Exe:Late[st] is the third iteration of the popular 2D fighter, Under Night In-Birth. It plays a lot like the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear games, but shakes it up a bit with its own unique mechanics and game modes. However, it does suffer from some control issues and an almost dead multiplayer mode.
Excellent tutorial mode. Exe:Late[st] has one of the most expansive tutorial modes I have ever seen in a fighting game. There are a total of 179 tutorials in this mode, all divided into different difficulty levels. The lowest level, novice, is full of the stupid-simple stuff, such as how to stand, but as one progresses up the tree, the tutorials get more and more complex. In fact, it only took 60 or so tutorials for me to start struggling with them. I would not consider myself an expert in the genre, but not a complete beginner either. This tutorial accommodates both crowds and everything in-between, so regardless of your experience with such games, you will likely find some use in the game’s tutorial mode.
Variety of game modes. There are a number of game modes to take advantage of here in Exe:Late[st]. This includes the basic modes expected of any fighting game, such as arcade, versus, network battle, and tutorial, as well as some other cool modes like score attack, mission mode, survival, and time attack. There is even a story mode called “chronicle”, which does not actually feature any fighting, but provides a number of different story scenarios to read through. Although this mode plays more like a visual novel than a fighting game, it was nice to see the developers actually put some effort into the storytelling aspect of their game, as most fighting games are quite lacking in that regard. The other modes are pretty much self-explanatory: time attack tests one’s ability to complete battles quickly, mission mode challenges players to complete complex combos on a given character, survival mode pits the player against an endless onslaught of enemies, and score attack tests players to see how much points they can earn in battle. Most of these modes are also tied into the game’s online leaderboards, allowing a player to see how they rank compared to everyone else. With features like this and all of the different game modes, there is definitely no shortage of content to play through.
Grind Grid mechanic. Having never played Under Night In-Birth before, I was a bit surprised to see a shared meter in the middle of the screen during gameplay. After playing through the tutorial mode, I learned that this meter was called the “grind grid mechanic”. In short, it is a meter that measures how active a player is in battle. The player that attacks and blocks more will have more blocks filled in the meter, allowing him/her to enter vorpal state. In this state, attacks do more damage and players are able to execute special moves called chain shifts. A player is also able to stand still and concentrate, filling this grind grid meter quickly, but leaving themselves wide open to enemy attacks. This is especially helpful for enemies that prefer to stand back and wait for an attack to come their way before actually fighting, as it provides an incentive for the enemy to jump into battle. This meter adds quite a lot of depth to the gameplay, as one not only has to manage his/her own HP, but also has to make sure that he/she has more blocks filled in the grind grid meter than the enemy does. It was a pretty fun mechanic to play around with.
Finicky diagonals. Having played BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle recently, something really felt “off” about the combat here in Exe:Late[st]. It felt like certain moves were harder to pull off, especially those that required different directional inputs. Upon looking into the issue on the Steam community for the game, I found that what felt off about the combat was just how difficult it was to input diagonal moves. This is because the game has such a narrow margin for its diagonal directions, as more emphasis is placed on vertical and horizontal directions. This is really an issue when using any sort of analog stick, so I would definitely recommend using a controller with a decent d-pad or just a fight stick.
Multiplayer lobby issues. Unfortunately, Exe:Late[st] has a couple of issues when it comes to multiplayer. The first being that the multiplayer lobby system is just confusing to navigate. The different search filter settings are not explained and I had to figure out what some of them did through trial and error. Some sort of tooltip would have been greatly appreciated there. However, that is a minor complaint in comparison to the larger problem with the game’s multiplayer: that being that there are simply not enough players playing the game online. I checked the game’s multiplayer lobbies a few times during the day and found that there would be, at most, maybe two or three lobbies open. It gets worse when playing outside of peak hours, like at midnight EST when I was unable to find any open lobbies. The game averages about 250 or so people online at any given moment, but that amount is dropping as we move farther from the game’s release date. Those that are sticking with the game are usually going to be of a higher skill level, so it is very difficult for newcomers to find players of similar skill levels. In fact, it took me quite some time just to find a player that I could actually stand a chance against, as most of the time I just got slapped every fight. This is definitely not a fault of the game itself, but it is rather disappointing to see, especially considering that the game came out just two weeks ago.
No borderless window option. Here we have another Arc System Works game that does not have a built-in borderless window option. The game only allows fullscreen and windowed options, requiring the use of an external tool in order to get the desired borderless window. This would not be so much a problem if the game’s fullscreen was not so problematic. Alt+tabbing out of the game while running it in fullscreen would sometimes cause the game to lockup, requiring a total restart in order to open it again. The game runs fine when using an external borderless window tool, so I see no excuse for why such an option was skipped over.
In spite of its flaws, Exe:Late[st] is still an excellent 2D fighter. The game modes are fun, the fighting is tight, and the grind grid mechanic shakes up the gameplay in a good way. Even so, the lack of people playing the game’s online multiplayer can be an issue for some, but for offline play, it is a solid game.
You can buy UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] on Steam here.
I was provided a free review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.