Capcom, Arc System Works, Netherrealm, Namco Bandai. Whenever we see a new fighting game, it’s often by the same developers we’re used to. With French Bread and Ecole Software’s new game for the PlayStation 3, Under Night in-Birth exe: Late (commonly called UNieL or UNiB), a new challenger enters the home console fighting game market. This game does a lot differently than its competition, and is a breath of fresh air for fighting games.
The fighting game community has several subsets to it. Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late falls into the category of “anime fighting games”. However, it’s far from conventional. What differentiates anime fighters from other fighting games, aside from aesthetic, is that they usually have a large focus on air movement. UNieL is fairly unique for the genre as it’s very much about the ground game. Most of the attacks in the game aren’t air blockable, and the airdash option isn’t very strong. In addition, unlike most anime fighters, the majority of the characters in the game don’t have super jumps, double jumps, or air backdashes. While this feels restrictive in some ways, it’s interesting in that it also keeps you from playing too passively.
Also contributing to this is the GRD system, which vastly affects how the game is played. GRD is shown by a meter on the bottom of the screen between the two players. The way you obtain GRD is by playing aggressively and performing actions like moving forward, attacking, and successfully blocking against your opponent. Doing things like backing up and getting your moves blocked will cause you to lose GRD. As you gain GRD, these squares fill up. In the middle of a meter is a timer (which runs for about 17 seconds), and when it runs out, the player with the most GRD gets a state called Vorpal. Vorpal is the most desirable thing to get in any fight. For one, it gives you a damage boost of 10% for the during the entire duration that you have Vorpal (which is until the timer goes around again). But it also gives you access to an ability called Chain Shift. This allows you to basically pause the game for a moment, giving you the advantage to perform whatever action you want before your opponent can land a move on you. It can also cancel your own attacks to make them safe on block or to extend combos. Trying to get GRD is like a constant game of tug-of-war with the other player. You don’t want to back off as it puts you at a disadvantage. It really forces you to play more aggressively, which I appreciate. This prevents the game from playing too slowly, which really makes it more enjoyable to play and to watch.
One of the best things about Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late is its roster. While it is small (only sixteen fighters) very character is completely different from one another. There’s the sword-wielding Nanase, who uses wind to boost herself up and use air moves to extend combos. Then you have Gordeau, who uses his giant scythe to deal massive damage. My favorite character on the roster is Eltnum, who likes to rushdown, but uses her long-range whip and pistol to get in if the opponent pushes her out. She plays very aggressively, and her pressure is very strong. Everything about the character just feels really satisfying to me when I’m playing.
Aside from the gameplay itself, the game has a decent amount of features. It’s pretty much the standard stuff- Arcade Mode, Survival Mode, Training Mode, Network Mode, Versus Mode, and a few others. This game has a pretty good Training Mode, with just enough features- but nothing more, really. The Network Mode is actually really good. While it doesn’t have a lot of different ways to play like Blazblue: Chronophantasma, it does have a very good netcode. In most of the matches I played online, there was relatively low lag with fewer freezes than Blazblue or Ultra Street Fighter IV.
In terms of visuals, Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late is a very good looking game. The character sprites look extraordinarily sharp, and they really pop. The aesthetic is very clean in general, and the characters’ designs are no exception- somewhat to a fault. The character designs are somewhat generic and fit a lot of anime tropes. Still, they all are visually appealing and really fit the game in general.
One thing to note is that this game is relatively difficult to pick up. The characters are complicated and some are very hard to fight against (like Merkava and Waldstein). There’s also a multitude of systems to keep track of that may be hard to remember. That said, the people who are importing this now are probably going to want to have a fair amount of fighting game experience beforehand.
Even though Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late is not in English, the Japanese version is very playable. The menus have a lot of English text, and the options for the ones that don’t can be figured out through a bit of trial and error, or by looking up menu translations. Since most of the time you’ll be fighting, there isn’t a whole lot you’ll need in English. If this game appeals to you, don’t worry about it being in Japanese. Overall, I would highly recommend you just import this game if you can’t bear to wait until next year.