind the game, but if not, and you just want to fight, Under Night has you covered on that front as well.

Developer: Ecole Software/French Bread
Publisher: Aksys Games

Meltly Blood has quite a reputation amongst fighting game enthusiasts and Japanophiles. It's one of the most well-respected, 2D fighting games to never come out in the United States, and Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a bit of a spiritual successor to the franchise. While this release isn't tied to Melty Blood in any way, both of the game's developers, Ecole Software and French Bread, made names for themselves by working on that series. Even though Under Night In-Birth was consciously developed to be different than Melty Blood, the game retains the same visual novel style, and similar intense combat that should please even the most hardcore Japanese fighting game fans.

Like most Japanese fighting games, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late has a complex, borderline ridiculous, story attached to it. If that surprises you, just look at the name, and try and figure out what that could even mean. Under Night explores the events of the monthly Hollow Night, which causes creatures, known as Voids, to emerge in the certain regions of Japan that are affected by this mysterious phenomenon. While the Voids remain outside of reality for most humans, there is a subset that can see and interact with them, as the shadowy creatures feed on the power of Existence. If you are a human that can survive interacting with a Void, then you acquire a higher level of being, giving you the power to control Existence. That's about all you need to know about the game story, which really just serves as a vehicle to give the game's 16 characters (two of which are console exclusives) a little bit of context.

Behind the Hollow Night story lays an intense, complex, and beautiful 2D fighter. Under Night has everything that you would expect from your standard fighting game (arcade mode, online, survival mode, etc.), so what sets it apart is its characters and gameplay. While the cast are all rooted in the story, they each lend themselves to different fighting styles, and players of all ability levels should be able to find someone to gravitate towards. The combat itself is fast, and has a handful of different layers and systems (EXS Gauge attacks, a Grind Grid system, and complex combo moves) that most players should be able to pick up with practice; which is good because the game is lacking a tutorial of any kind.

Under Night In-Birth has been in Japanese arcades since 2012, and has seen regular updates, including one in September 2013 that brought the Exe:Late name change along with it. If you want to enjoy Aksys' latest arcade fighting game experience at home then you'll either need to import the arcade cabinet from Japan, pick up the PlayStation 3 version of the release at your local game store, or download it from the PlayStation Network. The PS3 options are significantly more cost effective.

Let's be honest, in any previous generation of consoles Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late would have never seen a stateside release. In fact, we're lucky that we're even getting to see it this late in the PlayStation 3's lifecycle. Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is for a very specific audience; one that can appreciate an obtuse storyline woven into a complex fighting game. Fortunately for those players that might have trouble trying to follow the Hollow Night plotline, there is still a very competent, and enjoyable fighting game left behind. The gameplay is a step up from button mashers, but it is still relatively accessible. Players that appreciate an attractive-looking, 2D fighting game should fire up their PlayStation 3 one last time to tackle Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, and give the Voids a run for their money.