French Bread and Arc System Works’ fighting game Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is brilliant, but may deter some with its high learning curve.
We are in a new golden age for fighting games. For at least the past five years, there have been so many great fighting games that get a ton of support even years after initially releasing. However, some of those great games get overlooked or don’t get the same love that franchises like Street Fighter, Tekken, or Mortal Kombat receive. Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] (abbreviated as UNICLR) falls in that category.
I can think of a few reasons why UNICLR doesn’t have the same amount of fandom. Obviously, it has to do with how long the series has been around. The previously mentioned games are staples; we know what they are, and in a way, they represent this era of fighting games. It’s hard to compete in the same space with these giant franchises that are arguably at their peak.
But I really think UNICLR has fallen under the radar because of its learning curve. It’s hard. Like, really hard. Especially as a newcomer, it is daunting. If you have an understanding of the basics of fighting games, you can probably “mash” your way to victory against CPU and beginner players. But face someone who has put the time in, you will fall fast. I would know. I’m a terrible UNICLR player.
Luckily, UNICLR has a really in-depth tutorial that teaches you the fundamentals, as well as some of the more advanced techniques. Similarly to the tutorial in Mortal Kombat 11 (which I believe is the best tutorial in a fighting game), it teaches you the basics in a way that can be used in other fighting games. Although some of the terminology used is unique to UNICLR, you can easily use the information given in just about any fighting game.
In my eyes, tutorials kind of make or break my experience with any fighting game. Sure, there are some I can just go into training mode, pick the game’s most basic character (like Ryu in Street Fighter or Haohmaru in Samurai Shodown), go into the training room, and instantly understand the game and its rules and limitations. But UNICLR is not that game. If it did not have a good tutorial, I would have fallen off instantly.
So, what makes this game so difficult? It does play like any other fighting game, after all. You have a light, medium, and heavy attack, along with a few special moves. These can be strung together to form combos. You also have a meter (called the EXS gauge) that fills throughout a match, which can be used to enhance special moves or execute super special moves called Infinite Worth and Infinite Worth EXS (which can only be used if your health is under 30%). It really isn’t unlike anything you haven’t played. What sets UNICLR apart from other fighting games, however, is the pace of battle, the reliance on combos, and how combos are executed.
A lot of fighting games now have somewhat simplified their gameplay. For example, let’s talk about Dragon Ball FighterZ. While there is certainly depth to the team fighter, and it is incredibly fast-paced in comparison to Street Fighter or Tekken, the fact you can auto-combo makes it so easy to get into. Simply mashing a button gives you a string of attacks and could be the base of how you approach every moment in a fight. Sure, there are a ton of variables, but they are pretty easy to get the hang of.
For UNICLR, it is not that easy. Sure, there is one auto-combo you can do (called Smart Steer), but it isn’t going to be your bread and butter. What will help you tremendously is understanding the game’s Passing Link system. Each normal can be canceled with another normal and can be done from weakest to strongest attack or vice versa. You can also mix in crouching, standing, or aerial moves into this Passing Link, which makes up your combo. You can also cancel with a special move or Infinite Worth to maximize your damage.
It is an easy system to understand, but executing a solid combo is tough since it involves memorizing a number of rather long button sequences. And even if it seems easy to execute in training, doing it during an actual match, which is ridiculously fast-paced, will prove to be a challenge.
This is why UNICLR may have a hard time truly finding itself a mainstream audience. Yes, the game will be at EVO, arguably the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, and yes, it is incredibly entertaining to watch. But when a newcomer picks this game up and quickly realizes it’s on a whole other level than any of the other fighting games many know and love, I could see a ton of people falling off, just like myself.
If you have been a fan of previous iterations of Under Night In-Birth, or you decided to stick with UNICLR, there are a ton of features that are great for both newcomers and veterans. The Arcade mode is pretty standard, telling the story of each character. The Chronicles mode, which is a prequel to the Arcade mode, adds another layer to the narrative. It is purely dialogue-driven and gives a ton of details about the world and the characters that inhabit it.
Honestly, I have no idea what this story is about. Nor was I interested. There is so much dialogue, and a lot of it is in-universe terms that are kind of vague. The Chronicles mode does give you some explanation of what EXS is and what the exact state of the world is, but it didn’t really tell its tale in a way that kept me captivated. In fact, after a few Arcade mode completions, I would just skip all the dialogue because I really didn’t understand what was going on in the first place.
That doesn’t mean the design of the world isn’t good. I do really love the art style of the characters and the game’s world. The detailed pixelated anime character models look great, along with the drawn environments. It has a very distinct look, and it stands out because of it.
This is doubly true of UNICLR‘s soundtrack. The music in this game is so good. It’s so melodic and symphonic but has a tinge of rock. It is fantastic. Just listen to the character select music above. The bass slaps.
Like many modern fighting games, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is so unique. While it has a really steep learning curve that may turn casual fighting game players off, it is incredibly satisfying if you put the time in. If you love fighting games and want a challenge, then look no further.