French Bread is truly an under-appreciated fighting developer. While it may have its fair share of cult hits like Melty Blood and the light-novel all-starred Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, nothing they've released as of yet has made much mainstream success. It's because of this where this reviewer is making a very rare plea: give their latest addition to the fighting circle, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st], some well-deserving attention.
A revamped version of the Under Night In-Birth arcade game, Exe:Late[st] once again takes place during a mysterious phenomenon known as the Hollow Night. Playing as one of twenty characters, you are tasked to fight off one opponent after another until you reach the mastermind behind this dark evening. Fighters can range from those who master hand-to-hand combat to those who prefer to wield a weapon in battle, all of whom bring something unique to the circle they walk into. When it's time to throw down, the fights become a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sort of affair.
What makes this game so appealing is its treatment of the fighters. Never once did I feel like I was controlling one character that felt like a similar one I just played with a moment earlier. Each combatant has their own means of showing off their skills, be it Linne's blade techniques, Mika's powerful metallic gloves, or Carmine's use of blood to craft powerful attacks. Watching these fighters in action alone will easily raise any player's adrenaline. When the controller is in your hands, though, well that's a beast of another kind.
Rarely have I played a fighting game where I could feel the power my character has bestowed upon it, let alone bare witness to. Not since Capcom's underrated Asura's Wrath have I been able to experience a character's true strength within my own finger tips. The realms of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and even the recent Dragon Ball FighterZ may have some power and household familiarity in their corner, but the oomph that Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] delivers is rather incredible. Thanks to its anime-like visuals and style, these battles are some of the tastiest eye candy your retinas can salivate over! (And boy, do I now hope this game gets the anime adaptation treatment like BlazBlue or The King of Fighters did!)
Playing through its arcade mode, I was able to witness what sort of fire this fighting game can deliver. What I got were characters that spew true power from their palms, not to mention a load of unique personalities from their mannerisms. Monsters, tsunderes, timid types, badasses, and even chibi brats fill the lineup in this game, each of which have their own means of telling their story and bringing a hell of a fight to the table. And when the match begins, French Bread doesn't mess around with delivering excitement.
Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] does give you a hell of a workout for your hands as you fight your opponents, but it rewards you with some unexpected combos and some super-powered blows dealt to the face of your rival. Jumping into a fight is rather easy from the get-go, as its controls feel accustomed to even the most novice player of the genre. But even if it holds the hand of the players control-wise, the opponents themselves are just as tough and skilled. Even on the easiest of settings, the AI will make you work for that victory that you so desire; when it happens, the feeling you get can be best described as "euphoric."
It's a good thing that the AI gives you that sort of challenge, as it leads me to one of this game's flaws: the lack of an online presence. Only a couple times did I play where I found another person to pit my skills with, but just as I was about to win, the players pulled out and took away my chance of jotting a victory into my records! I wish there was a way for Aksys Games to penalize players for pulling this, but because of the little amount of players currently online, it currently would seem useless to push that sort of punishment.
New modes in the Exe:Late[st] version of Under Night In-Birth make it worth diving back into for those who bought the original PS3 version, as well as the addition of four new characters. Chronicle tells many of the back stories of these characters via a visual novel setting, all of which presents some interesting tidbits about these combatants. However those who are not used to playing visual novels may find themselves bored with it, as these fight-less segments can last a good half-hour each. They're entertaining nonetheless (especially Mika's hilarious tale involving being stuck on a deserted island for weeks on end), so my advice is to let your controller get a good charge in as you watch the stories unfold.
Combat missions will also serve to hone your skills in the battle arena. Ranging from easy to expert, the tasks given here are no picnic to master, be it fighting under certain circumstances or having only one or two abilities available to use in order to gain a victory. They may be tough to master, but they will be immensely useful when it comes time to face off against a human opponent rather than an AI one.
Completing modes and the like will help you to receive in-game currency, which will help you to customize character colors, your online fighting ID, and unlock some cool visual goodies. Although it will require a lot of play-throughs to grab every little icon or picture that can be bought, it's fortunate that the game itself never feels like a grind to go through. Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] has a level of excitement in just about every gameplay-involved instance it delivers, so having to go through these modes a few times over to earn everything is nothing to either sweat or groan over.
- Gorgeous, fast-paced fights
- Unique, multidimensional characters
- Excellent control scheme
- Chronicle Mode can be a little wordy
- Hard to find opponents online
Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] may not have the most familiar-looking bunch of fighters, nor does it contain anything as epic as a Super Saiyan battle. And yet, French Bread's revival of this underground gem is deserving of every bit of attention the rest of the big-named franchises have. With its in-depth characters, unique mechanics, and anime-like visuals, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] is one fighting game that any lover of the genre should be plopping themselves down to play. Do not miss out on this true diamond in the rough!
Promotional consideration provided by Kate Hedstrom of Michael Meyers Public Relations and Peter Fury of PQUBE Games. Reviewed on the PS4.