While certain high-profile franchises have struggled out the gate, this generation has been no stranger to a myriad of great fighting game titles. While certain games have come and gone from the competitive scene in the past decade, the current landscape of fighters is so broad that the number of games competing for players’ attention is almost overwhelming. Even major events, such as Evolution (EVO), have foregone including major hits, such as Mortal Kombat 11, due to the sheer variety of titles releasing every year (among other reasons) and, more so than ever, this has been the generation of ‘anime fighters’, with titles such as BlazBlue and Dragon Ball FighterZ making the mainstream more so than ever before; however, arguably the genre’s major underdog story this generation has been developer French-Bread’s Under Night In-Birth series
Initially launching in Japanese arcades in 2012, Under Night In-Birth is a 2D fighter much in the vein of Arc System Works’ BlazBlue and Guilty Gear titles visually, which has grown astronomically in the past few years with its console ports and updated releases in the form of 2017/2018’s Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] and now, Under Night In-Birth Late[cl-r], in which developer French-Bread tasks themselves with once again creating another absolutely ridiculous title. This update adds another character to the roster in the form of Londrekia and over a thousand balance adjustments. While it is being released in a stand-alone form, owners of Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] will recieve UNICLR (which I will be referring it to as from now on) as a free update and can purchase Londrekia as DLC, so for the rest of the review I will be approaching UNICLR as I approached it myself: from a newcomer’s perspective.
Fans of Arc System Works’ previous Persona 4 Arena titles will be glad to hear that UNICLR has more in common with them mechanically than the aforementioned BlazBlue, Guilty Gear and Dragon Ball FighterZ. The game features 21 playable characters, with each feeling distinct and varying in combat and visual styles. What separates Under Night from most other fighting games is its far more technical approach to its mechanics and the GRD gauge, a mechanic in which both players share a gauge at the bottom of the screen that is charged in a tug-of-war fashion, allowing them to use powered up abilities and shields while also putting their opponent at a disadvantage. GRD is a refreshingly clever mechanic that keeps both players on their toes and adds even more tension to each battle, especially when both players are at an equal level.
All of UNICLR’s incredibly fleshed out mechanics are introduced through a very lengthy tutorial that teaches all of the combat’s intricacies in a way that forces the player to engage, even if it can feel a bit unresponsive at times. The game also features a run of the mill Arcade Mode based off the actual Japanese arcade release featuring very short story sequences for each character and a unique piece of ending art. It’s good for getting to know the characters, but the story is impossible to follow without first dipping into the Chronicle Mode. Chronicle Mode is a visual novel-style story mode that sets up each character’s Arcade Mode sequence told in a non-linear fashion. It features absolutely no gameplay; however, it is fully voice acted in Japanese. None of the stories told are necessarily captivating, but let’s be honest, that’s not necessarily what UNICLR is going for.
The game also features a Mission Mode that, much like the tutorial, gets players antiquated with the game’s mechanics, albeit in a more hands-on way, easing the barrier between casual and competitive play. Finally, UNICLR features your standard training and online modes, and unfortunately, this is yet another Japanese fighter to feature underwhelming netcode. Each of the matches I participated in (after taking over five minutes to find an opponent at times) felt incredibly one-sided connection-wise. No match ever felt unplayable, but there is a fundamental issue with the game’s netcode that keeps it from reaching its full potential, as is the unfortunate reality for most fighting games at present.
While those interested in playing UNICLR competitively will immediately find themselves lost in the game’s modes that help bring players up to speed on the game’s mechanics impressively, casual players will find very little worth engaging in outside of the Arcade and Chronicle modes. It’s hard to recommend UNICLR to those wanting to simply try it as its modes aren’t engaging enough to keep them playing for hours on end, the game foregoing something akin to Street Fighter V or Mortal Kombat 11’s story modes and the now commonplace seasonal approach to DLC rollout. This doesn’t mean anything for the future of UNICLR, the dedicated scene is enough to keep it alive for years, but the content within to place presents a sort of barrier to entry to those not wanting to go straight to competitive play.
The lack of an English dub feels somewhat out of place at this point given that a lot of the characters feature English voices in BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. That said, the Japanese voice acting is welcome given the game’s arcade and chronicle modes are fully voiced. The game also features a stellar soundtrack to keep the audio afloat. Visually, the natively 720p artwork is starting to show its age pushed up to 1080p on PlayStation 4. The game’s characters and UI were designed back in 2012 for arcades and later ported to PlayStation 3 where the 720p display left it looking polished; however, pushing a decade later, the menus, characters and backgrounds look somewhat unflattering on a 1080p display. The character animations and designs are still very impressive, especially given even Arc System Works’ move to 3D animation.
Fans of the series returning for Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] will find that not much has changed this time content-wise, minus the inclusion of Londrekia and the balance adjustments, and newcomers may seem polarised given its more hardcore-driven approach to modes; however, that doesn’t change that UNICLR is one of the most impressive fighting games on the market right now, with incredibly deep combat and a fun cast of characters.
Developer: French Bread
Publisher: Arc System Works, PQube
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 21st February 2020