As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of fighting video games. I may not be as well-versed as i once was but games like “Bloody Roar: Primal Fury”, “Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max” and “Melty Blood Act Cadenza”. Despite how hard these games were for me to beat I played day in and day out.
After a few years of this I considered myself one hell of an virtual fighter but the coming of the internet and things like more accessible network play quickly taught me that no matter how good I was…there was always someone better, and for the longest time I stopped buying fighting titles. Every once in a while I’d hit up an arcade, try out some “Tekken” or “Street Fighter”, but that was the extent of my interest in the genre.
In more recent years I’ve somewhat gotten back into the groove so when NIS America announced they were bringing “Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late”, I thought I owed it to my former self to give arcade-style fighters one more try. Too bad I threw out my arcade board a long time ago!
Possibly the most, and only, disappointing element of “Exe:Late” is that of it’s story delivery. The problem is not that there is no story because there is absolutely enough there to keep any narrative-driven gamer there for quite a long time. It’s the fact that the story doesn’t get told that is the most upsetting. As in any typical arcade fighter, the story gets told through the “Arcade Mode” where you’re basically given ten fighters to take down and, in between those bouts, you’re shown short but powerful dialogue scenes that explain not only the story as a whole but your chosen character’s place in it. “Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late”…does not do this.
From what I can tell; the story revolves around a supernatural time of the month wherein which humans and monsters sharing similar power are given free reign to wreak havoc and, basically, kill each other. The main character, a boy named Hyde, was ONCE a human but has now become an “In-Birth” which fundamentally equates to a person with “superpowers” of sorts. The thing is; we’re never actually shown this, I’ve just had to piece it together through vague comments made by other characters.
Now there IS an obvious antagonist who wants to demolish the rest of the character cast and take over the known world but we’re never given information that would properly explain why. I played through a good ninety percent of the characters’ stories and none of them ended with any solid information as to why I was fighting during this legendary “Night” and as someone who prefers a tangible story in his fighting games…this one left me wanting so much more.
Developed by the Japanese studio French Bread, creators of the much-loved “Melty Blood” series, “Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late” runs as seamlessly smooth as you’d imagine. If you’ve every experienced a fighting video game published even partially by Arc System Works than you’d know exactly how this game plays because, at it’s core, it’s incredibly similar to titles like “Blazblue” and “Guilty Gear”. I made it a point to try out all the different characters, of which there weren’t that many, just so I’d be able to properly explain how accessible a game this is for both long-time fighting game fans and those simply testing the waters.
In short; this is a game anyone can pick up and play. There’s nothing too complex about the fighting mechanics but, at the same time, an experienced gamer could pick up the controller and perform some amazing feats of fighting game excellence. Each character has a fairly varied fighting style with most revolving around the use of one’s own speed to get ahead of the opponent. There’s only one slow but heavy character in the entire game and even he can be used in an effective way so there’s no real sign of overpowered characters.
Like any home console release of a fighting game, “Exe:Late” features more game modes than you can poke a stick at. Once again, those more experienced with fighting games will most likely tackle the “Survival Mode” or the “Time Attack Mode” but those out there a little more like me will most likely stick to the “Arcade Mode” and “Versus Mode”. There really is enough there for all facets of gamer to get enjoyment out of.
Despite the relatively small cast of playable characters, they’re all visually pleasing to look at. No two look the same or even overly similar meaning that the development team didn’t get lazy with character designs and just make one a clone of the other like we’ve seen in many other games…*cough cough*…”Street Fighter”. Like most other games published by Arc System Works, “Exe:Late” features a charming sprite-based animation style backed up by some incredible 3D animation for the stages that moves along with the flow of the fight and just gives so much depth to the battles.
Every piece of animation is smooth which gives the game an overall polished look. If there’s one thing you wont find disappointment in, it’s that of the game’s visuals. Backing up those visuals is a wonderful soundtrack populated mostly by fusion-jazz and electro-rock tracks, both of which happen to be incredibly niche genres and both of which happen to be some of my very favorites. Not only that but they simply match the overall vibe of the game an it’s semi-story so it definitely doesn’t feel anywhere close to being out of place.
The entire game is voice-acted in Japanese and, as always, the voice artists do a wonderful job at portraying their respective characters. The audio and visuals are in perfect synchronicity, complementing each other as much as they possibly can. There is a true yin and yang situation in place for “Exe:Late” that I’m convinced not a great deal of games around actually have.
Even now, at the very end of this review, I cannot let go of the fact that almost no story is told through this game. That’s great for a fighting title only released in arcades where people aren’t necessarily playing to experience a long-running story but for a console version there needs to be a little more substance to keep people playing. After a handful of hours I was very much done with playing this game on my own because there was nothing pushing me forward.
There was no incentive. To say this is a terrible game because of it, though, would be an utter lie. Despite what it does wrong, it does so much more right I WILL continue playing this game. I’ll even urge my friends to play it with me even though they may or may not be big fighting game fans. I’ll do my best to master a certain character just so I have something to brag about. I will do it all…because, at the very end of the day, it’s simply a fun fighting game.