Originating in the Japanese arcades late 2012 and developed by Ecole Software/French Bread, Under Night In-Birth Exe Late is a port of the hardcore 2D fighter that throws you straight into the deep end without context or tutorials.

The main story is centred around the “Hollow Night”, a mysterious realm that appears once a month. Inside this realm lies the power to become a rebirth, a being of unimaginable power, but only to whoever reaches the Abyss in the center of the Hollow Night. Also within the hollow night are Voids and In-births who have special powers which are referred to as Exe. Each of the 12 playable characters has their own story that takes place at the beginning of the most recent Hollow Night.

The previous paragraph contains more exposition than the actual game itself as Under Night contains no introduction to its world whatsoever. Terminology that is unique to Under Night is thrown around constantly during the main story with little to no explanation at all, meaning I had to constantly refer to Google to understand what was going on. I felt like I had jumped straight into watching season 3 of an anime series without watching the previous seasons. Even when I had a good grasp of the Under Night universe, the vast majority of the characters stories boil down to reaching the bad guy and stopping them which is disappointing as each character does have a distinct personality and style. All character animations are smooth and look great against the 3D backgrounds of the 15 varied stages.

Under Night In-Birth covers all the typical fighting games moves with each character having weak/medium/heavy attacks as well as a block. However this all boils down to one thing: Combos are king. Your standard weak attack combo (mashing the square button over and over) can chain an average of 10 hits, with plenty of openings to add in medium or heavy attacks. It feels satisfying trapping your opponent in a 15-hit combo and equal parts infuriating when it happens to you. Special moves can also be performed by imputing directions quickly, which each character having varied and unique moves that lend each one to certain playstyles. One character named Merkava can fly across the top of the map at will while another named Waldstein takes up half the fighting arena. Matches require far more strategy than simply mashing buttons randomly, and it feels satisfying when you start to get good at a character after constant play. On top of all that, the soundtrack features plenty of high energy songs that helps the intensity.

Balance is a key issue in fighting games and Under Night is fairly neat balance wise, with the expectation of certain character’s projectile attacks being too easy to spam at times. In fact, spamming projectiles and your standard combo is enough the defeat the default CPU in most cases. Higher level CPU’s definitely require most emphasis on the proper use of your special attacks however. The Playstation 3 controller can handle most directional inputs fine, but certain special attacks are almost too precise to pull off on the Dualshock 3.

The combat system also features counter-hits, a meter that encourages aggressive play and other high level of play mechanics that increase the complexity of the game. Similar to the main plot however, it doesn’t explain them at all. Strangely enough, the only information you can find about the games blocking system mechanics and other features is in the games trophy list, but even this doesn’t contain everything you need to know. Under Night does feature a training mode that gives you a full command list of every character as well as the ability to customise the CPU’s fighting style, but Under Night still feels like it’s missing a proper tutorial. Apart from the Training, Story, VS CPU and VS 2 Player modes, Under Night also features Score Attack, Time Attack and Survival modes. Survival mode is definitely the best of the three as you have to defeat enemy after enemy with the same health bar which gets addicting seeing how far you can go with your favourite characters.

I found the online mode to be reliable and only encountered lag during the intro character animations but not during the actual fight. The ability to create and name lobbies in unranked matches is a nice touch, but I found myself being matched up against high level players in ranked matches despite being ranked low. Playing any mode earns you IP which can be spent on unlocking artwork of the characters, customising your online playercard or purchasing different colour palette swaps for characters. The game is pretty generous with handing out IP, and once you buy your favourite character skins/customise your playercard there isn’t much to purchase.

Despite its first impression with the lack of tutorials or context to its universe, Under Night In-Birth Exe Late does have a competent and complex fighting system hidden under its introduction faults and has enough extra features to keep you playing.