The PS4 is well served with 2D fighting games, but that didn’t stop this latest incarnation of the weird and somewhat wonderful Under Night In-Birth universe getting spruced up a little and expanded a lot to make the jump to current-gen hardware.
Here, then, is the most complete edition of the deep yet accessible fighter cum visual interactive novel. The fighting in Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] is kinda what you’d get if Street Fighter and BlazBlue had a slightly ugly child together. It’s nice and easy to pick up but filled with tactical depth – and we’re absolutely not kidding about the depth. There are over 100 tutorial lessons for you to work through in order to get to grips with the huge variety of moves on offer.
The underlying game is pretty much the same as it was on PS3 a few years ago. Pick one of the many fighters on offer, wade through some cutscenes, and read copious amounts of back story (if you want, or skip ahead if you’re only here for the smack down). There's a certain amount of joy in being able to mash one or two of the attack buttons and sweep to victory a few times before the AI knows what’s hit it, but the further you progress in the story mode, the more you’ll need to mix up your move set. And if you’re prepared to put the time in, then there are thousands of different combos, attacks, and weapons to get your head around.
In each fight you’ll get to charge up your EXS Enhance meter, which allows you to unleash more powerful attacks. At the same time, there's a Grind Grid that grants heavy duty blocks and bars that, if used together, up the combination possibilities exponentially. The Grind Grid is actually designed to punish sloppy and negative tactics while encouraging considered play styles, which takes a little getting used to, but is a good idea.
There are twenty fighters to choose from who have had additional balance in terms of their skills and powers. There are new areas too, such as the Persona-like cool cafeteria, a playground, and a cathedral.
If this all sounds a little too good, the downside of the game is that the visuals really don’t feel up to par -- even for a remaster. What's more, the actual character campaigns are pretty flimsy, offering only surface level face-off banter before each bout. It’s a shame because there are some great character designs -- they just look more PS Vita than PS4. Then again, this version is available on the Vita too, which might be why the visuals haven’t been pushed further.
For those interested in the universe of Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st], the meaty 'Chronicle' mode packs in over ten hours of cutscenes which are nicely realised in classic visual novel style. It tells the tale of the ongoing battle between In-Births and Voids. There isn’t much to do outside of reading and fighting, but at least the game sticks to what it does best.
If you lack real life pals to fight in couch mode, then there’s a full online battle function, too, and it’s a compelling way to test your skills with the various swords, daggers, whips, scythes, and even killer hair braids.
With Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st], we've got another deep Japanese fighting experience on the PS4. It doesn’t have the looks to go toe-to-toe with some of the shinier games out there, but as Han Solo said, "she might not look like much, but she’s got it where is counts". If you can get past the mad title, this is a portal through which to jump in to the virtually endless realm of combat experimentation.