Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a major remake of the popular 2D fighting game and visual novel arcade game Under Night In-Birth. The game was co-developed by Ecole Software and French-Bread, who are known for the Melty Blood series of games. In-Birth has been released on Playstation 3 in 2014 in Japan and now Aksys Games has re-released the game on PC on the 12th of July this year.
I’m not sure if I want this thing to immortalise.
In-Birth is a fighting game, but that doesn’t exempt it from having a bizarre storyline. The game features a brand new cast of characters from the Melty Blood series and has a story that fits somewhere in the modern fantasy genre. I’ll be sure to go into more detail about the storyline soon, because it’s quite the doozy.
Now, after reading all of that and having no doubt seen at least the featured image for this review, you may still be wondering “Was this game made in Japan?”. Well, let me answer that by giving you an idea of the first 20 seconds or so of the opening cinematic: Pretty boy with impossible hair stands on a rooftop at night. Below a cute girl is also outside at night with a scary monster man thing standing beside her. What I’m saying is, you wouldn’t expect to receive a South American passport at Customs when In-Birth came skulking through.
Not even the slightest bit Japanese.
So, after firing up the game it became apparent that there were many control options available. I defaulted to a number locked number pad at first because I didn’t have a controller right next to me and for some reason the options of using the enter key and other such keys weren’t working. On most menu screens, the game will cycle through instructions with a different set of keys or buttons for each function listed. I can say right now – don’t try to use Num Lock settings – I tried to fiddle with them in the options and got so frustrated that I actually got off the couch for once and found the Xbox controller. Important PSA: Use a controller. It makes the game so much more enjoyable.
Now that we’re past that point, let’s talk about first impressions; the opening cinematic is pretty standard, introducing our cast of characters in quick succession with a rousing fanfare in the background. Apparently Hyde (the guy with the black and yellow hair) is the main character but I didn’t figure this out until reading up on the game a bit more after my first round of playing. The music is nothing too exciting, but it’s perfect for a fighting game of this kind. It’s kind of what I’d expect to hear from an early Tekken game menu or leaderboard screen.
Seediness Level: 9/10
The animation and sprite art style is reminiscent of Persona 4: Arena down to the fact that you can choose from a variety of palette swaps for each character. At first blush, the animation seems lovely and smooth even on the idle animations. The character select screen tells you a fair bit of (probably useless) information about the character you’re hovering over – sex, date of birth, height, weight, blood type, their ability and the name of their weapon. I decided to play as a character named Byakuya first because he looked like a seedier version of Persona 4’s main character.
I went straight to arcade mode on my first run through, but if you’re not very confident with the subtleties of indiscriminate button-mashing in fighting games, you may want to check out training mode so you can wail on an invincible, placid AI fighter for a bit. It turns out that arcade mode is basically story mode. If you choose to play as Byakuya, for example, you’ll keep fighting battles and receiving visual novel-style story scenes until you’ve completed his story. All of the voice acting is in Japanese and most of it is subbed in English, the exceptions being things like battle cries.
The animation for each move is crisp and clean and a pleasure to watch play out on the battlefield. When you hit another character with a heavy attack or special attack, you get a real sense of beating them into next week, which is super satisfying. In training mode, all of your button combinations come up on the left side of the screen. I assume this is so you can see what you pressed to make that one really awesome attack happen. For those who wanted to actually learn how to play the game properly and compete against others online, this would likely be an invaluable resource.
In-Birth uses the standard best-of-three winning scheme as other fighting games, which is good because while the fights are really fun to mash through, I don’t think I’d want to fight the same person more than three times in the same block. That isn’t to say that the game is particularly difficult, but when you’re button-mashing like I am the fighting can get just a touch repetitive. After a few matches fighting as Byakuya I felt like I was missing out on a lot of the story or just not understanding the vague, ultra-Japanese and complex plot. I did some research online to remedy this and found out that Hyde is supposed to be the main character. The game doesn’t exactly push you towards playing as him first, but I decided he’d be the fighter I used to actually finish a full arcade route.
Crisp, clean, satisfying kills on offer in the Hollow Night.
The difficulty level for each fight appears to ramp up as you battle each new fighter in your storyline, but this can be inconsistent. About eight fighters in, I had just finished a battle that really kept me on my toes but the next fighter was painfully easy – and she was supposed to be a storyline-relevant foe! You get a story scene once every few fighters, and a lot of the matches you fight in-between these story scenes have no lead-in, no dialogue, just “fight this person now”, which is a bit disappointing. However, it’s been a long time since I played campaign on a fighting game, so this could be stock-standard.
I fought all the way through Hyde’s storyline to what appeared to be the final boss, and it left me on a sort-of cliffhanger…I think? Honestly, the story only became marginally clearer by playing through as Hyde through his entire story sequence. Now is the time where I paraphrase from the internet what the storyline is all about, because I would have barely been able to describe what In-Birth was about without it.
In the words of Wikipedia, “Under Night In-Birth is set in a fictional modern-day setting in the 21st century. A phenomenon called the Hollow Night has been enveloping particular regions of Japan once a month for several centuries. Shadowy creatures called Voids plague the areas taken over by the Hollow Night. Voids utilize and feed on a power known as ‘Existence’ or EXS. While normal humans cannot see or interact with Voids, those who can perceive them are at risk of being consumed by them or losing their sanity.
Under special circumstances, a person who retains their sanity after a Void attack can become a being known as an In-Birth. An In-Birth is neither living nor dead and can gain the power to control Existence. The protagonist, Hyde, is a character who survived a Void attack and became an In-Birth. There are two organizations within the Hollow Night phenomenon – the Yatou and the Licht Kreis. Both serve to maintain order in Hollow Night areas, but differ in their methods. There is also a third organization which hopes to dispel the influence of both other groups.”
Phew. So…given that I couldn’t pick up any of that after a few hours of playing the game should give you an indication that either the translation is a bit too janky to adequately explain through story, or it simply wasn’t done well. I have a feeling that I would understand a little more if I played through every single one of the arcade characters, but I still don’t think I would have obtained that level of understanding. Fortunately, not many people go into a fighting game expecting an amazing storyline, but if you’re going to make the effort to have one as detailed as this, I believe its implementation into the game should be a higher priority.
I tried out a few other characters and their play styles all differed wildly. In addition, all of them were super fun and light control, with no lag or excessive floatiness when it came to jumps or leaps. I wasn’t expecting a lot from this game but I’m actually quite impressed with the amount of effort they put into each animation and the controls.
Essentially how I felt at that moment.
I think In-Birth would be a great couch multiplayer game, though I didn’t have the opportunity to drag someone in to play it with me. I did check out the Network Mode for an online match and began to sweat bullets when I was faced with a Japanese player with over 40 wins, no losses and a special banner for their name and title. When the match started, it lagged so horrifically that either the connection cut out or the other player decided novice like myself wasn’t worth the time.
Finally, a few small things: in arcade mode there’s no way that I could tell to save your progress. If you want to finish someone’s storyline, you should just keep playing until the end. Ultimately each story isn’t that long, maybe half an hour at the most, so it should be easy to bash out an arcade mode round in one sitting. You do earn some kind of currency whenever you complete fights in arcade mode but I didn’t find anywhere to spend it.
I’ll admit that when I first saw In-Birth I didn’t expect much, but I was really pleasantly surprised by what I found by playing the game for a few hours. The more I played, the more fun I was having. I will never become invested in a convoluted, ridiculous story that barely explains itself in-game, but excellent fighting is what I came for and excellent fighting is what I received.
Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is available on Steam for PC at $29.99. I would suggest waiting for the game to drop to about half that price before picking it up, but anywhere between $15-20 would be well worth it, especially if you had an interest in online matches or wanted to play it with a friend at home. There’s a ton of replay value to be had, and if you’re the kind of person who memorizes moves and combos you’re going to be insanely hard to take down. You’ll also probably have a much more satisfying time playing because you’ll be a beast.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Crisp gameplay, janky story
Don’t come in expecting an interesting storyline that you’ll glean from gameplay alone, but if you want a solid 2D fighting game that will keep you entertained for many hours, alone or with company, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is the game for you. Enjoyability is increased tenfold with a controller - I would not recommend this game at all without one.